If you’re looking to dispel the notion that Santa Fe dismisses youth artistic movements, don’t go asking the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Shortly after a blog post by SFR Staff Writer Wren Abbott [SFReporter.com, Sept. 30, 2011: “Tourism Board Seeking Proposals”], Shannon Murphy, a founding member of Santa Fe’s After Hours Alliance, began putting together a presentation for the bureau’s Occupancy Tax Advisory Board.
OTAB presides over tax dollars made from hotel bookings, deciding how best to spend them in order to attract tourism via cultural events.
As AHA is all about cultural events, Murphy believed the progressive youth arts organization would be a perfect fit for occupancy tax funds. “We wanted to use the money to build a website, and I put together a packet that outlined our strategy for gradually growing our festival into more of a regional thing,” Murphy says. “We think we can fill in some of the dead areas that would ultimately bring more tourism to Santa Fe.”
OTAB was friendly and receptive to her proposal, Murphy says, but the Visitors Bureau’s executive director, Jim Bradbury, ultimately advised that the money would most likely be awarded to projects aimed at an older crowd. “I can’t recall if that’s specifically what I said to her,” Bradbury tells SFR, “but I can tell you that OTAB is an independent board that I have no control over. Ninety-four percent of our tourism is aged 35 and above, so I may have mentioned that.”
Murphy says that she understands the board’s point of view, but she believes that its thinking is deeply flawed. Local groups have the numbers, but not the funding. “It’s not that I think [OTAB] were being rude by any means, but I think there’s a hole in this strategy,” she says. “We’ve got organizations like Meow Wolf or AHA that are trying to fill in their funding gaps, and it’s becoming clear that it will be harder for younger-oriented organizations to get in on these traditional arts grants.”
OTAB Member Mary Bonney describes any suggestion of ageism among the board as “ridiculous.” “To apply for funding, you must be a nonprofit—or operate under the umbrella of one—but there is certainly no age limit,” Bonney says. “In fact, we’d love for some of the money to go to a younger organization…we believe organizations that have applied for and received funding year after year should be able to get along fine without us at this point.”
Whether AHA had an airtight plan for the greatest music festival of all time, it is nonetheless ineligible to receive funding without 501(c)3 status. “There are quite a few hoops to jump through in order to become a nonprofit,” Murphy says. “If you project under $10,000 per fiscal year, you have to pay the IRS a $400 application fee, and that’s still no guarantee you’ll be approved.”
Further adding to the complications, Murphy says, OTAB has a “heads in beds” imperative and measures success in hotel bookings. “I get that this money is for the sustainability of tourism, but I don’t think that it’s exclusively hotel guests spending money within the community,” she says. “When I travel, I’ll stay on any couch I can and still spend money at clubs or restaurants or movies.”
More importantly, she points out, a vital local scene not only supports a thriving, locally supported economy, but also builds an environment attractive to out-of-towners. “The reasons tourists will visit a place are often the reasons that make the locals want to keep living there, and the ultimate goal is to find the middle ground that serves everyone,” Murphy says. “I’m optimistic, but it’s still hard.”
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