Roberto Bedoya was having a rough day when I stopped by to see him earlier this week.
Bedoya, Executive Director of the Tucson Pima Arts Council, was parsing through how to spread the pain in the face of 15 percent city and 10 percent county budget cuts.
Bedoya knows full well that the recession is forcing budget slashes across the board. But he also knows that Tucson, for all its aspirations to be a hub for the arts, is woefully behind the curve is giving traction to those aspirations.
His perspective is instructive. As head of the organization that provides grant support to more than 60 nonprofit arts organizations and hundreds of artists in Tucson and Pima County, he’s probably positioned better than anyone to have a clear fix on the big picture of the arts in our community.
The view leaves a lot to be desired.
Nationally, according to Americans for the Arts, an average of $6.13 per capita in public funds is allocated to the arts. The average in Seattle, a community that’s made good on its aspirations to be a hub of the arts and has profited from it, is $8.35. Tucson and Pima County log in at 94-cents, and that resource is shrinking.
One key to this anemic performance, Bedoya points out, is that Tucson has not done what many other cities have, “develop a designated revenue stream for the arts, usually as part of the bed tax.” Seattle, San Francisco, Denver and St. Louis – all with strong arts communities that create jobs and attract tourism – are a few of the cities Bedoya cites that have figured out how to create reliable support for the arts. Tucson hasn’t.
Another factor Bedoya cites is a “take it for granted” attitude about the arts in Tucson. It’s a sort of – my words – “Yeah, well, the arts are nice but those folks will always be around and it’s not really a priority.” There is a pattern in Tucson, Bedoya says, “of artists who live here but teach elsewhere and market their art work elsewhere.”
Tucson – while it does have a small core of individuals and businesses that support the arts – is not in the running for the big grants from major philanthropies. Those dollars tend to go to the big cities and often are based on fortunes founded in the cities that now enjoy the benefit of that success.
Tucson, Bedoya says, is great at medical, optical and green movement innovations. “We’re outstanding at R&D, but we don’t ramp up those industries once they get started here.” The real economic benefits of those innovations tend to be realized elsewhere.
“These problems demand a political and civic solution,” Bedoya says. “Right now, in the face of a shrinking resource pool, my most important job is to validate the arts and the creative community here. People love to make art and to go to cultural events. Go to a play. Write a poem. Sing in a choir. Either as a maker or a watcher, participate.”
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