Galveston Mayor Jim Yarbrough will finally get a go at restructuring a $1.5 million fund for the city’s Arts and Historic Preservation Advisory Board, after months of negotiating with parties who benefit from the money.
The city, board and beneficiaries haven’t come to an agreement on how to restructure the fund, however, and the specifics of the plan remain a point of contention. Members of the advisory board and recipients of grant money still fear reductions in grant money from the fund, which is specifically earmarked to bring tourism to the island.
While the advisory board now doles out grants to groups, often small nonprofits, for advertising and marketing purposes, Yarbrough on Thursday suggested designating some of the money to public art, under the Commission on the Arts, and historic preservation projects, such as at Ashton Villa and the State Star Company No. 3 Firehouse.
“We don’t often get a $1.5 million pot of money that we can make a difference on,” Yarbrough said. “There’s a more effective way to do this.”
The Galveston City Council at a Thursday workshop gave city attorneys and city management the OK to bring forward an ordinance on the issue, which will be discussed at a later date.
Yarbrough’s ideas were largely backed by other city council members, who said they agreed the city should designate more money specifically to arts and historic preservation.
“I think we need to look if there’s a better way to do it,” City Councilman Frank Maceo, of District 3, said. “I think the process is there. I’m open to change and I’m open to considering a more efficient way to do business.”
Councilwoman Amy Bly, of District 1, serves on the Commission on the Arts, and said the group has long been frustrated by a lack of funding.
“I’d like to see a little money,” Bly said. “There’s no extra anything anywhere.”
Any organizations that receive money and can’t prove their effectiveness in bringing tourism to the city would be “on pretty thin ice” under a new ordinance restructuring the fund, Yarbrough said.
“I’d like to see fewer recipients with higher dollars,” Yarbrough said. “Organizations we can verify are putting heads in beds.”
Kimber Fountain, the chairwoman of the advisory board, said the process to vet organizations was extremely arduous.
“I appreciate the mayor wanting to verify how these funds are beneficial to the city, but putting a mural on a wall is not necessarily verifiable either,” Fountain said.
Col. Kelley Crooks, the executive director of Cavalla Historical Foundation, already saw a reduction in money received from the advisory board last year, he said. He can live without it, but it makes his job much more difficult, Crooks said.
“It’s advertising, and that doesn’t sound sexy,” Crooks said. “But when you’re not in the mainstream, it’s hard.”
Advertising is truly beneficial to furthering the mission of smaller organizations, Park board Executive Director Kelly de Schaun said.
“For some of these smaller organizations, their main mission is not necessarily visitation,” de Schaun said. “Visitation is a means by which to support their philanthropic efforts. If the marketing money is not available to them, they are not going to allocate their funds to marketing. It compromises their ability to fulfill their philanthropic duties.”
Councilman Craig Brown, of District 2, said he’d like to see more money go directly to public art, but the advisory board at least needs to stay in place, because it has proven to be effective in how it operates.
“I personally think we have a system with the arts and historic preservation committee,” Brown said. “We have a group of dedicated individuals but I think it’s working well personally.”
Fountain agreed the advisory board needs to stay in place. Any other groups that want to use the money directly for art and historic preservation should go through the board, she said.
“They need to submit applications the way the nonprofit organizations do,” Fountain said.
Yarbrough wasn’t swayed, however.
“We’ve got opportunities to do things,” Yarbrough said. “The money’s got to come from somewhere.”