How to Fund a Steelhead Trout

City Arts Grant Applications Now Open

by D.J. Palladino

Nearly half a million dollars in grant money awaits artists and art groups right now at the City of Santa Barbara, according to Ginny Brush, the brand-new executive director of the County Arts Commission. City arts grant applications forms are now available to be downloaded and county arts staff members are even holding workshops to help artists write good proposals. Brush primarily wants people to know that this money serves a purpose beyond keeping organizations alive. Its underlying agenda — and barely hidden motive — is the promotion of a Santa Barbara culture. And that money’s significance has only grown for this community, points out departing, though still-active commissioner Patrick Davis.

“In the old days, we used this money to leverage CAC funds,” says Davis, referring to the now-defunct California Arts Commission, which previously would fund artists in amounts matching what money they garnered in their own communities. This made city money a kind of primer for the well. Davis, who still seems a tad reluctant to depart the beautiful county courthouse tower offices the commission currently occupies, points out that the CAC has been gone now for two years, a conspicuous victim of the Enron state money disasters. Nobody wants to say that money will never come back, including Brush, who claims to harbor a “Pollyannaish” heart, but right now for artists not supported by Medicis or Rockefellers, this city money is all there is available. Davis also thinks that the Santa Barbara Foundation and the other leading Santa Barbara arts donors and supporters are good in that the organizations they support do not overlap with City government funding. But Davis points out that a lot of the $424,604 they awarded last year went to recreation facilities and arts management. “Those are very important too,” he said.

Ginny Brush hopes that people will understand the purposes of this funding. “In the first place, there is a lot of confusion out there as to why it is City money and yet distributed by a county agency,” she said. The money does come from the City, but the arts commission works in a partnership to distribute the funds. Brush also stresses the educational importance of the funding, and says that the City particularly likes to fund applications that offer outreach programs or other free community involvement.

“One great example this last year is Mauricio Gomes,” said Brush referring to the genius behind the Steelhead Trout Festival held on State Street late this winter. Combining education about creeks and wildlife with an art exhibit on State Street, Gomes’s triumph was pleasing to locals and drew in tourism, too. “The whole grant was $4,000,” said Davis. “The City earned back at least four times that in bed taxes.”

It’s particularly important to fund arts with educational extras in a time when cuts to arts programs in schools continue. “They’re cutting more than that,” added Brush. “There’s not even three Rs left.” City grants to the arts take place on three levels. The first are grants made to events like the Santa Barbara International Film Festival and the Solstice parade. Next come organizational development grants, and if you need an example of how they work consider the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra, which began in an Isla Vista coffee house and now features world-class soloists. They first got help from the fund a mere 20 years ago. And finally, there are community arts grants. These, like the one to Gomes for the Steelhead Trout Festival, are the ones that seem nearest to Brush’s heart. “You have to think also in terms of how unique this community is,” said Brush. “On our printout we have four pages of nonprofit arts groups here in Santa Barbara. By way of comparison, the list for Madison, Wisconsin is one page.”

The $414, 475 available in grants must be applied for by June 9, 2006, with the largest grants in community and development money coming in at $4000. Davis and Brush will hold application workshops at the Lobero Theatre on April 26 and May 17.

However you slice it, this 22nd granting period makes Santa Barbara a relative oasis of arts support in contemporary America, and Brush points out that the support offers a much wider benefit than helping the avant-garde to baffle us Barbareños with puzzling public sculpture. “These grants are all about the promotion and preservation of culture in the City. Maybe that’s more ethereal than an object, but it’s very important.”

4•1•1 For more information, call Ginny Brush at 568-3992. You can download grant application forms from

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