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Jonathon Glus says he’s committed to listening and approaching the ecosystem of San Diego art and culture.
Mayor Kevin Faulconer last month appointed a new director for the city’s Commission on Arts and Culture, a position vacant since January when former director Dana Springs stepped down. Jonathon Glus reported for work beginning in early November, after spending just under two years in a similar role in Sacramento, and before that, nine years in Houston.
Voice of San Diego recently spoke with Glus about the role of the commission, and the challenges and criticisms both the commission and the arts are facing. Glus said he considers his immediate role to be one of listening, and of gathering information from city officials (including the mayor), commissioners, artists and arts professionals.
“The Arts and Culture Commission, I think, is poised to do more cross-commission work, and by that I mean the work of commissions such as planning – the Planning Commission – and the arts and culture commission really do intersect, and so I hope to work with the commission to bring their knowledge and skillset to the work of the other commissions,” Glus said.
He specifically mentioned housing as a significant issue facing the arts and culture community in San Diego, and is proposing collaboration with other commissions in the city to tackle the problem.
“We need to make sure that artists can afford to live here, that creative businesses can afford commercial properties, that our arts and culture organizations can attract and retain talent,” Glus insisted, “and that all of these parts of the arts and culture ecosystem can afford to thrive here.”
Another key issue Glus will have to face is the commission’s archaic funding distribution system, which has recently faced scrutiny. The algorithm, adopted from the California Arts Council in the early ‘90s, favors the organizations with the largest budgets and reaches, awards significant funding to many of the same organizations repeatedly, and, according to critics, doesn’t account for the fledgling organizations, venues or collectives that currently produce important cultural work with miniscule budgets or without nonprofit status.
Glus cited “a little bit of a learning curve and ignorance” in regard to the process by which the commission distributes funds.
“With that said, I do understand that over the last year, year and half, the commission has gone through public review process of the procedures for the contracting process, and the algorithm. The office over the last year has put in place some refinements to the whole process to make it easier for the contractors,” he said.
In terms of restructuring the grants distribution process, Glus again stressed the importance of listening, and in particular, spending the time to perform a full review process.
“I’m absolutely on a listening tour right now. I’m meeting with as many people as I can in the community, certainly spending time with commissioners, contractors, our partners in the community across the city, just to learn history of the contracting process, the history of the way that the city has been able to invest in the community over the years. And, you know, that’ll take a few months,” Glus said. “What I’m very pleased about is that during that time, because the commission has gone through the year of refining the program, we seem to be in good shape.”
Recently proposed 3 percent budget cuts from the mayor’s office have all city departments scrambling to find ways to cut their budgets.
“The mayor has asked all departments to submit what the budget would look like if we would cut 3 percent. That’s an exercise that the entire city is going through, so it’s not specific to arts and culture. It’s specific to every department,” Glus said. “The mayor is very committed to keeping the grants program whole, so he is not asking us to look at 3 percent cuts to the grants program. So that’s very good news.”
Regarding the challenges the commission – and artists – face in the coming year, Glus is optimistic.
“I want to see us in a place where we are working in tandem with our individual creatives and artists in a much deeper, thoughtful way. That takes resources and it won’t happen overnight, but I’m convinced it’s going to, and this is the kind of work that I love,” he said. “You have to make sure that arts education is available, you need to make sure that artists and creatives have access to vendors and other resources, that there is media–like yours–that covers art and culture, and that there is an audience for the arts that is enthusiastic and interested.”
After five weeks in his role, Glus reflected on how the early stages of establishing his work as the director. “I knew that the first things that I needed to do were to be brought up to speed very quickly on the grants program.” And, he added, “of course, what is the cultural agenda of the mayor?”