Phoenix Approves $2.6 Million In Coronavirus Relief For The Arts

By Steve Goldstein
Published: Wednesday, May 13, 2020 - 2:14pm
Updated: Wednesday, May 13, 2020 - 2:33pm

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: The Phoenix City Council has approved $2.6 million in arts and culture relief. Cultural organizations in the city are expected to lose anywhere from $10,000 to $1 million due to the coronavirus pandemic. And individual artists who've been counting on shows or sales are suffering as well. With me now is Mitch Menchaca, the city of Phoenix's executive director of arts and culture. And Mitch, break this down for us. How much aid can each applicable arts or culture group receive? And are there requirements around how that money is supposed to be spent?

MITCH MENCHACA: So the proposal that we made yesterday to try to create a plan for the original $2 million was to allow grantees that recently completed applications — and we're going through our annual review process — to be able to then, if recommended for funding this summer, to be able to apply for the emergency relief funding, which most council members felt was a good process because it helps make sure that our review process ensures that those organizations are good organizations to accept public funds in the first place. There were a few council members that asked, you know, if a group didn't apply for your regular grants, how would they be eligible for this? And we're working out those details now. Organizations could receive between $5,000 to $50,000 based on their budget size. Councilwoman [Debra] Stark yesterday mentioned the Phoenix Symphony, which has a large budget — would $50,000 be enough? And it's probably not going to solve all the issues for an organization, but it does at least help relieve a headache for an organization. But $50,000 is the max. And we base that off the National Endowment for the Arts relief funding guidelines.

GOLDSTEIN: Can you give us an idea of where the money's coming from?

MENCHACA: Sure. So when the federal government came out with their Coronavirus Relief Fund for state, local and regional territories, it was stimulus money to help municipalities and state governments and county government — help community, help their city government operations. However, the funding couldn't be used to fill in lost revenue. And cities over 500,000 residents received a certain portion of stimulus money directly. And we received $293 million from the federal government. And so the city manager laid out a plan for three areas of investment — one being called community investment, one being city operations and the third holding into a reserve because the money can be used through December of 2020. The community investment pot received $75 million from investment that was approved by city council a couple of weeks ago. And in that with arts assistance, and it was the original $2 million. So this isn't a local Phoenix money. This isn't money that we had. This is money that was directed towards us to utilize. And the reason why arts assistance and business assistance have come into the picture is because one of the provisions of this coronavirus relief money is to help businesses and residents who have lost economic income or had hardships because of the pandemic.

GOLDSTEIN: Mitch, is there still a debate — one sided though it may be — as to whether a city, a state, the federal government should be funding arts at all? I mean, there were a couple of people on social media after the council approved this that I noticed said, "Well, we'd be better off if we just focused on core services, whatnot."

MENCHACA: There's always the debate. And I think with every topic, you can debate it either way. And without getting political, I'll just let my personal self on the line. When I graduated high school, I decided that the arts was a career that I was choosing. And I went to school for it. I got a job in it. And while I'm not a practicing artist because I couldn't take the rejection of "no" being an actor, I felt that I still could provide service to the sector on the managerial side. So personally, as myself, as resident, when people say the arts are fluff and shouldn't be funded, well, you're making an affront to a choice that I made for my career. I'm not making an affront to the career choices that you made. And I think that the case needs to be made, that it's an industry, it's a sector, it's a piece of quality of life in the economy. And I think even if you shot out all of those facts and all those figures, I still get friends and family of my own who roll their eyes and think that core service is, you know, emergency management and fire and police and those kinds of things — which are great because without safety we don't feel safe in our worlds to then do the careers that we are choosing to set. But yes, definitely there is the debate. And I think there's a debate on every side. Ad especially with this relief money, I'm hearing from colleagues all over the country that the core services are being funded. And that's really great for those communities. But those cities that are investing in other areas, including arts and culture, I think are going to be better off in the long run.

GOLDSTEIN: That is Mitch Menchaca. He is executive director of the Phenix Office of Arts and Culture. Mitch, thank you for the time and stay well. We appreciate it.

MENCHACA: Thank you so much.

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