Santa Barbara: Where the Arts Have Not Mattered for 44 Years!

By Jeff Giordano   |   March 15, 2022

Recently, I had some L.A. friends move to town (don’t be alarmed, they really are “nice”). Mistakenly, they thought that I knew a bit about our County and asked: “So where does ‘our’ money go?” Mind you, these are philanthropic folks who care about culture so I had to be honest: “I can tell you one thing, it doesn’t go to the arts.” Allow me to explain:

In 1978, Santa Barbara County developed a plan — one that has yet to be updated — to support the arts, sort of. You see, as it relates to “support” – the level is laughingly dated/anemic, and as it relates to the “arts” – the definition is painfully narrow. Anyway, what this plan (Ordinance 3068) provided was that 1% of County construction budgets (e.g. parking lots and buildings) be earmarked for the adornment of these public spaces. You see, for me, and this is in keeping with the broader stated purpose of 3068, the arts must also include music, dance, theater, and literature. You know, all those things that our individual largesse makes possible, and all those things that make Santa Barbara culturally wonderful. 

As for the funding itself, guess how much our Office of Arts and Culture receives annually from our $1.35B County? Hold onto your hats: around $300K. Yes, just $300K to support the arts, a $198M industry sector that boasts 5,857 jobs and generates $19M in local and state revenue. Shameful!

Perhaps in 1978 this plan seemed sound. After all, back then we were actually building (rather than simply repairing), our crumbling Bauhaus edifice(s). But times have changed and as it relates to capital improvements, we make very few. Indeed, according to the most recent budget, we have $471M in deferred maintenance – $471M! And, on the revenue side, although our revenues have soared by $160M, our funding for the arts has remained at pitifully low historic levels, i.e. $300K.

You need to understand something about our County, and while this is not the place to dig deeply, I will let you in on a secret: The County always wants to talk “revenue” because it keeps us from talking about something much darker and more important, “expenses.” Allow me to mention just a few County expenses to put the $300K for the arts in context: $700M for salaries (a $34M increase from last year); $17M to operate our newly minted, white elephant, jail (a $2M increase from last year); $325K for Employee Housing and Leadership Compensation studies (huh?); and about $800K for cannabis related hires re: licensing, planning, and tax enforcement (one out of three growers refuse to pay taxes). One quick word about cannabis — I really can’t help myself — our tax scheme is the laughingstock of the entire state. Last quarter each grower paid just $27K on average. Cannabis is not our savior, it is Santa Barbara’s version of the Emperor’s New Clothes, a fairytale repeated by our opinion-based (other than the MJ) media. Fact: The arts are more valuable than large-scale commercial cannabis can ever hope to be!

So, let all five of our supervisors know that we need to develop a new and forward-looking arts funding mechanism. Also, let our CEO Mona Miyasato know that a society is measured by what they fund and, perhaps, the arts are a bit more important than a Compensation Study (i.e. Are we making enough?). Never forget, although we are blessed with sunshine, our County has a very dark underbelly. The arts need support and it can’t always come from the incredible generosity of a few (Towbes, McCune, etc.) — let’s start understanding where our money goes and demand “more.” After all, 44 years is a very long time.

Jeff Giordano, SB County Resident 


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