Two local artists share why we must protect arts & culture in Benicia. Here’s how to add your voice to theirsBy 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)
The public may view and participate (via computer or phone) link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88508047557?pwd=cHRsZlBrYlphU3pkODcycytmcFR2UT09
- If prompted for a password, enter 449303.
- 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.)
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.