The San José Arts Advocates Nobody was stepping up to just keep [the arts] organized.” –Peter Allen
On January 1, 2020, California Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5) went into effect. The goal of the bill is to limit the ability of companies to classify workers as contractors rather than employees. The bill was inspired by the gig economy vital to companies like Uber, Lyft, and Door- Dash, who classify their drivers as contractors, avoiding minimum-wage laws, labor protections, unemployment benefits, and other employee aid. Another sector of the work force that will be hit by the bill are artists and those that hire them to do project-based work. San Jose’s visual artists, dancers, musicians, singers, and actors are being involved with unknown consequences or possible benefits. This bill has been a topic among many in the local arts scene, and one that comes up when talking with the newly formed grassroots group, San José Arts Advocates (SJAA).
The SJAA is a collaborative effort across many involved in the cultural landscape of California. In an area globally known for technological innovation, the role the arts play in San Jose can get lost, voiceless. The group is a central voice for arts advocacy and education in San Jose and is planning ways to address the impact of AB 5 and many other policies and issues permeating the arts. The core team of SJAA has come together from various factions of the arts community—Peter Allen (former San Jose Arts Commission chair), Brendan Rawson (executive director of San Jose Jazz), Julia Canavese (GenARTS Silicon Valley), Eileen Beckley (Santa Clara County Office of Education), “Mighty” Mike McGee (Santa Clara County poet laureate), Ron P. Muriera (board member of California Arts Advocates and Californians for the Arts), Amanda Rawson (public art consultant), Yori Seeger (School of Visual Philosophy), and Eva Smith Glynn (Flash Fiction Forum). With each member working in their separate corners of the political system on behalf of the cultural foundation of San Jose, the SJAA was born over years of discussion in the meeting rooms and hallways of San Jose. As member Peter Allen says, “Nobody was stepping up to just keep [the arts] organized. We certainly would go to city council meetings and commission meetings and lobby, but we were finding we were getting information late. We were having to organize last minute and couldn’t really organize groups of speakers, cohesive talking points, messaging, and getting white papers and letters to council members well in advance of the meeting.”
I don’t want to be your grant writer. I want to teach you how to grant write. –Ron Muriera
As more private development comes to San Jose, so does another issue. Neighboring cities have a percentage of private development costs set aside for public art, but San Jose does not. The SJAA hopes to have a seat at the table as the process of the city’s annual budget moves forward and discussions like these take place. The group will also focus on educating the community about the current state of the arts. As member Ron Muriera explains, “A lot of folks don’t understand that arts education is supposed to be a requirement in all school districts in California, and very few school districts are offering any type of arts education, which means they’re noncompliant; but parents are not educated on the fact that we have one arts class in our school. If we help them understand that they can voice that at their school board, change can happen.”
Education is a major goal of the group. Most artists are not well versed in the opportunities available to them through grants and fellowships and how the application process works. The SJAA wants to fix that by building a hub for those resources. The core team members all have experience writing and reviewing grants and want to teach that language to those it would be most useful to. A host of grant writing workshops around the city, Muriera says, “I don’t want to be your grant writer. I want to teach you how to grant write.”
The San José Arts Advocates officially went live Saturday, February 15 at the School of Visual Philosophy with the team’s inaugural event, Creating Change: Arts and San José Politics, where local artists showcased work inspired by the current political climate and the primary elections.
Manifesto Letterpress Artwork by Matt Kelsey