San Diego County to convene arts and culture commission

San Diego Museum Month
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/San Diego Union-Tribune)

The new agency will be the first in nearly 30 years to support and manage arts funding


For the first time in nearly 30 years, San Diego County will form an arts and culture commission to manage funding and support arts activities in the region.

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors approved the new commission through its consent calendar last week, directing staff to begin organizing the 13-member body.

Recent county studies have found that nonprofit arts and cultural organizations spend more than $1 billion annually and employ more than 35,000 people, the board letter stated. In the 1980s, the board convened a Public Art Advisory Council, which applied for and distributed state and federal art funding.

The council was eliminated in 1993, however, leaving the county without a clearinghouse for arts funding, and ineligible for many public arts grants, according to the board letter. Since then, San Diego County has been one of only four counties in California without a dedicated arts agency.

Theaters, museums and organizations were hit hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, when public health restrictions shut down many performances and other cultural events. Last year, the board appropriated a total of $5 million, or $1 million to each supervisorial district, for “community enhancement funds,” and directed staff to study how to expand that effort through a new arts agency.

The commission will be managed by a full-time staff member and will consist of 13 members, including two nominated by each supervisor and three youth members.

The board also directed staff members to explore measures the county can take to directly support the arts, including the potential use of county properties as workspaces for local artists. It also asked staff to examine how to increase equity in arts, noting that arts are some of the first programs cut from schools during budget reductions, and that low-income and communities of color “have historically used arts and culture to navigate and survive systemic racism and oppression.”

The board letter also directed staff to focus on new and upcoming artists as well as established arts institutions.

“To promote greater cultural diversity and inclusivity and empower historically disenfranchised communities, it is important to elevate the worker of smaller, emerging artists from communities that have not had access to arts and cultural resources,” the letter stated.