City Council discusses ratings process of arts grants program

Santa Clarita City Hall is located on the 23900 block of Valencia Blvd. File Photo

The process for how local organizations receive grant funding for arts programs and services for the community from the city of Santa Clarita could soon change with the implementation of a peer panel with outside arts experts. 

On Tuesday, the Santa Clarita City Council discussed revising the rating process for the Arts Grants program, which has funded community organizations’ projects for nearly 30 years. 

In recent years, more than 30 agencies have benefitted from $180,000 in grant dollars for programs and projects such as volunteer training, diabetes prevention, books for children and adaptive sports wheelchairs. The 2020 grant cycle will also offer $180,000. 

While City Council members expressed their support to continue funding local organizations’ programs and services, their thoughts on the process in which organizations are chosen differed. 

The rating process for the program is currently executed by a city grant committee, which is comprised of two council members, the Parks, Recreation, and Community Services Commission chair, the Arts Commission chair, and three city staff members. The grant committee determines funding categories, reviews and rates the applicants and develops funding recommendations for the final approval voted on by the City Council. 

Council members heard Tuesday a recommendation to adopt a three-tier process utilizing outside peer panels, which has been implemented in a separate, city public art program. 

Tier one would establish a peer review rating panel comprised of one arts commissioner and four arts experts or administrators to review and rate the grants applications. Though not specified, arts experts or administrators could include individuals from other municipalities and Los Angeles County or institutions such as from College of the Canyons or CalArts, according to Arts and Events Administrator Phil Lantis. 

The description was too vague, however, according to Councilwoman Marsha McLean. 

“I think it’s way too ambiguous as to what arts experts or administrators are,” she said. “I think this is something that is local to our city and I would hate to see the county come in and tell our city what they think we need.”

The second tier would include funding recommendations sent to the Arts Commission for review and the third tier would include recommendations to the City Council for approval. 

Mayor Cameron Smyth said a definition of who can join the panel as an arts expert was missing, which Councilwoman Laurene Weste supported. 

The council instructed staff to bring back the recommendation with a definition and selection process before voting on changes to the rating process of the grants program. 

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