The arts group was originally budgeted to receive $175,000 from the city's hotel-motel fund, but city staff projected a shortfall in early May of several million dollars in its hotel-motel tax revenues due to the coronavirus pandemic. At that point, Frisco Arts Executive Director Tammy Meinershagen suggested reducing the amount to $100,000 for this fiscal year only. The arts group uses the money to award individual grants to local arts organizations.
Council decided to wait until the summer to decide on the funding in order to have a better picture of the city’s finances.
Assistant City Manager Nell Lange told council during its July 7 meeting that the $100,000 would come instead from Frisco’s public arts fund. Mayor Jeff Cheney stated Frisco Arts was also bypassing its usual administrative fee this year for overseeing the program. By not taking that fee, which is typically $20,000, he said the organization was basically taking on the program on a volunteer basis.
“We very much appreciate Frisco Arts,” Cheney said. “They administer that [grant program] for us and help us get those funds in the right people's hands to do the most good.”
Jennifer Wade, acting president of Frisco Arts, said she believes the funding will allow some of the 23 arts organizations being awarded grants this year to stage “unique and different” events.
“I've seen at least one of the theater groups is doing a combination [performance] with 10-15 people actually being in the audience, but then selling virtual tickets,” Wade said. “This funding helps make sure that these displays of arts continue, and that all these groups are supported because this is a very, very difficult time for the arts.”
Cheney said he believes it is important for residents to be able to feel a sense of normalcy during the continuing pandemic. As an example, he explained the city received a lot of positive feedback from holding its Fourth of July fireworks show despite having to cancel the Freedom Fest activities because of concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.
“As we evaluate the needs of this community, it's obviously health and safety [priorities] first, but we're also looking at the mental aspects, social aspects [and] all those other things,” Cheney said. “We know that arts can help with all of those. ... I think that was a big part of why we felt like funding that was important.”
Meinershagen said Frisco Arts was grateful council did not completely eliminate funding this year. Still, she said the $175,000 originally earmarked for the program is “significantly lower” than the amount of hotel occupancy tax funds committed to arts programs by Frisco’s neighboring cities.
“Frisco Arts recognizes the growing need for more grant assistance to our arts organizations and artists, musicians, professionals in the arts, especially in light of the pandemic,” Meinershagen said via email. “Nothing is the same as it was, but we still believe an investment in the arts is an investment in the community. We are exploring ways to fill in the gap to keep the arts alive and thriving in Frisco and beyond.”
Council approved the funding agreement by a vote of 4-1 with Council Member Bill Woodard voting against the measure and Council Member John Keating absent from the meeting.
During discussion before the vote, Woodard said he had concerns about whether the program was a good use for the public arts funds as the city does not know the actual cost of maintaining its existing public art. The public arts fund receives its revenue through an allocation from capital improvement projects paid for by the city.
“It's not about whether or not I want to fund the arts,” Woodard said. “It's about whether or not we should or can right now, given the other budgetary problems that we have.”
During his motion to approve the agreement, Mayor Pro Tem Will Sowell added the condition that funding for future years of the arts grant program be decided as part of the city’s budget process each September.
“We are spending this year's dollars now,” Sowell said. “But in September , as we're going through the budget for next [fiscal] year, we would go ahead and have the discussion about funding next year’s part [of the arts grant program].”