Board of Supervisors makes few changes to Arts Commission

Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerCriticism: A civil grand jury recommended changes to the Arts Commission’s Street Artist Program

Well-documented turmoil at The City’s Arts Commission appears to be smoothing itself out with new leaders at the helm, the Board of Supervisors essentially ruled Thursday.

The commission has been marred in recent years by reports of mismanagement of funds, personnel resignations and even hubbub around a sizable city contract it approved for an artist who once shot a dog and filmed it.

The problems prompted an investigation and a report titled “Where There’s Smoke …” by San Francisco’s civil grand jury. The findings and recommendations of the report, which was reviewed by a Board of Supervisors committee on Thursday, were mostly rejected, considered to be in need of more analysis, or categorized as outside the discretion of the board.

The report suggests that the Arts Commission should keep better track of its $90 million, 4,000-piece public art collection, which sparked the hiring of an “art detective” last summer when some items could not be located. At the time, the commission’s director of cultural affairs complained that the organization suffers from a lack of resources to address problems that have been stacking up for decades.

The report’s suggestions also included ending an $800,000 giveback that the Arts Commission receives from the San Francisco Symphony’s annual $2 million revenue from city taxes. According to civil grand jury member Mort Raphael, the money transaction violates the 1932 City Charter provision that created the commission, although the City Attorney’s Office refuted that notion during the hearing, and supervisors deferred to that advice.

The report also recommends that the commission have more flexibility in raising its own money so it might be tied less to the will of The City’s Recreation and Park Department. But Arts Commission Director of Cultural Affairs Tom DeCaigny said he worries about cannibalizing the local philanthropic “ecosystem.”

Civil jurors also found that The City’s Street Artist Program might be better administered under the Small Business Commission rather than the Arts Commission, given the entrepreneurial spirit of the artists and the former body’s setup. But street artist members showed up with mixed views on what to do.

Supervisor Sean Elsbernd recommended that idea be axed because the Small Business Commission is set up for unrelated objectives.

“I think it would pull away from the original intention,” Elsbernd said.

Raphael said the Arts Commission’s aggregate problems should prompt swift change.

“What was supposed to be an extraordinary part of our art community has found itself faced with a variety of challenges and criticism,” Raphael said. “We have no ax to grind, we do not represent any government agency in The City. … We just look at this like citizens.”

Supervisor Mark Farrell suggested he’s hopeful new personnel such as DeCaigny can lead the commission in a different direction.

“It could be a lot more, but what I would suggest is that with the funds available, the Arts Commission is doing what they can,” Farrell said.

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

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