About 400 artists pay for the privilege to sell their work on tourist-heavy sidewalks in San Francisco, but those already-struggling virtuosos are putting their money into a program that lacks sound accounting practices, according to a report released this week.
The program provides artists who handcraft their wares the ability to sell them in a few coveted spots — Justin Herman Plaza, the Cliff House and Fisherman’s Wharf. But first they must prove to a panel that they satisfy certain artistic criteria. Those qualifying artists get a certificate and participate in a lottery to see where they can set up their booths.
The program is administered by two employees at the Arts Commission and is paid for by annual fees. The current fee is $664 per artist. According to the city controller, during the 2009-10 fiscal year the Arts Commission used $18,875 for administrative costs that had not been previously approved by the artists.
In 2009, questions about where the money was going and ineffective oversight came to a head at the Arts Commission, according to Michael Addario, an artist who now chairs the San Francisco Street Artist Program Liaison Committee. In one instance, $400 went missing from the Arts Commission offices.
The commission then approved a new policy that the program director would no longer receive cash payments from artists, and the controller agreed to do a report.
That report, released Wednesday, does not mention the missing money, but criticizes the program for its “inadequate monitoring and oversight of transactions.” That, and the inability to segregate duties among the two staff members, could lead to the “opportunity to commit fraud or theft.”
In his response, former Arts Commission Director Luis Cancel, who resigned earlier this month, agreed the program should be using better accounting practices to ensure there is no opportunity for fraud. For Addario, a photographer who sells his prints on city sidewalks, the report comes too late.
“Changes should have been made a long time ago,” he said.
1975 Year street-artist ordinance was approved by voters
$664 Current annual fee for street artists
$374 Annual fee in 2003
$18,875 Amount Arts Commission spent during 2009-10 fiscal year on administrative costs not approved by artists
370 Approximate number of artists who paid fees in 2011
Source: City controller