Sacramento’s Cultural Plan

A thriving art scene needs streamlined support

Back Web Only Jan 6, 2016 By Rich Ehisen

Like most major cities, Sacramento has scores of arts organization that run the gamut of cultural offerings. Given that, how does it effectively synergize all of its cultural assets in a way that really advances the city’s ultimate goals?

“That is a good question,” says Jody Ulich, Sacramento’s Director of Convention and Cultural Services. “It is hard when you have this many different assets, they’re all going in different directions and all trying to let people know what’s going on. I’m not sure I’ve solved that yet. I’m not sure it is solvable.”  

Or is it?

Faced with a similar challenge, the city of Houston did something last October it had not done in over 20 years: It adopted a new, wide-ranging arts and cultural plan to help it better assess and develop all of the cultural assets “Space City” has to offer. One of its multiple goals is to figure out a reliable funding stream for all of its many arts organizations, big and small. It is no small task — according to former mayor Annise Parker, Houston spends fewer dollars per capita on the arts than any other major city in the U.S.

Sacramento has traditionally been more supportive of its arts institutions. But Ulich says it is nonetheless time that the city develop an arts and cultural plan of its own.

“Sacramento has never done a cultural plan,” Ulich says. “So that is now one of the things we’re working on.”

It is not an easy task. Sacramento’s vast set of arts and cultural organizations include everything from the Old Sacramento Historic District and Fairytale Town to the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission and beyond. Each has its own mission and audience within the overall arts community. And while considering all of them — big and small — is the right thing to do, it makes creating a plan a Herculean task.

“A cultural plan needs to be very large and wide-reaching, and we’re in the formative stages of trying to strategically get this to go forward,” says Ulich. She goes on to explain the plan will take into account trends in audience preferences, public art, open spaces — what has worked and what has not.

From there, the city will likely gather public input on what those arts assets really mean to them.

Ulich says: “That’s when we go out to the community and ask, ‘What’s working for you? What do you want? What are you looking for? Do you want more art in your parks? Do you want things happening in your open spaces on the parkway? A cultural plan can be as big as a community wants it to be,” she says.

It is also unlikely that even the most strategic plan will satisfy everyone. In Houston, arts organizations remain embroiled in a longstanding tussle over how public dollars are distributed between large- and small-budget groups.

Even so, given the well-documented struggle of local arts organizations like the Sacramento Philharmonic and Opera and the Sacramento Ballet to make ends meet enough to even keep the doors open, a comprehensive cultural plan designed to help everyone thrive seems like an effort well worth undertaking.