Oakland's Cultural Arts Program Saved


Oakland City Council members eliminated the city's $42 million dollar deficit last night, while managing to save most of the city's $1.14 million Cultural Arts Grant Program. The council's previous plan to deep make cuts to the art grants program had sparked outrage among the city's arts community. To spare the program, the council voted instead to eliminate public activities such as parades and street fairs, and slashed or downgraded several positions in the Parks and Recreation Department.

Roughly 200 speakers lined up to make their case to the councilmembers to keep certain parts of the budget, though the overwhelming majority - consisting of educators, arts program organizers, artists - were there to address any cuts to the cultural arts.

The majority of the appeals for the preservation of the arts budget could be categorized into two distinct arguments. One argument asserted that the arts industry generates economic dollars for other industries for Oakland.

Christine Dover, President of nonprofit theatre company TheatreFIRST, said that 75% of audience members who come to see her company's shows will spend money at nearby bars and restaurants. If her company were to shut down, it would affect businesses within the vicinity.

Another argument is that arts programs help keep underprivileged youth off the streets. Michael Sturtz, a department head at the nonprofit art center The Crucible, observed, "There are other ways to prevent crime than with a badge and a gun."

Eden Jequinto, an educator at the East Side Cultural Center, proclaimed, "This isn't about what would look nice. Our kids are dying, dying, dying!"

Those who protested against making cuts to the Parks and Recreation Department employed a similar argument, protesting that parks also help keep youth off the street, and expressed fears that unmaintained parks would become centers of criminal activity.

Though the evening centered on a grim decision, the turnout was colorful, diverse, and often entertaining. Some speakers chose to spend their allocated time performing, such as reciting hip hop lyrics or singing. One student played stirring solo on a Chinese string instrument to which Ignacio De La Fuente, councilman of District Five and president of the council replied, "Thanks, we needed that." It was a long night, and not everyone was happy. By the time the votes were taken, much of the crowds had slowly dispersed. -- Ling Ma