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San Diego budget cuts may target art programs

Posted at 6:54 PM, May 09, 2024

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria's proposed 2025 budget calls for withholding $1.9 million that would have gone to arts and cultural community programs ... which help fund non-profits like "Guitars and Ukes in the Classroom."

We first told you about how they bring the joy of song into schools all over San Diego. Now, the nonprofit's founder worries arts programs may struggle to survive with dwindling support from the city.

"So you developed methods to train teachers on how to bring that music education to students," asked ABC 10News Reporter Moses Small.

"That's it. Every teacher knows that the gift they're so graced with can only go to the number of students they see. But when they see, 'oh I can give this to 100 teachers.' They realize those 100 teachers are going to get to 6,000 children," said Guitars and Ukes in the Classroom Founder Jess Baron. "To bring the music there is giving them quality of life."

"Most educators would agree that it's never been easy to find funding for these programs," said Small. "And for the last 12 years many music educators like yourself have been advocating for a program called Penny for the Arts. Talk to me about the program, what it would do, and what it's been like trying to get that funding from the city."

"So Penny for the Arts would be essential a penny, it's a little less than that, out of ten cents from the hotel tax that goes towards the city," said Baron. "Which is really cool because it would make arts sustainable for our community here to fund over 150 arts organizations that are serving with the city of San Diego in every part of the community in every way."

"You talked about the two other funding streams that have essentially been removed form the mayor's 2025 proposed budget" said Small.

"The short term goal is two programs that take less than Penny for the arts, which are ACCF and CPPS," said Baron.

"In the short term, are any of these arts programs in danger if those funding streams don't come through?" asked Small.

"Yes they are. Definitely they are," said Baron. "Even thought CPPS and ACCF money may not be a large pool, it may be enough to keep some teaching artists employed who have to be core to those organization in order to get out to the schools. So services could be cut, programs could be lost. We need the city's support to bring the arts to bring the arts where they will uplift, teach and engage students at school where other things might not. But you might coming alive the day you get to act, or the day you get to write a song. How do we keep going operationally, when every year we're asking for enough money to keep the doors open?"

Last week, a group of young students called on the San Diego City Council to put more money into the arts.

"We got a call from arts and culture San Diego. They said, 'Is there a chance there might be some children who would like to sing for the city council?' And I said, 'How many can I bring?'" said Baron. "The students that stepped up to do this work are third-graders from Ocean Beach Elementary. And the kids embraced the opportunity to raise their voice for the arts. And they wrote their new lyrics. 'This Land is Your Land,' you know every child learns it in school."

"That song was something we could bring into the classroom for them to re-write. So they wrote, 'This city is your city, this city is my city,'" said Baron. "And they tucked in at the end, 'Please support Penny for the Arts.' Just bringing the ukuleles in, just bringing in their beautiful voices in, their spirits and their optimism … it shifted the energy in the room. And that was a game-changer for these kids. Now they know they can express their passion, they can make a connection with their government. Imagine learning that at eight years old."

"For several years with the Penny for the Arts Program, it's under-performed with the amount of money it's given," said Small. "This year it looks like it won't be in the budget at all. What would it mean for you for it to give the amount of money that the city seems to want to give these programs?"

"There's so much more we could do just as an organization," said Baron. "We have trained 18,000 teachers in the United States over 24 years. Just in San Diego alone, we're heading towards 2,000 teachers who are actively engaged in making music in 147 schools … within driving distance of where you are right now."

"Do you feel that the city has let you down by approving that program in 2012 and not really following through?" said Small.

"I think everybody wants it. What we're seeing from city council is they want it," said Baron. "So I'm not feeling let down. I'm feeling encouraged because our council members are hearing the representatives. And they know arts are the lifeblood of San Diego."

ABC 10News reached out to the City of San Diego for more context on the Penny for the Arts program. They're working on a response, and we'll share that with you once we receive it.