The People's Forum

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The Arts are the Building Blocks of Care,

Community, and Careers

In this section, we define “care” in terms of community perception of support from each other and city officials, as well as residents’ and city officials’ desire and ability to take care of or give back to the neighborhoods and the City of San Bernardino as a whole. Without addressing the idea of care and the broader sense of loss that residents express about San Bernardino, it is hard to move forward imagining and building a future that is collectively owned and determined, and that creates space for all residents to thrive. We believe in the transformative power of the arts, on an individual level and at the grander scale of neighborhoods, communities, and cities. We understand this to be instinctual, because the arts – whether imagined as painting, photography, dance, poetry, sculpture, or music – connect us to the stories of who we are and where we come from, and what we believe is important beyond our jobs, education, and physical addresses.

Connecting Care and Justice

As we developed an approach for the People’s Plan, our collaborative believed in the importance of including community, arts and culture in the discussion about jobs, education, environmental justice, and housing, because artists work across the perceived boundaries between these spaces, making connections and offering strategies for solutions that have the power to galvanize an entire city.

This is resoundingly what we have heard from the voices of the community: 24% of people surveyed agreed strongly or very strongly with the statement that “the city does not care” about them; another 36% were indifferent, suggesting that these residents also felt a lack of care or concern from the city.

How does a lack of care impact the lives of residents and show up in the infrastructure or lack thereof in the city?

    1. Vacancy – property, land and streets.
    2. Isolation – social, creative, and economic.
    3. Divested workers – city, county and school officials and investors often don’t live in the city or directly support businesses and community events. 

The numerous inequitable impacts that the residents of the City of San Bernardino have endured for decades continues to influence how residents interact with each other on a daily basis and the broader actions they take for their families and their futures. As demonstrated by the dozens of interviews we conducted, residents’ sense of hope and connection to each other and the city is tenuous, even though their love for the city endures. Many long-term residents and leaders end up leaving because they don’t feel like they can actually affect change and lack a sense of ownership over the narrative of what the future should hold for the city. Many brilliant artists and entrepreneurs have also left the city to start ventures in other areas because of greater material support and the ease of access they experience in cities like Redlands and Riverside. However, in our video interview series we spoke with generations of residents that have stayed and are committed to grassroots efforts. These efforts are providing opportunities not only for the community to gather and celebrate local artists and the cultural heart of the city, but to also provide consistent platforms for local vendors and artists to share and sell their work.

Kim Knaus is one such resident, who, along with her sister Kenesha Boyd and volunteers from We are the Change, a San Bernardino based volunteer group, launched the SB Food Fest almost two years ago. This monthly food, music, and arts celebration is mostly run by local volunteers. Similarly, the Downtown San Bernardino Art Walk, coordinated by Kris Gonzalez, Freddy Calderon and Romulo Casillas, has been building upon the last few years of local downtown efforts to integrate more arts and cultural events into the fabric of the city. While gaining some support from the city, the success of these efforts rests on the shoulders of local, committed artists, leaders and organizers, many of whom are unpaid and use their own funds to cover operating costs.

Care Instructions:
Healthier Civic Infrastructure

The community survey results illustrate that residents of San Bernardino believe that arts and culture benefit their community. Across all ages, genders, ethnic background, and educational experience, residents resoundingly agreed that the arts encourage joy and relaxation and help them connect with their community. The residents expressed a sense of connection and belonging resulting from gatherings at community exhibits and art walks.

They also expressed a sense of pride from seeing trees and flowers being planted on the streets, or from vacant lots being converted to gardens, and walls being adorned with locally inspired and crafted images and murals. This is how the arts and creativity can impact the sense of care that residents feel from the city and for one another and the collective future that we all hold the power to shape.

The arts reinforce healthy communities through creative investment and visible signs of care.

The arts reinforce healthy communities through creative investment and visible signs of care. Healthy communities in turn create the nourishing ground for local businesses to thrive. Artists in the city are already creating paths for this to happen. They are working together with other artists, business owners, and nonprofits to organize clean-up events to keep their streets clean, to hire muralists and produce weekly events downtown and across the city, in parks, at community centers, and in neighborhood business parking lots. Residents and artists are taking ownership of vacant lots by planting native plants, starting community gardens to address food shortages, and creating jobs for themselves. Sam Castro is a powerful example of this type of community based action, and has supported multiple garden sites in the city by utilizing food waste to create a composting program.

The civic infrastructure to support the arts in the city needs more work. The city could easily follow the lead of local residents, such as Sam Castro, who are already taking actions to care for the city and could create jobs to further support community based actions. If we can simply imagine listening to what folks are already doing for the city with their own resources and their own organizations, then the path is clear.

Residents need:

    1. Ownership and stewardship
    2. Opportunities and Information

Ownership and stewardship show up in many forms. Individual ownership of land and capital should be only one of many strategies. The city should creatively assign resources to engage residents in the work they are already doing to rebuild. Putting people to work means more than just living wages and a clean, safe place to live. It also means helping to create a shared sense of ownership and investment in a future they feel connected to. This might happen by giving the community a percentage of the land and buildings that have been vacant for more than 10 years; helping the community determine what these spaces will become; and giving the community the training and the resources to build, run, and sustain these places.

The Arts as Infrastructure

The city does not have a department dedicated solely to the arts. However, local residents feel that a dedicated department for the arts should exist in the city. Currently, the Fine Art and Historical Preservation Commission is embedded in the Department of Parks and Recreation. Before 2018, the city had a Fine Arts Commission, which helped to establish and run a city arts grant program.

The city arts grant program was originally funded through a ½% cultural development fee that was assessed on any new development projects approved by the city. In 2019, this funding was redirected and reabsorbed into the general fund and the remaining funds for that fiscal year were distributed in what would be the last arts grants cycle since 2019. Dozens of local arts projects, nonprofits, and schools relied on this money to support afterschool programs like Akoma Unity Center, the San Bernardino Youth Chorus, the Garcia Center for the Arts, the Little Gallery of San Bernardino, among others. As a result of this funding, concerts, youth art workshops, art walks and community art exhibits flourished in the city.

Economic research suggests that cities that are seeking to recover financially should support more arts and cultural activities within the city. For example, Creativeworkers.net explains that “Public artworks like festivals, fairs, murals, and performances drive other spending…With arts attendees spending on average about $32 per person on things such as “parking, restaurants, and local businesses every time they attend an arts event, driving billions of dollars in ancillary economic activity every year.”

Our interviews, focus groups and community conversations have all highlighted the loss of this funding. Access to regional grants and support for the arts is currently scarce and local businesses are unable to offer sponsorship to the degree necessary to sustain such events. The city needs to support this social infrastructure through reinstating grant programming and helping local CBOs access Community Development Block Grants funding for the services provided by the arts. Below, we have included a more complete list of resident recommendations:

  1. Reinstate the cultural development funding grant program
  1. Create a separate arts commission so that the arts have their own focus.
  1. Create a budget line item overseen by the commission to support community-led monthly events in downtown San Bernardino and across the city in order to foster cultural development and further nourish community and cultural connections.
  1. Develop an arts and culture plan as a part of the upcoming update to the city’s general plan. Items to include in this:
    • Zone for artist live/work opportunities and establish minimum requirements for local ownership and rent control.
    • Encourage the establishment of an arts district within the downtown specific plan with its own funding and management coordinated by a Property Business Improvement District (PBID).
  1. Create support mechanisms for local artists and future business owners to jumpstart new ventures and hold the city accountable for supporting local business development to a percentage of new businesses and development annually.
  1. Establish an RFP process and local hiring procedures to engage local artists and youth in producing events, narratives, video and marketing for the city, drawing on talent and voices from within local communities instead of hiring marketing agencies and outside consultants.
  1. Identify a central downtown building to establish an academy (depot or cooperative use space) for arts, music, and cultural exchange. Many of the educators, community groups and artists that were interviewed during this process mentioned the need for a collective space for learning, making and sharing art, music, and culture.
  1. Integrate health and wellness components, including urban gardening and quiet spaces within the city, to connect with nature.

The San Bernardino Arts & Trades “Academy”

A community-owned and curated mixed use space, the SB Arts and Trades Academy is an idea that many in the community are talking about. We know that having access to arts and cultural experiences and arts education in and after school brings about many benefits. We spoke with Eric Servin and Freddy Calderon, both who attended Arroyo Valley High School. They spoke about the marked difference between students who went there before and after it was an arts magnet school. Another local educator, Richard Blacksher, specifically spoke to how students who attended the Arroyo Valley Arts Magnet program went on to more successful careers in whatever fields they chose, simply because they had access to the foundation and creative thinking provided by the arts education. Unfortunately, there is no space now in the city for students who go on to study arts, media, and creative fields to practice and have access to resources to support their growing careers. Cal State San Bernardino and San Bernardino Valley College offer woodworking, ceramics, and glassblowing programs and facilities. However, after students graduate from these programs they have nowhere to go within the city to practice and refine their skills, which further limits the possibility of finding career opportunities. For example, a regional ceramics manufacturer at A19 in Ontario, who produces ceramic fixtures for homes and businesses, explained that she is having trouble finding skilled workers to hire.

In our interviews and focus group with local artists and teachers, many expressed regret that they currently have no way to make a full-time living wage in their field. Many explained that they wish they had skipped higher education and would have instead completed a trade or vocational program in order to apprentice and put their visual and production expertise to work right away. Instead, many end up working in the region’s warehouses, or taking better-paying clerical and office jobs to sustain their art passion.

We can fix this by building, or repurposing a vacant space for a cooperative learning & cultural exchange program that is connected to our local university and college programs but that exists independently as an interstitial, flexible hub to nourish ongoing creative learning. This facility would serve as:

    1. A cooperative learning space, resource center, and marketplace for showcasing local work and goods. A place where artists could practice making and selling their work and showcase their creative talents to regional visitors to the city.
    2. A cultural hub for events accessible to all residents, artists and performers that would include performing and recording spaces, equipment rentals, etc.
    3. A community institution, supported by traditional institutions (city, county, schools), connecting capital and mentors to the residents in a way that helps develop a feeling of shared ownership and allows them to self-direct their own education and career tracks.

Education & Opportunity for Artists and Creative workers

According to 2022 data collected from Jobs EQ, the data processing platform through Chmura Economics and Analytics from San Bernardino County’s Research and Analytics Department, there are 2,905 jobs in the dozens of creative fields in the city of San Bernardino. These jobs include software development, technical writer, marketing directors, production and planning, camera operators, editors, and visual artists, just to name a few.

Out of the dozens of artists we spoke with, almost none of them were able to find full-time employment putting their talent or craft to work. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ report lists the demand in each of these fields and the lists of postsecondary awards given to students related to the skills these careers required. The current demand for more than 70% of these jobs is below 4% annually, meaning that most students graduating with general arts or communications degrees aren’t learning specific enough skills to find work that matches their training. So how do we address this employment and training gap?

First, we need to understand what the market demands right now. The biggest gap in these creative industry jobs right now is for:

    According to 2022 data collected from Jobs EQ, the data processing platform through Chmura Economics and Analytics from San Bernardino County’s Research and Analytics Department, there are 2,905 jobs in the dozens of creative fields in the city of San Bernardino. These jobs include software development, technical writer, marketing directors, production and planning, camera operators, editors, and visual artists, just to name a few.

    Out of the dozens of artists we spoke with, almost none of them were able to find full-time employment putting their talent or craft to work. The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ report lists the demand in each of these fields and the lists of postsecondary awards given to students related to the skills these careers required. The current demand for more than 70% of these jobs is below 4% annually, meaning that most students graduating with general arts or communications degrees aren’t learning specific enough skills to find work that matches their training. So how do we address this employment and training gap?

    First, we need to understand what the market demands right now. The biggest gap in these creative industry jobs right now is for: 

      There are 5.1 million “Creative Workers” in the United States, as identified by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, a creative worker is anyone who earns income from creative, cultural, or artistic-based pursuits, whether independently (as an independent contractor, solo entrepreneur, or gig worker, for example) or via an employer. Creative workers use the unique human quality of individual expression to produce ideas, content, goods, and services.

        1. marketing specialists and directors
        2. meeting, convening, and event planners
        3. public relations directors and content managers
        4. graphic designers and web developers
        5. production managers
        6. painters and construction managers
        7. software developers and quality assurance testers

      These are all skills-based trades that don’t fit traditional educational tracks. All of these careers require much more specific and specialized training. So why doesn’t this training exist yet within the City of San Bernardino?

      San Bernardino Valley College hosts the Inland Empire Media Academy for specialized degrees in film, media and entertainment. However, the number of graduates of this program is still not meeting the field’s demand for workers with high level management and production abilities.
      This kind of training and experience go beyond postsecondary support. Where are we missing out on an opportunity to develop our youth before they even leave high school?

      Education research reminds us that arts-rich programs are far more effective in boosting academic achievement than arts-poor programs. This is even more the case for marginalized groups, with arts education resulting in higher GPAs and reading scores on standardized tests for these groups. Students who experience arts education are more likely to attend postsecondary school than non-arts students.

      Recommendations for supporting artists and creative industry worker development:

       

      1. Develop and connect a creative career pathway in the cradle to career system in the local school districts and county, beyond just Arts, Media, and Entertainment. This track should include artisan and goods manufacturing tracks, and apply skills based learning that is connected to the specific skills needed for real jobs waiting for youth in the field today.
      1. Pilot an apprenticeship program, connected to the trade-skills center mentioned previously, to train and connect students to full-time employment in media and goods production, and other in-demand careers such as content development, creative direction, graphic design, and project management.
        1. Create positions for arts management (arts education) at the school, city and county levels to bolster student programs, trainings, events and programs that foster local public artwork creation, festivals, murals and performance centers and highlight the potential of careers in this field.
        1. Lift up local makers, producers and voices and promote their contributions more publically using City and County marketing. Hire local producers to develop regional messaging and embed an authentic community voice within the cultural narrative of the region.