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Council agrees to fill funding gap for next phase of Sculpture Exhibition

By SARA HALL

City Council this week agreed to fill a funding gap for the next phase of the rotating sculpture exhibition in Civic Center Park by re-allocating money eartagged for another arts project.

Councilmembers voted 6-0 (Councilmember Brad Avery was absent) on Tuesday (Oct. 24) to re-allocate funds to fill the $24,000 gap for Sculpture Exhibition Phase IX, as requested by the Arts Commission.

The Arts Commission reviewed the funding and discussed the upcoming phase of the Civic Center Park’s rotating exhibition at their October 12 meeting. The FY 2023-24 budget includes $135,000 for the next phase of the sculpture garden and the Newport Beach Arts Foundation has committed $10,000 to support the project.

At the October meeting, the commission reviewed two proposals submitted by Arts Orange County for project management of Phase IX of the Sculpture Exhibition. The first called for the installation of the usual 10 sculptures at a total cost of $169,000. The second proposal called for the installation of eight sculptures at a total project cost of $145,000. The exhibition Commissioners ultimately approved the proposal for 10 sculptures.

The program rotates sculptures at the Civic Center Park for a two-year period. Sculptors are provided with a small honorarium, not to exceed $5,000, to loan their work to Newport Beach. The city is responsible for installing the art, while sculptors are responsible for the transportation, maintenance and repair of their work. Phases overlap for a one-year period so that 20 pieces are typically on display.

During public comment, Arts Commission Chair Maureen Flanagan explained the situation.

“We would not be in this position if the request for $45,000 had been approved last year. We received no increase and, in fact, we haven’t had an increase in our budget in five years,” she said. “We all know inflation is with us and it is sticky. Prices have increased, yet we received $26,000 less than we did five years ago.”

Several councilmembers have encouraged her and the Arts Commission to find other funding sources, but she was advised by the city that policy A-2 does not allow a commission to raise funds.

“Our ask is simple: Fill the gap for this year and approve an increase in our budget in the next cycle,” she continued. “If you choose not to fund the gap, there will be two empty pads in the sculpture garden, which will look unfinished, but more importantly you’re setting a precedent to make our ‘museum without walls’ less than the stellar attraction it has been for residents and visitors to Newport Beach since the first installation in 2014. We all want Newport Beach to remain as beautiful and vibrant as it has. Don’t diminish the sculpture garden. Fund the gap.”

The unallocated $24,000 is earmarked for another project on the books, wrapping of utility boxes, she explained.

Council agrees to fill funding gap for next phase eagle sculpture

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Sara Hall

Council approved a request for additional funds for the next phase of the rotating sculpture garden at the Newport Beach Civic Center (pictured is “Prey” by Lisa and Robert Ferguson from a previous phase)

Councilmember Robyn Grant said she doesn’t want to reduce the sculpture collection, but she would consider holding off on spending money on a new project.

“I am not in favor of empty pads out in the sculpture collection, but I am also not in favor of extending additional budget resources when we knew what the budget was. So I’m having a little problem finding a good landing spot here,” Grant said.

A few councilmembers asked if wrapping the utility boxes could be tabled for the time being so the funds could be re-allocated for the shortfall with the sculptures.

Library Services Director Melissa Hartson confirmed the money could be re-allocated. This is the exact same action taken last year to fund the Sculpture Exhibition, she noted. They were $24,000 short last fiscal year and they reallocated programming and professional services money to fund the exhibition for 10 sculptures.

They have approximately $30,000 left in programming to cover the Newport Beach Art Exhibition (last year cost about $20,000) and the Student Art Exhibition (costs about $2,000), she added.

They also have about $16,000 unallocated for professional services, which is to cover any maintenance for public art within the city, as well as transcripts and services for Arts Commission meetings.

Ultimately, Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill made a motion to approve the re-allocation of $24,000 to cover the shortfall to allow for 10 sculptures to be installed.

In addition to Tuesday’s specific item, Grant highlighted what led to this point, past actions and what they need to do moving forward.

“I’d like to just dial this back for a minute, maybe add a little context and maybe expand the conversation to the extent we can within the agenda item,” Grant said.

First, they need to immediately deal with the current shortfall. They should also discuss concepts about properly budgeting in the future. She also emphasized the need for a discussion about council policy I-10 (financial support for culture and arts) and how it applies to the Arts Commission and their duties and obligations, with respect to spending the city’s money.

Before she could pinpoint the previous changes that were made to the I-10 policy, which she said are a part of the problem, City Attorney Aaron Harp interjected with a reminder for the council to stay focused on the item that was noticed, specifically the request for additional funding. Discussion of the broader issues, like council policy, will have to be agendized separately, he said.

The only reason she brought it up is because she believes the problem with the shortfall extends from what’s in the I-10 policy, Grant replied. She withdrew her specific comments and spoke more to the overall issue as it relates to the current funding gap that council reviewed on Tuesday.

“Very generally, there’s a commitment required from the arts commissioners to get the shortfall in funding from the community,” it’s the obligation of the Arts Commission under I-10, Grant explained, “So I do think that that comes up under this agenda item. They’re asking for additional money and that’s where it’s supposed to come from.”

Commissioner Joe Stapleton said he loves seeing the sculptures at the Civic Center Park and that the community can pull together to do better on this project.

“I love the fact and I’m proud of the fact that the City of Newport Beach invests into their public arts,” he said.

There are plenty of people in the community that could cut a check for $24,000, he pointed out. He’d like to see an engaged conversation about working with the NB Arts Foundation.

“Yes, there are thousands, tens of thousands of people in this community that could cut a check and they don’t. It’s been true for years and it’s been the issue that has been popped up over and over and over again,” O’Neill responded.

There’s an entire budget process that the city has gone through and the Arts Commission has the amount of money that they knew they had the entire year, O’Neill said. The council creates a budget framework and every department has to stay within that, he emphasized.

“It bothers me, as chairman of the Finance Committee, to have a budget allocation made at the council level and then come to us saying we don’t have enough when they’ve known the amount that they had the entire time,” O’Neill said. “(They) either need to cut back or they need to go out and request the funding from another source. That other source obviously hasn’t materialized. There’s just not the support, there just isn’t. And we should be recognizing that the private money on that is voluntary, tax dollars are not. And we need to be doing a little bit better on it than what we’re talking about right now.”

Although Grant agreed that “the budget is the budget” and everyone lives with it (unless there are extenuating circumstances, which aren’t occurring here), she didn’t think the budget process was properly applied in this circumstance, with respect to policy I-10.

“I do think that there’s a different disconnect here and specifically that I-10 says something that we didn’t do and I think that that’s why we get to this point every fall, maybe, is that we aren’t really identifying the right way to deal with this budgeting for this particular enterprise,” she said. “It just doesn’t seem like we’re doing what we say we’re doing and it’s confusing.”

She supports the programs, but the process didn’t seem to work very well this year, Grant added.

The process includes the Arts Commission requesting a certain amount of funds for a budget. In this instance, “there was less money given than was asked for and the Arts Commission went ahead and programmed their year,” which includes a lot of popular events and activities, she explained.

“I just want to make sure that there’s not a frustration and a disconnect on how we fund and how we spend,” Grant said. “So we didn’t necessarily budget for everything that the Arts Commission wanted to do and now we’re at this juncture where we either have to cut back on what we’re going to do or extend the additional budget.”

Although $24,000 is a relatively small number compared to the overall budget, Newport Beach does have some high-level ambitions and grandiose ideas, said Councilmember Erik Weigand.

“I would love to have the Arts Commission think strategically outside of the box for this,” he said.

Answering a council question, Harston confirmed that leadership at the Newport Beach Arts Foundation has changed this year and there is an attempt to grow and raise additional funds to help support the Arts Commission with the Sculpture Exhibition.

Their goal is to raise additional funds beyond what they’ve been raising previously to supplement this project, Weigand said.

“They’re starting off in this phase of trying to raise money and here we are in the early stages of it. The hope is to start doing a little bit greater and greater when it comes, especially, to this because of this continual shortfall. It seems to be kind of a pattern here that we’re addressing this little gap,” Weigand said.

They could partner with local schools or other regional agencies, Weigand suggested, which could “bring this new level of engagement to the city and maybe that could perk the interest of the Arts Foundation at a local level.

“These are just suggestions. I’m just thinking outside the box for us later, but let’s get this done with and move on so we don’t deal with it again,” Weigand said. “This is a problem that we keep coming back to have to address.”

He warned against setting a precedent of only installing eight sculptures instead of the usual 10, but they also need to tackle this issue so it doesn’t keep returning to the council.

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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