In 2018, the Salt Lake City Arts Council cut funding to SB Dance by 75% compared to the company’s previous award. In 2019, the 5-person City Arts Council panel declined to fund SB Dance at all. These decisions are kinda weird. They differ from decisions reached by every previous City Arts Council panel since 2000. They also differ from the judgements reached by decades worth of County ZAP panels and State panels, which, by the way, increased funding to SB Dance in 2019 by 50% and 25%, respectively.
So what happened at the City? SB Dancers are kinda scratching our heads. Colleague organizations and other professionals are astonished. The new Division Director Felicia Baca, who I respect very much, stands by the reviewer’s decision. What else can she do in her first year as Director? The grant got a few comments about the narrative section being too general. But no feedback about budget or video samples or metrics. There wasn’t anything missing. Nothing like “SB Dance is fake art and they should just go back to their rat-infested studio and start again.” At the very least, you’d think that the City’s granting agency would be ready to justify such a radical opinion with some objective evidence. After all, how many professional arts nonprofits are there in Salt Lake? It’s not like this is the MacArthurs.
For what it’s worth, Salt Lake City Arts Council is itself kinda odd. Not without controversy, it is organized in part like a private nonprofit. It uses an idiosyncratic grant review process that is conducted by a subcommittee of Board Members, some of whom are not arts professionals. Also, the Salt Lake Arts Council recently went through a rough patch, effectively leaderless with an embattled Division Director and then no one in that post for several months. While the arrival of Ms. Baca is a breath of fresh air, the City Arts Council has some work to do before it can argue for a budget worthy of a capitol city. I think that argument just got weaker by making an unprecedented—and pretty much unsupported– decision to cease funding to one of just a handful of professional arts groups in Salt Lake.
It stings. It’s one less performer in the upcoming year. SB Dance has chugged through crap like this before. If this decision leaves you puzzled, and if you’re a Salt Lake City citizen, give your City Council Member a call or email. Let them know that there’s good weird and bad weird, and this City needs much more of the former, especially in the arts.