What does it take to charm a fractious board of supervisors?
The answer, it turns out, is art.
Last Tuesday, all five members of the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors — the same supervisors who regularly spar over the funding of everything from parks to pothole repair — unanimously agreed to contribute $400,000 toward a new art museum.
They did so with enthusiasm, and with the blessing of everyone in the audience. Even fiscal conservative Mike Brown, who heads the Coalition of Labor, Agriculture and Business was on board.
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“We took a look at this and we supported it unconditionally,” he said.
That prompted Board Chairman John Peschong to quip: “I’ve always heard art is unifying. I have now seen COLAB and (Supervisor) Adam Hill on the same page so, yes, art is unifying.”
Well said, Mr. Chairman.
We recognize that some county residents may take issue with the board’s decision to invest $400,000 in an art museum in the city of San Luis Obispo when there are other needs — affordable housing, a new animal shelter, homeless services, more parks and playgrounds are a few.
But we completely agree that this is a wise, one-time investment that will benefit not only current residents, but future generations, as well.
The current San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, located just west of Mission Plaza, outgrew its current home years ago. If you’ve ever been there for a special event — Art After Dark, say — you’ve seen for yourself that there’s barely room to move without accidentally elbowing someone in the crowd.
The new $12 million, three-story art museum will occupy the same footprint as the current building, but by expanding up instead of out, it will triple the gallery space of the current museum and will add more classrooms for art education.
It will be better able to attract traveling exhibits that are now more likely to land in museums in Los Angeles and San Francisco. That will be a huge benefit for students, who may not have the opportunity to travel to see major art exhibits.
It also will provide a space to showcase our many talented local artists, and it will be a key element in the revitalization of Mission Plaza.
Keep in mind, too, that it will be an economic boon; visual and performing arts contribute millions of dollars annually to the local economy. According to a national study by Americans for the Arts, San Luis Obispo County nonprofit arts and cultural organizations spent nearly $13.7 million on payroll, supplies and other expenses in 2015, while their audiences spent an additional $14 million on event-related expenses including meals, lodging and transportation. That translates into jobs for local residents, in addition to sales and bed tax revenue for local governments.
The museum does have a way to go. Its goal is to raise $15 million — $12 million for construction of the museum and $3 million to cover operating costs once it opens. It’s raised $3 million so far, which includes $1 million from the Harold J. Miossi Charitable Trust, leaving $12 million to go. The museum hopes to break ground by the end of 2019.
Yes, it’s a big ask. But if the often-divided Board of Supervisors supports the project enough to unanimously agree to contribute $400,000, we believe anything is possible.
We urge all seven cities — especially the city of San Luis Obispo, which will benefit most directly — to contribute what they can. We ask the same of businesses, private foundations, artists, friends of artists, art lovers, art learners and anyone else who wants to see San Luis Obispo County thrive.
How to help
Go to the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art website, www.sloma.org/support/index.php, or call 805-543-8562.