Local Arts Organizations May Get a Rare Financial Boost

A "people’s choir" advocated Tuesday for a ballot measure to save projected hotel tax revenues for arts programs.

Rachel Lastimosa leads a “peoples’ choir” to make the case for a November ballot measure that would boost arts funding. (Photo by Ida Mojadad)

The success of the hotel industry could directly fund arts programs that advocates say attract visitors from around the world, should San Francisco voters support a ballot measure this November.

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously sent a measure to the November ballot that increases funding for arts programs around the city — without raising any taxes or taking money from a specific department. An 8 percent base tax on hotel rooms already exists and otherwise goes into the general fund but the measure dedicates 1.5 percent to arts programs. Another six percent surcharge tax levied on hotel rooms would also be left to the general fund.

If the measure receives two-thirds of voters’ approval, roughly $113 million would go toward cultural organizations, districts, centers and the San Francisco Arts Commission starting in 2019 if the measure receives two-thirds approval from voters.

More than 70 related organizations, like Calle 24 Latino Cultural District and San Francisco Grants for the Arts, are on board with the measure already.

“We have almost everyone’s support for this,” said Vinay Patel of the Asian Pacific Islander Cultural Center in San Francisco. “This is something that is visionary.”

A coalition of arts and culture organizations advocated for the measure on the steps of City Hall before the Board of Supervisors meeting, which Supervisors Katy Tang, Aaron Peskin, Rafael Mandelman, and Sandra Lee Fewer joined. Speakers pointed to the measure as a direct solution to keeping the cultural lifeblood of San Francisco alive, including its public school students.

“Arts education has a profound effect on youth,” said Ron Gallman, education programs director of the San Francisco Symphony. “It’s time to restore this respect for arts and culture so San Francisco can continue to thrive.”

In true artistic fashion, one medium of persuasion was a “people’s choir,” which Rachel Lastimosa of SOMA Pilipinas led and the audience repeated. The lyrics are too good not to sample:

“San Francisco how you’ve changed (San Francisco how you’ve changed)
Your population’s rearranged (your population’s rearranged)
Displaced families in the streets (displaced families in the streets)
Now it’s time to change the beat (now it’s time to change the beat)

All the money coming in (all the money coming in)
from all the global tourism (from all the global tourism)
Arts and culture’s what we choose (arts and culture’s what we choose)
No, we can’t afford to lose (no, we can’t afford to lose)”

No word on whether San Franciscans will hear this particular people’s choir,but it hints at a fun, creative campaign for November.

“The medium is going to be the message,” Peskin said.

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