It’s official! The Richmond Neighborhood Public Art mini-grant program has been eliminated. A positive program suffocated and squeezed by a system inflated by a heavy platter of compensation. Other Bay Area cities are making it work, then why not us? Empowering and enriching the lives of our community evaporated under the weight of political will.
Let’s look at the city of Berkeley. On June 28th, the One Percent for Publicly Accessible Art on Private Projects Ordinance (1% Ordinance) passed its city council. According to Sydney Stephenson and Alex Amoroso: “The purpose of the new Zoning Ordinance Chapter 23C.XX is to require public art in new private construction projects. The One Percent for Public Art on Private Projects Ordinance requires the applicant to choose one of the following: 1) allocate one percent of the project’s construction cost to a publically accessible artwork on-site, and place the artwork on site; or, 2) pay an in-lieu fee of a yet to be determined percentage of construction costs to the Cultural Trust Fund (in lieu fund); or 3) split the required commitment to public art between art on-site and the in-lieu fee…”
While Richmond cuts a $65,000 invaluable arts program, Berkeley will be adding millions to the arts over the years. In addition, after comparing 459 city wages for employees on the Government Compensation in California website, Richmond had the 5th highest pay in the state. That is higher than Beverly Hills…
Living in Richmond provides an everyday context and understanding. Engaging neighbors, patronizing businesses, and traversing the streets defines identity. As a property taxpayer, I value these opportunities and have made a personal commitment to my home of Richmond.
Our most highly paid city employees should reside in Richmond. According to the Government Compensation in California website, one individual in 2015 made $285,509 in wages and received $104,875 in retirement/health costs totaling $390,384 without a Richmond residence. If a city official is able to live in the community they serve, it strengthens local connections and civic pride. Cultivating roots as a stakeholder must be a priority.
As a Richmond & Arts Culture Commissioner and Public Art Advisory Committee member, I saw firsthand how the Richmond Neighborhood Public Art mini-grants transformed and uplifted the lives of the underserved and underrepresented. As a nonpaid volunteer who rolls up my sleeves and works hard, we can do better. According to Richmond ordinance No. 41-87, a majority of art commissioners must be Richmond residents!
As an artist who has exhibited nationally and internationally, I’ve witnessed what is possible. Over the last 16 years, I’ve sent over 1800 proposals. When the City of Richmond slashed the budget from $65,000 to $0, obtaining outside monies becomes extremely difficult. This is why. When a funding source witnesses a city or organization lacking local financial or moral support, grants are awarded to communities that reflect sincere interest and share core values. A good investment rewards frameworks willing to sacrifice. Without it, diverse neighborhoods are left behind and energizing citizens deflates.
$65,000 for all or $390,384 for one?
Speaking of support, Councilmember’s Gayle McLaughlin’s proposal makes sense to me. From an email to constituents on July 2nd: “With a small .5% salary reduction for those employees making at least $60-80k, 1% reduction for those making $80-90k, and increasing 1% for each additional 10k in base salary, we would have approximately 2.2 million dollars in savings to the city.” This plan is a beginning, logical, and warrants discussion. Sitting in silence without transparent and meaningful discussion is a nonstarter.
Slow perpetual inaction and denial is no longer working.
Richmond must look to its past instead of underestimating its value. During World War II, Richmond mobilized together despite many struggles. We are richer when support unites instead of divides. We can do it and must. Our future is at stake.