Escondido Council wants more accountability from Arts Center Foundation

Escondido City Council members called for more accountability, transparency and better communication by the foundation that runs the city-owned California Center for the Arts, Escondido, but stopped short of cutting the center’s funding at a meeting last week.

Council members spoke for the first time at a public meeting about the controversial installation that opened at the arts center in June, depicting police officers dancing cartoon-like pigs on a pile of donuts in front of a large photo. of officers in riot gear. The installation is part of a street art exhibition that also includes graffiti, tattoos, skateboarding and lowrider culture.

Wednesday’s discussion was intended to provide direction as city staff negotiate a new management agreement with the foundation, which will include setting the city’s annual contribution to the arts center’s budget. Currently, the foundation is operating under the terms of a management agreement that expires in 2019.

Under the agreement, the city will pay $1.8 million this year, which includes management fees, the center’s utility bills and maintenance costs. Over the past decade, city contributions have represented about 20 percent of the arts center’s total budget.

Council member Mike Morasco tried to reassure the public that council members do not intend to cut the arts center’s budget.

“We will always keep the art center. It’s a phenomenal investment and I think we’re all proud of it and we love it and we want the best for it,” Morasco said.

But the current contract fails to clearly spell out important elements of the center’s operations, including responsibilities, communications, funding allocations and more, Morasco said.

While the controversy about the art installation — described by Morasco as “hate speech” — isn’t driving the conversation, he said it’s another factor that has added “burden and tension” to the relationship between the city and the arts center.

“This recent incident may have brought to light that there is a critical need to enhance communication, define our responsibilities and achieve a management agreement that is not ridiculous,” Morasco said.

As for the installation, which is called “Three Slick Pigs – APAB Edition” and is the work of Los Angeles artist Ozzy Slick, Morasco said he is an art lover but believes the installation crosses the line.

“It’s about merit as art, when in fact someone can have strong emotional and hateful feelings towards a certain group, institution, gender, race, religion, whatever, and in the name of art we have to accept that. I don’t buy it on that basis,” Morasco said.

Council member Consuelo Martinez, however, saw the piece differently. “I had no shock factor when I walked into that exhibit,” she said, perhaps because she had attended many Chicano street art exhibits in the past.

However, she raised a question at the time of the council’s discussion due to the fact that this year’s budget of the art center has been decided.

“The timing of it seemed very vindictive to me. And I know it caused a lot of anger and upset the community,” she said.

Two dozen people, including members of the arts center’s board, spoke in person or in writing, urging the council to maintain the arts center’s funding and rejecting any attempt to censor the facility’s art exhibits.

“Having been a law enforcement officer for San Diego County for 29 years, I am not offended by this piece,” wrote Escondido resident Bill Flores. “While some may find this artwork offensive, it doesn’t matter to me, I dare say most law enforcement officers. If anything, it evokes the funny nostalgia of the 60s and 70s seeing pigs and cops in the same artwork. I’m sure I think the council has more important things to do than target the arts center as defunding for an image that a small minority of Escondido residents may find offensive.”

But Mayor Paul McNamara said many people in the community were outraged, not just a few. And Council Member Joe Garcia said he received similar negative sentiments through conversations, calls and emails.

“It was 5 to 1 that defunded the arts center over and over again,” Garcia said.

Garcia said the art center seemed unprepared for the controversy sparked by the art installation, and debated whether to remove the piece from the exhibit or cover it before ultimately deciding to leave it in place.

Garcia also took issue with the Art Center board’s statement amid controversy asserting its independence over the artistic choices made by the facility.

“When I read that, I said, ‘Shut up, shut up in the city, you don’t have anything to say or do with this,’ is how I read it,” Garcia said. “I said it’s not fuel to the fire, it’s gasoline to the fire. If we’re trying to build a relationship, how can we do it with language like this?”

Garcia said he wants the arts center to provide the city with quarterly reports of its activities, and that the money should be divided into installments paid periodically rather than in one lump sum.

McNamara said he wants more transparency about how the center spends its money. He also said the center could have done a better job of addressing the Three Slick Pigs controversy, providing context to explain the piece and why it was included in the exhibition.

“This thing divided the city, it didn’t really unify it,” he said.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.