Vice-Mayor Terry Scott honored the hours-long outpouring of community support for Benicia’s Arts & Culture Commission and Human Services Board with a special message
Message from Benicia Vice-Mayor Terry Scott, June 7, 2023:
After almost four hours of passionate and insightful community testimony, City Council last night agreed to continue future funding for the Arts and Culture Commission and the Human Services Board.
The extended community testimony and the City Council’s decision to continue funding the Arts and Culture Commission and the Human Services Board demonstrate the importance of community engagement in local governance.
I believe when individuals passionately express their thoughts and concerns, it helps shape decisions that directly impact the well-being and development of the city.
The ongoing support and participation of Benicians in the decision making process will undoubtedly continue to play a crucial role in the future of the city as we move into balancing our community priorities within the scope of our budget crisis.
Thanks to all who participated.
Terry Scott Vice-Mayor of Benicia
[Note from BenIndy Contributor Nathalie Christian: This was a hard battle, fought brilliantly by dedicated community members, and supported by Benicia City Council’s ‘listening leadership.’ Although City staff initially recommended that the ACC and HSB budgets both be reduced to zero for fiscal years ’24/’25, City Council Members ultimately voted to reduce the ACC’s budget by only ~25 percent, and the HSB’s budget was reduced along roughly the same lines. I join Vice-Mayor Scott in thanking everyone who took the time to be heard, and I also thank Benicia’s Mayor Steve Young, Vice-Mayor Scott, and Council Members Kari Birdseye, Tom Campbell and Trevor Macenski for actively encouraging and accepting community feedback as they work to address Benicia’s budget crisis.]
Two local artists share why we must protect arts & culture in Benicia. Here’s how to add your voice to theirs
By Nathalie Christian, June 5, 2023
City Council will vote on the future of arts and culture in Benicia this Tuesday, June 6, at the City Council meeting starting at 6 pm.
In light of Benicia’s budget crisis, City staff have apparently recommended that Benicia’s Arts & Culture Commission’s already modest budget be reduced to zero.
Gutting the commission’s budget so drastically will negatively impact Benicia both materially and immaterially. There are so many essential arts, music, dance and theater programs in Benicia that, while supported by our community, also rely on City funding to fully serve residents and visitors. Such funding reaches highly respected organizations like Arts Benicia, Benicia Old Town Theatre Group, Benicia Performing Arts Foundation and Benicia Ballet through modest grants carefully considered by and disbursed through the Arts & Culture Commission.
This move by City staff arose from the need to address Benicia’s budget issues, but it is also short-sighted. The reduction and threatened total cessation of the wonderful programs, exhibits and performances Benicia has traditionally been able to offer its residents and visitors will certainly have a negative impact on Benicia’s appeal, leading to additional decreases in Benicia’s growth and revenue.
And that impact is nothing compared to the threatened cost to the mind, body and soul of our small but mighty city; the tangible and intangible things that make Benicia Benicia.
To protect Benicia’s future as both a home to and destination for the arts, performance and cultural exploration, your voice is needed, urgently. Please prepare to act today. Just a few minutes is all it will take to be heard.
Here is important information regarding the urgent timeline:
You have until 2 pm Tuesday, June 6 to email a public comment in support of the Arts & Culture Commission’s future.
You can also live-Zoom or live-call in to the City Council’s 6 pm meeting to share your comment.
Best yet, you can attend this City Council meeting in person to share your comment face-to-face with those who will be making this decision.
Looking for inspiration on what to write?
Two amazing local artists, Larnie Fox and Lisa Reinertson, were kind enough to share excerpts from their letters defending the Arts & Culture Commission’s budget. The letters make excellent cases for both the public and personal costs of gutting our budget. Please feel free to draw from these letters as inspiration when you write your own or prepare your public comment. (I have.)
Scroll all the way down to view their letters.
How to write and email a public comment
Members of the public may provide public comment via email to the City Clerk by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any comment submitted to the City Clerk should indicate to which item of the agenda the comment relates. (WE ARE ITEM 22.C – PROPOSED FISCAL YEARS 2024 & 2025 BUDGETS.)
– Comments received by 2:00 pm on the day of the meeting will be electronically forwarded to the City Council and posted on the City’s website.
– Comments received after 2:00 pm, but before the start time of the meeting will be electronically forwarded to the City Council but will not be posted on the City’s website.
In your email, put the item number in your subject line (e.g., “Public comment re. Item 22.C”).
In your email body, share why you support keeping arts and culture alive and well in Benicia. Scroll down to see sample letters.
How to view the meeting and/or make a live public comment
You can participate in the meeting in one of four ways:
1) Attend in person at Council Chambers
2) Cable T.V. Broadcast – Check with your cable provider for your local government broadcast channel.
3) Livestream online at www.ci.benicia.ca.us/agendas
4) Zoom Meeting (link below)
Use participant option to “raise hand” during the public comment period for the item you wish to speak on. Please note, your electronic device must have microphone capability. Once unmuted, you will have up to 5 minutes to speak.
Dial in with phone:
Before the start of the item you wish to comment on, call any of the numbers below. If one is busy, try the next one.
1 669 900 9128
1 346 248 7799
1 253 215 8782
1 646 558 8656
1 301 715 8592
1 312 626 6799
• Enter the meeting ID number: 885 0804 7557 (*please note this is an updated ID number*.)
Say the item you wish to speak on. (THE PROPOSED BUDGET CUTS ARE ITEM 22.C.)
Once unmuted, you will have up to 5 minutes to speak.
Enter password: 449303
When prompted for a Participant ID, press #.
Press *9 on your phone to “raise your hand” when the Mayor calls for public comment.
Any member of the public who needs accommodations should email City Clerk Lisa Wolfe at email@example.com, who will use her best efforts to provide as much accessibility as possible while also maintaining public safety.
‘What should I say?’ Two amazing Benicia artists share their thoughts
Two local artists were kind enough to share excerpts from their letters defending the Arts & Culture Commission’s budget. Please feel free to draw from them as inspiration when you write your own or prepare your public comment.
Larnie Fox is a prominent local visual and sound artist and hyper-connector. He is the director of the Crank Ensemble, a group that performs on hand-cranked instruments built by Larnie. As the former director of Arts Benicia (among several leadership roles in arts organizations serving both youth and adults), he is well positioned to speak to the value of arts in education, expression and beyond. (His wife Bodil is also an amazing artist and connector, by the way!)
Dear Council Members, Mayor and Interim City Manager ~
The arts are not a frill!
This past year, I taught Arts Benicia STEAM drawing classes for all the fifth graders at Joe Henderson Elementary School. […] Doing this work I saw again how very important it is for our kids to learn a few basic skills that enable them to express themselves non-verbally; to make their own decisions and take responsibility for them; to learn to think creatively; how much it empowers them, and how much pride they take in their work.
This program is a small slice of Arts Benicia’s children’s art outreach, which in turn is a small slice of what Arts Benicia does for our community. Add that to what Benicia Ballet, Benicia Literary Arts, Benicia Theatre Group, Benicia State Parks Association, and VOENA bring to the table and you can see that by spending $78,000, Benicia is getting a tremendous amount of “bang for the buck”. This is a drop in the bucket for the City, whose annual budget is roughly $54.5 million.
A 2017 Americans for the Arts study conducted by the Arts and Culture Commision in Benicia concluded:
“Arts & Economic Prosperity 5 provides evidence that the nonprofit arts and culture sector is a significant industry in the City of Benicia—one that generates $4.7 million in total economic activity. This spending—$2.9 million by nonprofit arts and cultural organizations and an additional $1.8 million in event-related spending by their audiences—supports 149 full-time equivalent jobs, generates $2.7 million in household income to local residents, and delivers $414,000 in local and state government revenue. This economic impact study sends a strong signal that when we support the arts, we not only enhance our quality of life, but we also invest in the City of Benicia’s economic well-being.”
Just by the economics alone, without considering all the cultural and human benefits, it is short-sighted to cut arts funding.
I appreciate that this is a difficult time for the City, but our local arts groups are already stretched thin. They do so much with so little.
I urge you to leave the Arts and Culture Commission’s very modest budget alone, and look for cuts elsewhere.
Lisa Reinertson is a Benicia artist whose figurative ceramic and bronze public sculptures have been stationed across the state and country, as well as on Benicia’s own waterfront (she’s the artist behind Neptune’s Daughter!). Lisa has drawn from her personal experience as a struggling artist to explain why we must look beyond the bottom line to really understand what tremendous value the Arts & Culture Commission adds to Benicia through its modest but highly effective grant disbursements.
Dear Mayor, City Council and Staff,
I am writing in regards to the funding of the Arts in Benicia. I would like you to consider what makes this town a desirable place to live and to visit, and how we value the vibrant cultural aspects of our community.
Imagine Benicia without Arts Benicia, with its rich diversity of art exhibitions bringing both local and national artworks to our community. As a cultural hub where both adults and children can take classes that enrich their lives and stimulate ideas and imagination, Arts Benicia gives back so much more that the bottom line of dollars can measure.
The City gives just a small amount of support to the arts as it is. But that support multiplies in the hands of our dedicated arts leaders in this community; bringing choirs, theater, dance and visual arts into full blossom here.
If you want to look solely at the bottom line of dollars, I think it is easily argued that the small investment pays off in huge ways in money spent in our town which is known for having a vibrant art community and presence.
At one time in my life, as I was struggling as a single parent artist between teaching jobs and public commissions, I was advised by a frugal ( and indifferent) family member to move into an apartment and get a job at McDonald’s. Instead, I took out a loan on my house and invested back into myself to keep my studio going. I made it through that rough spot and was able to continue making public art and teach at college art departments and pay off the loan in short time.
Let’s not make short sighted foolish decisions that would snuff out our thriving culturally rich community. Let’s look at the long view and understand that the crucial value of the arts in our community may not be obvious to value in dollars alone, but it is a value that is so much greater than that; to keep Benicia a place we want to live and thrive in.
Arts Benicia and its community grieves as one as we share the sad news that our dear friend, the “mayor of the Arsenal,” Mike Kendall passed away Tuesday night. Mike was an exceptional painter, sculptor and creator. More a creative force than just creator, he infused everything he did with a contagious, positive energy. Supportive, involved, and connected, he helped others make the connections they needed to be successful. Always there to lend a hand with anything and everything. Generous to Arts Benicia and to many other great creative causes in the community. Mike will be deeply missed by all.
Local artist Toby Tover is proving that election campaigns don’t have to all look alike. The colorful and creative yard signs supporting Steve Young for Mayor and Terry Scott for City Council that have popped up all over town in recent weeks are the proof. The idea behind the signs was a simple one: ask local artists to create original campaign posters and signs for candidates who have always supported the arts.
It originated with Tover, and it was something new for this long-time Benicia artist. “I’ve never gotten involved in a local election before this one,” she said. “But I really felt strongly about helping Steve.”
“Steve’s support of local artists has been so strong for so many years,” she said. “He’s been at all the Arts Benicia events. He and his wife Marty visit our studios and galleries, and buy art from local artists. I felt it was time to step up and give back.”
It helped that Tover also spent more than 30 years in marketing and could visualize how the look of a campaign could be unique, how the branding could stand out. “I’d been thinking how boring signs can be, how repetitious,” she said. “They get lost because they are all basically the same, usually the same color, design, font. There had to be a way to make it different.”
Like with many of her best ideas, Tover found the solution in the middle of the night. “I have insomnia and often use the time to work out some of the problems or challenges with my art,” she said. “That’s when it struck me how the artists in town could help the campaign. How about making unusual and eye-popping signs which could be sold as a fundraiser?”
She texted Young the next day and ran the idea by him. He loved it but had two suggestions. He thought that the signs potentially could be auctioned off and suggested the sign campaign include Terry Scott who is running for City Council.
As chair of the Benicia Arts and Culture Commission and Public Art Committee since 2017, Scott too has worked closely with the artist community, especially in creating public art projects throughout the city. Young and Scott worked together to help bring artist’s Lisa Reinertson’s iconic statue, “Neptune’s Daughter,” to the Benicia waterfront.
With both candidates on board, the campaign project was a go, but to pull it off, Tover needed help. Young reached out to his friends and supporters Benicia artists, Larnie and Bodil Fox and Jenn Hanley, who agreed immediately. Other friends jumped in, and the team quickly organized a plan.
“When I heard about Toby’s idea from Steve I knew it could make a great project, and I volunteered to coordinate with the artists,” Larnie Fox said. “The project did raise money, but more importantly we created colorful campaign materials that spread a positive message.”
Hanley created and facilitated the two auctions. She also designed the digital graphics for the events, oversaw all the financials and handled much of the promotion. Jack Ruszel of Ruszel Woodworks donated the sign materials.
Ultimately, 35 artists created more than 70 signs including two by the internationally-known Reinertson. The response was so great that the team decided to hold two online auctions, two weeks apart in September. After the auctions, the Foxes distributed the signs and installed many in the yards of lucky winners.
The project raised more than $3,500 for the campaigns. Both Young and Scott are delighted with the results and grateful for the support of the community artists. “This is so different from your typical campaign effort,” Young said. “But it certainly reflects how our campaigns have tried to connect not only to the artist community, but to the larger community who could see and appreciate how unique this effort truly was.”
“I loved this project the first time I heard about it,” Scott said. “Isn’t it great to see political support expressed not in anger and violence in us vs. them tones— but expressed as positive statements with hope and color? Each sign is an individual message of political support, but it’s also a message of how many of us Benicians view our world with positivity and hope.”