San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced a “Shared Prosperity for the Arts Package,” in which the city will contribute $7 million for the next two years to programs supporting the arts.

The new funding package includes a $2 million enhancement to the Cultural Equity Endowment Fund plus $1 million dedicated to Grants for the Arts. The latter supports individual artists and under-served communities, as well as small and mid-sized not-for-profits. An additional $3.8 million has been set aside to make a capital investment in the city’s Civic Art Collection and Cultural Centers and for some unspecified arts education.

A sizzling local economy helped generate these unexpected revenues. As part of the package, the San Francisco Arts Commission (SFAC) also plans to explore new opportunities for how to build dedicated housing for the artists. This will be done in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office, who submitted their two-year budget plan to the Board of Supervisors back on June 1.

We spoke with Tom DeCaigny, who was appointed Director of Cultural Affairs by Mayor Lee in January 2012, about the significance of this news and what makes this funding package so unique.

Why is the Shared Prosperity for the Arts Package so important?

San Francisco would not be the same place without the arts. The arts and culture industry has helped define the character of this city and plays a critical role in fueling our local economy. According to the Americans for the Arts’ recent Creative Industries: Business & Employment in the Arts report, San Francisco is home to over 5,000 arts businesses that employ approximately 30,000 people. Arts and culture tourism brings $1.7 billion of economic activity each year into our city. In our current economic climate when issues around affordability are impacting our artist communities, the Mayor’s Shared Prosperity for the Arts Package demonstrates that as a city we value the arts and are committed to maintaining a vibrant arts ecology in San Francisco.

This is a historic moment – the Mayor has increased the Cultural Equity Endowment by $1 million annually (a 50% increase) bringing the Arts Commission’s total annual grants funding to $5.2 million. He has also dedicated an additional $500,000 annually to Grants for the Arts to support small and mid–size arts organizations with general operating support. Our intent is that this additional funding will help mitigate the impact of our current affordability challenges on our artist communities by providing more opportunities for artists to work and build their overall capacity so that they can continue to thrive. We know that many artists are having to make difficult decisions about whether or not they can afford to stay in the city. We hope this new public funding will help keep artists working and living in San Francisco.

What makes this funding contribution unique compared to efforts in other large cities?

San Francisco provides more per capita funding for the arts than any other large municipality in the country. This, coupled with the fact that San Francisco has one of the fastest growing economies in the nation that has enabled the Mayor to increase funding for the arts, sets us apart from most other cities. We are also innovating with new public/private partnership models like the Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST) to help small and mid-size arts organizations secure long-term, affordable space. As cities across the country grow in population and become more expensive places to live, San Francisco is leading the way with new models that ensure the arts continue to improve our quality of life.

Do you plan to collaborate with other organizations for exploring new opportunities to build housing for artists?

As part of his Shared Prosperity for the Arts package, Mayor Lee has charged the Arts Commission, the Mayor’s Office of Housing and the Office of Community Investment and Infrastructure to come up with a joint proposal for affordable housing for artists, again demonstrating a commitment to preserving artist communities and the cultural fabric of our city.

Are there examples of struggling small and mid-sized arts not-for-profits hurting from the strong local real estate market?

There are many examples. Fortunately, in the last year, the Arts Commission through a $2 million grant to the Northern California Community Loan Fund (NCCLF) and Community Arts Stabilization Trust (CAST) has been able to offer financial and technical assistance to arts non-profits facing eviction or rent increases. NCCLF and CAST have recently announced the grantees receiving direct financial assistance through this fund. They are: Boxcar Theatre, CounterPulse, Gray Area Foundation for the Arts, Inc. Root Division and Women’s Audio Mission. Organizations receiving technical assistance on their lease negotiations and/or affordable space searches include: Artists’ Television Access, ArtSeed, Aunt Lute, Cartoon Art Museum, Center for Sex and Culture, Dance Mission, Galeria de la Raza, Meridian Gallery, Presidio Performing Arts Center, SOMArts, Stagewrite, The Roxie, Theatre Flamenco, and World Arts West.