Taxpayer support continues to help fuel Scottsdale Public Art, cultural digs

A view of a public art installation in Old Town Scottsdale, which is a beloved part of the community experience by both resident and visitor alike. (Independent Newsmedia/Melissa Fittro)

For nearly 50 years the city of Scottsdale has been thought of as an arts destination — and elected leaders aim to keep it that way.

Scottsdale City Council, at the onset of the new fiscal year, approved a $4,688,148 General Fund allocation to Scottsdale Arts, formerly the Scottsdale Cultural Council.

The 2018-19 fiscal year began July 1 and the General Fund subsidy was approved by city council Tuesday, July 3 at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd.

For more than 30 years Scottsdale Arts — an advisory and management services production led by a board of trustees — entity has provided administrative expertise for all public art offerings within the municipality.
Those municipal cultural facilities and efforts are:

  • The Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts;
  • Various Scottsdale Public Art installations; and
  • Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.

The Scottsdale Cultural Council, which now operates as Scottsdale Arts, was established in 1987 as a 501(c)3 nonprofit management company that evolved into, city officials say, an umbrella organization with three operating divisions charged with promoting and cultivating local visual and performing arts.

The Scottsdale center for the Performing Arts is at 7380 E. Second St. (photo by Sean Deckert)

City staff has been negotiating new terms for a management services contract to replace the existing contract that was put in place in 2008, according to a July 3 city staff report.

According to city officials, at the behest of Scottsdale Arts — and working with the new president of the group, Gerd Wuestemann — city staff envisions a new contract for city council consideration by the end of the current calendar year.

The total management services fee over the last three fiscal years for Scottsdale Arts are:

  • Fiscal year 2016-17 — $4,513,288
  • Fiscal year 2017-18 — $4,648,687
  • Fiscal year 2018-19 — $4,688,148

Karen Churchard, the city’s tourism director, says while the current fiscal year funding represents a 3 percent year-over-year change, the city has deferred $100,000 in funding until a new management services agreement can be struck.

“The total management services fee is paid over a nine-month period from July 2018 to March 2019,” she said in her report to city council.

“The first payment (July) is a double payment, the second (August) is one-and-a-half payment, and the final payment (March) is a half payment. The accelerated payment plan for July and August reflect cash flow needs of Scottsdale Arts.”

Ms. Churchard says, in her report, current negotiations revolve around maintenance, management and repair of existing facilities, the community arts grant program and management and administration of art in public places.

In all, the total operating budget of Scottsdale Arts is just over $11 million whereas taxpayer dollars account for 43 percent of the current fiscal year budget.

The remainder of the operating budget is derived from facility operations and private donors, city officials say.

“The proposed Scottsdale Arts fiscal year 2018-19 budget reflects an initial 1 percent increase in funding from the city with an additional one-time payment of $100,000 increasing the year-over-year percent change to 3 percent,” Ms. Churchard said in her report.

a view of Les Lumineoles, Canal Convergence 2017, which has become a keystone event occuring annually at the Scottsdale Waterfront. (Photo by: Sean Deckert)

Money well spent?

Both Scottsdale Councilwoman Suzanne Klapp and Vice Mayor Guy Phillips say the annual arts funding allocation is money well spent.

“As a world-class destination, Scottsdale needs to be a leader in the arts as well,” Vice Mayor Phillips said.

“While I may not agree with some of the public art, it’s not about my opinion, but about a wide range of art that inspires and brings visitors to our city. Canal Convergence is a perfect example of how art has become a major tourist draw in the last few years, which not only brings thousands of visitors, but the economic benefit to Scottsdale helps keep our taxes low and provide amenities other cities cant afford.”

In June of last year, Scottsdale City Council approved a $650,000 subsidy of taxpayer dollars to support a public art event born through the minds at the municipality of Scottsdale, Scottsdale Arts and the Salt River Project.

Scottsdale Vice Mayor Guy Phillips during the recent Issues & Experts series. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

That confluence of ideas has been affectionately conceived as “Canal Convergence” and Mr. Phillips says those dollars helped create a real draw for out-of-town visitors to Old Town Scottsdale.

“Scottsdale thrives on bringing a wide range of events to our city that brings millions of visitors each year,” he explained of the importance of fueling the local arts scene. “Whether it’s the TPC, Barrett-Jackson, Arabians or Giants spring training, we need to continue to diversify our ‘tourism portfolio’ and art events are quickly becoming one of the major draws.”

But during a time of failing infrastructure in pockets of the municipality, Mr. Phillips contends, it is still not time to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

“Would you deny your child’s tuition to re-roof your house? Of course not!” he said.

“You would use your monthly salary in terms of credit or check to pay for your child’s tuition — your investment — and to fix the roof would require capital funds like a refinance on the house or one time loan. In other words, they are two separate items that need to be funded separately.”

Scottsdale City Council approved a May 1 resolution ultimately destined to materialize in a ballot measure where city officials will ask for a .10 percent increase to local sales tax in hopes of raising just over $70 million to help pay for transportation projects.

In all, city officials speculate the sales tax measure, if approved by voters this November, will make the municipality eligible for $171 million in matching funds from Maricopa County to meet the tenants of its arterial lifecycle program.

The sales tax measure will be part of the Nov. 6 general election ballot.

“So, while the city invests in arts and other tourism events with General Fund or tourism dollars we also take care of infrastructure through a collective effort of our residents and property owners through general obligation bonds,” Mr. Phillips explains of the various pots of money pulled from to run the operations of the municipality. “Both result in an investment to Scottsdale that makes us a world class destination for tourists as well as top city to reside and do business.”

Ms. Klapp echoes a similar sentiment.

“Yes, I think that it is important that we maintain those contracts — they are providing an expertise we just don’t have at the city,” she said of the public-private relationship in effect for the last three decades.

“Unless we didn’t want to have any kind of public arts that were funded by the city. This is the only way we can do that. The benefits all of those various art programs that are offered throughout the year. I believe it is very important we support the arts.”

City Hall is at 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. (Independent Newspapers/Arianna Grainey)

Independent Newsmedia Arizona Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at

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