Bay Area arts community reinvents itself

August 25, 2009 7:13:56 PM PDT
It's becoming a battle of survival for the arts in the Bay Area. The recession means many foundations that used to fund the arts have had to make cutbacks, and grants once readily available just aren't there.

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A south of Market experimental art gallery closed. It is a victim of the times and it's getting worse.

"Everyone is getting hit but there are probably less organizations that we're going to be able to support," said John Killacky from the San Francisco Foundation.

The San Francisco Foundation is one of 21 Bay Area foundations that supports more than 220 arts groups to the tune of $50 million last year and will be getting less this year.

"A lot less, 25 percent less from your foundations, 25 percent less from the city," said Killacky.

The city money is from the hotel tax and the recessionary effect is everywhere.

San Francisco's Ethnic Dance Festival is the largest ethnic dance festival in the U.S., but keeping it going has been become tougher.

"We face tremendous cuts and losses of support through grants, our expenses have increased. We have a potential rent increase that we are struggling with," said Susan Somaya from the Ethnic Dance Festival.

"We haven't had to lay off any workers. We haven't had to cut back on any programs," said Charles Ward from the Yerba Buena Center for Arts.

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts with its galleries and theatres has changed its operating hours and it looks for board volunteers from corporations.

"In senior enough positions, to be able to influence a gift, to support the work that we do," said Ward.

But it's a battleground out there these days.

"Arts organizations really have to change their strategies right now," said Killacky.

"We did a house raffle this year," said Ward.

An outside the box approach -- Ethnic Dance organizers plan monthly fundraisers. The Bay Area Improvisation Theatre goes directly to the public.

"People need improvisation right now like they need meditation or yoga or ballroom dancing. It energizes them mentally and physically," said Bay Area Improvisation Theater Executive Director Brent Sverdloff.

It is about survival.

"When the health and human service needs are so extreme in our city, the arts are essential because the arts are where hope lives," said Killacky.

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