City Arts and Culture Department Budget Slashed

Santa Fe's lodgers tax revenue estimates have dropped by half, and the culture spending plans with it

Santa Fe city officials spent the week discussing a newly revised plan to close an estimated $83 million budget shortfall in the fiscal year that began this month, and many have praised  Mayor Alan Webber and the city's planning efforts that save jobs for city workers amidst the financial turmoil of COVID-19.

Webber's Dickensian letter prefacing the budget talked plenty about the worst of times and being gentle, yet bold. But it left out mention of a concession that makes a victim of the Arts and Culture Department, which is staring down cuts of more than half its operating revenue due to a steep drop in the city's lodgers tax that pays for it.

The city projects revenues from those "bed taxes" on hotels and short-term rentals could drop by 50% due to public health orders that cap hotel occupancy and discourage tourism. That leads to potentially devastating fallout for the Arts and Culture Department's Cultural Investments initiative, which matches funds with cultural organizations and/or local arts education programming.

"Originally, before COVID hit, we were seeing a lot of increases to our programming," Director Pauline Kanako Kamiyama tells SFR. "The revenues were coming in high, then all of a sudden the pandemic hit, and all departments across the board were asked, as an exercise, to cut our budgets; we were asked to look at a 43% adjustment and we had to meet a bottom line number."

That percentage ultimately dipped to 53% based on projections, or roughly $1 million that had to be cut from the department's spending plan for the next year. (See page 40 of this document.) City Council is set to vote on the budget Wednesday.

"Frankly, I think we were pretty fortunate," adds Assistant Department Director Rod Lambert, pointing out that two vacancies within the department saved it from having to lay off workers.

Originally the Santa Fe Arts Commission, the city renamed the office as the Arts and Culture Department in February with a mission to enrich the lives of Santa Feans through public arts and cultural initiatives. Earlier in the pandemic, for example, it kicked off the Culture Connects Coalition Artist Relief Fund, a series of micro-grants for struggling artists in the COVID-19 age. The fund has completed two rounds so far, and Kamiyama says a third and final round should go public in the not-too-distant future.

"We calculate that 82% of the people who received funding identified as BIPOC," Lambert points out.

Additionally, the department's Santa Fe Community Gallery in the Santa Fe Community Convention Center on Marcy Street, which has been a long-standing physical manifestation of the mission, sits dark as cultural institutions wait for the ever-changing Phase Two rollout of statewide re-openings. Art galleries in the state have been permitted to welcome visitors, but not museums or similar venues.

"We're still in the first wave, the first phase of re-opening," Kamiyama says. "We're anticipating fall or winter to be the second wave."

For now, the Community Gallery's last show, Play/Things: The Iconography of the Toy—which was slated to open in March—sits un-viewed. Lambert, who also heads up the gallery space, says that once things return to some semblance of normal, they'll pick up where things left off, leaving the show up for an additional three months.

Another possible silver lining is that we're still talking in hypotheticals, and lodgers tax revenue could best current projections. It's a bit of a longshot, but if this ends up being the case, things could look differently.

"The lodgers tax has not been collected," Kamiyama says. "It's been tracked, but the city has not collected revenue. As time goes on in the fiscal year, if additional tax comes in, we can adjust our budget accordingly."

In the meantime, the Arts and Culture Department is working with as many arts and culture organizations as is possible—a side effect of the pandemic that seems to have caused otherwise competitive or solitary orgs and artists to collaborate with others. Lambert says that Kamiyama started meeting with grantees and organization administrators within weeks of the lockdowns.

"She'll host them, talk about what they're doing, what they're working on, what are they innovating, what are their challenges—how can we help?" he says "From what I've seen, it's developed this mentality where everybody is more open to sharing their projects and reporting what works. I think it's making a more collaborative arts and culture community than it's ever been."

"We have groups coming together asking 'how do we do this, how do we find a site, and we have different organizations step up," Kamiyama says. "We still haven't figured it all out—virtual is great, but we want that in-person experience—but we'll continue to connect and bridge those organizations together. We all have resources."

For now, she says,  it's going to take time for to make plans that stick.

"Culture is resilient," Kamiyama says. "We have a lot of stories to hear, so it's a time for listening and a time for activation."

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.