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City Council approves change in arts grants rating process

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

Arts experts from outside the Santa Clarita Valley will have a say on who and how much grant funding local organizations can receive for community arts programs and services, following a divided vote by the City Council. 

On Tuesday, council members voted 4-1, with Councilwoman Marsha McLean casting the lone “no” vote on approving a change in the rating process for the city’s arts grants program, a discussion that also led to the awarding of $180,000 for the 2020 grant cycle. 

Over the last 30 years, the city has provided annual funds for community organizations through the Community Services and Arts Grants program. This year, a total of 19 organizations will receive funding from $90,000 for community services projects and 16 agencies with arts programs will receive from the other $90,000. 

The rating process for who is chosen and how much each organization will receive fell in the hands of the cities “Grant Committee,” which includes two council members, city staff and Parks and Arts commissioners. 

After Tuesday’s vote, however, the process will now follow a three-tier procedure, with a second tier that requires a review by the Arts Commission, and the third tier by the City Council. The first tier is what prompted a more thorough discussion.

The first tier, or a “peer review rating panel,” would include an arts commissioner and local arts experts joined by a regional arts advocate and art expert, who could come from other municipalities or organizations from outside the SCV. Panelists would change with each new grant cycle, according to Phil Lantis, arts and events administrator with the city. 

The City Council first discussed the matter in December, asking staff to clarify who could join the panel as an art expert. 

Standing behind what she had originally voiced, McLean said Tuesday, “Nobody knows our community like we (do) here. I cannot vote for this unless we take out the part where we have outside entities deciding what our local nonprofits are going to be getting.”

Those in favor thought that insight from outside the SCV might improve the process with a different perspective.

“We believe that this is going to make our grant process, stronger, more fair, better input for those applicants,” said Michael Miller, a Santa Clarita arts commissioner in favor of the three-tier system, “and we support it totally.”

Before seconding a motion to approve the change, Councilman Bob Kellar said not supporting the Arts Commission’s  take on the ratings-process change would be a “serious mistake.”

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