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COMBO to Drop Role of Disbursing Hotel Tax : Major Revamp Urged in Doling of Arts Money

November 13, 1987|HILLIARD HARPER | San Diego County Arts Writer

A city task force has recommended a major restructuring of the way San Diego allocates more than $4 million annually for the arts and humanities.

A draft report prepared this week by the Cultural Arts Task Force proposes that all arts funding matter be funneled through a newly created commission for arts and culture. The commission would make recommendations to the City Council and would be charged with creating a comprehensive municipal cultural arts policy.

In a parallel action that amounts to a major change in the way it functions, COMBO, the private arts-funding agency, on Thursday announced that it will no longer distribute hotel bed tax revenues to arts groups for the city. Instead, the Combined Arts and Education Council of San Diego County will concentrate on raising money from private sources--businesses, individuals and foundations. It raised $500,000 this way last year.

COMBO has parceled out a share of the bed tax to arts groups since 1970, at the request of the City Council. This year, COMBO is scheduled to hand out about $800,000 of the tax to 30 organizations. But its leaders said Thursday that they were increasingly being bypassed by groups seeking city funds.

Looking to Consolidate

The proposal to establish a commission for arts and culture came after weeks of task force meetings. The task force was created with the intention of finding a way to consolidate the city's support for the arts, including funding and services for arts groups and artists.

Deputy City Manager Jack McGrory said the recommendation "represents a major restructuring of how the city distributes the share of transient occupancy tax money allocated to arts organizations in the city." McGrory chairs the task force, which was created by the City Council's Public Services and Safety Committee.

More than $4 million in city revenues are budgeted this year for museums, theaters, dance and musical groups, and others. But requests for money are currently processed in a variety of ways--through COMBO, by the City Council's Public Arts Advisory Board, by the city manager, through the Public Safety and Services Committee, and directly through the City Council.

"It's now recommended that all of these procedures be consolidated, and that one commission make a recommendation to the council," McGrory said. "It puts all of the responsibility centrally and directly in one commission."

David A. Hawkins, president of the COMBO board of directors, said the decision to redesign the group's mission was made because of increased administrative burdens associated with processing the city's money and "strong evidence" that the city no longer wanted COMBO to distribute the hotel tax funds.

Speaking at a press conference, Hawkins said arts organizations, hoping for larger portions of municipal revenues, have begun bypassing COMBO in recent years and applying directly to the City Council.

"Naturally, this has resulted in a deterioration of the federated principle (of giving upon which COMBO was founded) and of the relationship of COMBO to the city as its granting agent," Hawkins said.

COMBO has been under fire for more than a year because of its operating costs. Hawkins said that more staff time is being taken to respond to an increasing number of requests from the city regarding COMBO's allocation of the hotel tax funds. "We're now at the point where it isn't cost-effective for COMBO to respond to those requests," he said.

Additionally, he said the task force hearings had made it clear that the city wanted to form a commission to handle its arts allocations.

Under the task force proposal, the Public Arts Advisory Board would be disbanded and the commission would assume an expanded role. Currently, the advisory board contracts with performing artists for neighborhood performances. It also makes recommendations to the City Council for public art purchases.

The new commission would have 11 members selected by the City Council, plus a city administrative staff of four.

The task force will give its report at its next meeting, 2 p.m. Wednesday in the City Council chambers.

McGrory said he expects the report to then go before the Public Services and Safety Committee in a few weeks, then on to the City Council for final action.

Arts administrators reached Thursday praised COMBO's decision to focus on private fund raising, and generally favored the idea of forming an arts commission.

Old Globe Managing Director Tom Hall said, "I think a commission, if properly structured, and one that employs objective criteria for funding, should serve the arts community well."

Joyce Selber, the city's public arts administrator, said, "I congratulate COMBO on redefining its mission and identifying itself as a partner for the arts in San Diego."

'A Natural Evolution'

Hall, from the Old Globe, called COMBO's decision "a natural evolution in the growth curve of the arts in San Diego."

"From our point of view, it will not have an adverse effect on the Globe," Hall said. "We've been looking for some time to increase our funding from the City of San Diego."

Hall said that being a member of COMBO restricted the Globe's ability to ask the city for more funding, but COMBO's decision "frees some of those restrictions."

Gaslamp Quarter Theatre Managing Producer Kit Goldman called the formation of an arts commission "a necessary evil."

Over the last two years, the Gaslamp Quarter Theatre has received more than $300,000 in city funds by approaching the City Council directly.

"I think it's unfortunate that we have to put up another hoop to jump through," Goldman said. "On the other hand, I think it might be the best solution to distribute the money."

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