Opera house aims to regain city funds

The City has stopped the funding for programs, salaries and other operating costs at the Bayview Opera House after officials criticized its programming schedule and a city audit identified tens of thousands of misspent dollars.

The 120-year-old, two-story building at Third Street and Newcomb Avenue is one of four city-owned buildings operating as a cultural center by specially formed nonprofits.

The organization receives roughly$300,000 a year from the San Francisco Arts Commission for operating costs. It is also required by city law to raise additional funds.

The opera house supports an off-site mural painting project for 250 children, and dance and drama classes that last year attracted 105 participants, according to its end-of-year report. It also hosts clean-and-sober outreach projects, neighborhood balls and food giveaways, according to facilities manager Eugene Sweet.

Operations and funding of the Opera House has been under scrutiny since December 2006, when the City Controller’s Office released an audit highlighting financial mismanagement.

The audit said that more than half of the $60,000 earmarked for a year of programming and facility maintenance was misspent on opera house operations, including salaries. It also noted that the Arts Commission was overbilled $13,800 by opera house staff and that receipts could not be provided to explain a $63,800 wire transfer or $20,000 in checks paid to a director. Opera house staff eventually “provided a reconciliation to properly account” for the expenses, according to the report.

In June 2007, the Arts Commission voted to place a time frame on Opera Housing funding. The organization was only funded through October, when staff was required to submit a new budget and a three-year programming plan, meeting minutes show.

In July 2007, former assistant district attorney and five-year opera house director Vernon Grigg was unanimously appointed interim director of the Bayview Opera House by its board of directors with the mission to clean up operations, programming and finances, he said.

“For the past year,” Grigg told The Examiner, “we’ve been an organization in pretty substantial crisis.”

Grigg said he expects to hand a new budget and programming vision to the Arts Commission today in an attempt to restore funding. He said he has used individual donations and hall rental fees to pay salaries and other operating and program expenses since November, adding that he hasn’t drawn a salary for five months but expects to eventually be paid.

Grigg said he has canceled some off-site arts programs, made personnel changes, hired a new opera house manager, renegotiated several contracts, changed accounting procedures, ordered a financial audit and organized two community meetings at the opera house to discuss programming.

African American Shakespeare Company founder Sherri Young was one of the arts commissioners during an Oct. 9 meeting to criticize the limited programming offered by the opera house.

Young recently told The Examiner, “When you’re providing an organization with about $300,000 plus, and you have only two programs, you have to say, ‘Well, how is that $300,000 serving the community?’”

jupton@examiner.com

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