New voice for the arts could balance the city’s future

Sitting in the first City of Gilroy Arts and Culture Commission
inaugural Round Table Forum Wednesday afternoon at Lizarran
Restaurant downtown, you couldn’t help but be impressed by the
Sitting in the first City of Gilroy Arts and Culture Commission inaugural Round Table Forum Wednesday afternoon at Lizarran Restaurant downtown, you couldn’t help but be impressed by the turnout.

About 100 people showed up in the middle of the afternoon midweek for “Building the Arts through Community.” The group formed a circle of Gilroy wagons. Everyone from the top city administrator to the president of a home-and-school club to representatives of local churches showed up.

It marks the beginning of what could be a powerful new coalition. From my seat, that’s a wonderful thing.

Living in a city is about public safety and it is about good schools and it is about quality facilities, but the arts play a significant role in the quality of life and there has not been a unified voice to make that case.

Thus, we have a woefully underused and expensive to maintain new $30 million police station and mere bread crumbs from the city for arts funding. Yes, that’s overly simplistic, but the point is that balance has been lacking and a unified voice for the arts can only help propel a serious discussion about where that fits into the city’s budgetary future. It’s similar, in some respects, to the conversation that should take place about hiring a downtown events coordinator.

Quality of life issues have been pushed to the back of the bus for years, this despite the city’s flush economic times in its retail heyday. Where did all that good cash go? Largely to public safety staffing, salaries and pensions. Those are important, but not at the expense of so many opportunities to improve the quality of life in Gilroy.

What would you rather have, four firefighters to an engine and $35,000 a year in overtime pay for four firefighters or a downtown events coordinator and full funding for five annual arts events?

Those are, in essence, the questions and issues the community must raise.

One idea floated at the Round Table Forum was to charge a 2% development fee on new homes that would be a permanent source of funding for the arts. That should be discarded. Gilroy’s fees for new homes are among the highest in the nation. It already costs something like $60,000 per single family residence in fees.

It is not the right path to simply seek new funding in these difficult economic times. Our community has to get its collective priorities straightened out and re-introduce balance back into the city budget to improve the quality of life in Gilroy.

That brings up an interesting fact from a Knight Foundation Report that a colleague recently sent my way.

Here’s the headline and the gist of the report: Got Love For Your Community? It May Create Economic Growth, Gallup Study Says.

A three-year Gallup-Knight Foundation study of 26 U.S. cities has found that peoples’ love and passion for their community may be a leading indicator for local economic growth. Surprisingly, social offerings, openness and beauty are far more important than peoples’ perceptions of the economy, jobs or basic services in creating a lasting emotional bond between people and their community.

The 26 cities in the survey with the highest levels of resident love and passion for their community, or resident attachment, also had the highest rates of GDP growth over time.

Fascinating stuff, and interestingly the findings, economic and social, remained constant over the three-year study period.

It’s the type of information that should have public policy implications for our Council. No, the Council shouldn’t just open wide the wallet for the arts or downtown events. But it should make a commitment to actively seek creative ideas for funding that can improve the quality of life in this city.

Moreover, what budgetary items can be trimmed to fund new arts and/or downtown initiatives?

Creative partnerships should be considered. Would the city agree to match funds raised from an annual gala arts event and auction with Community Development Block Grant funds? What about the Gilroy Foundation, would they match, too?

Several attendees suggested that gala event be held at Gilroy Gardens. It’s a good thought, but the “juice” would come from turning the event into something that garners the full support of the community.

What Karen LaCorte and her compadres on the Arts and Culture Commission and the good people from the Arts Alliance have accomplished is the beginning of a coalition that has a different view – an important viewpoint – on what the community’s priorities should be.

That’s a good thing because it has the potential to lead to a better Gilroy.

Having more local musicians at the Garlic Festival on Friday this year is an example of a step in the right direction. But what about a local artist’s corner in the arts and crafts area at the Garlic Festival featuring local artists with brochures available about the art offerings in our town.

Hundreds of creative ideas were tossed about at the Round Table. That list will be distilled and, hopefully, focused in a reasonable way and then, will be put into action.

The Council should heed words from Paula Ellis from the Knight Foundation who said this about the report: “This study is important because its findings about emotional attachment to place point to a new perspective that we encourage leaders to consider; it is especially valuable as we aim to strengthen our communities during this tough economic time.”

What bolsters Gilroy and the local economy isn’t always black and white. What kind of a “place” does Gilroy want to be in 2020?

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