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Arts Funding: It’s All in the Story:

“Please describe your personally meaningful or memorable Santa Monica arts experience.”

This question was emailed over the holidays by Santa Monica’s Cultural Affairs Department to a number of people on the mailing list for the 18th Street Arts Center. The idea was to collect true stories of how arts programs impacted people’s lives in order to encourage the City Council to vote for arts funding.

With the Council’s discussion on arts funding coming up on January 22, Cultural Affairs held the second of two public workshops on January 7 to discuss ways in which personal accounts of the benefits of art programs can be organized for effective presentation.

Arts consultant Jerry Yoshitomi of MeaningMatters LLC went over the process of obtaining arts funding. The process is most easily represented as a triangle with the three points being the operating environment (of the art form), the authorizer (in this case the City of Santa Monica), and the Benefits/Values of the Art.

A report by Yoshitomi’s consulting team, “An Arts, Culture, and Heritage Funding Program Supporting the City of Santa Monica and Our Residents,” will be presented to the Council at the January 22 meeting. The report outlines proposed grants for artists, the amount and number of the grants, and the types of art projects for which the grants will be given.

But since public input is important to sway possibly skeptical councilmembers, Yoshitomi wanted to analyze the art experience stories that Cultural Affairs has collected so far.

“Our task is to create a compact, unexpected, credible, emotional story that describes the value that arts, culture, and heritage provide to Santa Monica,” said Yoshitomi.

He asked participants to take a few minutes to formulate stories of their own or to recall actual stories of lives transformed by art experiences. Councilmember Kevin McKeown, who attended the meeting, said: “Imagine that I’m trying to convince Kevin McKeown to support the arts and I know he’s into issues about the environment.” He then spun a tale of two high school students who are on a date and accidentally come upon a performance troupe doing a play about the Ballona Wetlands. As a result of seeing the performance, they become involved with the fight to save the wetlands.

Tomas Benitez, director of Shakespeare Festival/LA and a member of Yoshitomi’s team, told of a time when he was a teenager (in the 1960s) and he and his date went to the Santa Monica Pier to watch older people dancing to the music of Lawrence Welk. Their idea was to laugh, because they were young “hippies,” but Benitez eventually noticed that his girlfriend was crying. Gesturing to the dancers holding each other close, she exclaimed: “This is romance!” Benitez believed this experience gave him his future values about art.

Dancer-choreographer Donna Sternberg told of a homeless man who, after seeing a free dance performance, said it was the happiest experience he’d had in two years.

Other participants mentioned the tie-in between arts programs and education (statistics show that students who participate in arts programs do better in their regular subjects and go on to graduate from high school or beyond), and arts programs that parents, or mentors in programs such as Big Brothers/Sisters, can take their children to.

Cultural Affairs is encouraging the public, especially individual artists, to attend the January 22 City Council meeting and sign up to speak. For those who cannot attend but who would like to tell their art experience stories, Cultural Affairs is continuing to gather them at arts.santa-monica.org or zoomerang.com/recipient/survey-intro.zgi?p=web2278dj5b7sd.

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