SAN DIEGO — In an unusual show of unity, the city's major arts institutions wrested key changes Wednesday from a city panel charged with creating a powerful new municipal arts commission.
After testimony, the city's Cultural Arts Task Force agreed that the new commission should consider the needs of artists and arts groups in arriving at its grants budget and that "peer review" may not work with larger groups in the evaluation procedure as with smaller groups.
Though supporting the concept of a 15-member arts and cultural commission, spokesmen for the city's biggest performing arts institutions and museums came down firmly against recommendations on commission makeup and procedures for evaluating applicants and allocating money. They then presented their recommendations at a City Hall hearing.
Speakers from the city's smaller arts groups suggested the creation of an open-air arts market and called for representation of youth arts institutions on the proposed commission, but the major groups urged that funding for existing groups be stabilized first.
"We do not think the city should be expanding the list of public funding recipients," Richard Bundy said. Bundy, president of the San Diego Natural History Museum, spoke on behalf of seven museums.
Bundy asked that an annual percentage of the hotel bed taxes be set aside for arts and humanities just as the city does for the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau. Transient occupancy taxes are the pool of money the city draws on for allocations to the arts and humanities.
The Old Globe Theatre's managing director, Thomas Hall, disagreed sharply with the panel's proposal that the commission make allocations based on the city manager's projection of bed-tax revenues.
Hall--who spoke for the San Diego Opera, the San Diego Symphony and the San Diego Museum of Art--said the commission should "assess the actual need" of arts groups and base its funding recommendations on that.
He also called for "multiyear grants" to arts institutions and an annual percentage allocation of transient occupancy taxes to the arts.
The new commission could allocate more than $4 million.
In response to the testimony of the larger groups, the panel changed its recommendation so the commission would consider both the city manager's recommendation and the needs of artists and arts organizations.
Hall suggested that the commission should make grants for "a minimum base of two to three years" rather than annually. He said that was "just good management. So at least, basically, you know where you sit from one year to the next."
On the peer review issue, the task force agreed partly to a recommendation that the larger organizations not be reviewed by "peers." Hall said that peer panels, where theater artists and administrators evaluate other theaters and museum directors and curators review other museums, are effective at the national and state levels.
"There's a large enough body to draw a strong peer review" but not in a local situation, Hall said.