SDRACC Recommendations to SD Commission for Arts and Culture for FY19 Guidelines & Panel Processes

On August 24th, 2017, members of an ad hoc committee of the San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition sent the following letter to the San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture with recommendations for FY19 Guidelines and Panel Process. 


Dear Members of the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Culture:

We understand the Commission aims to adopt the FY 19 OSP and CCSD funding application guidelines at its September meeting. With only a month until this date, we appreciate the opportunity to provide the following input so there is ample time for the appropriate committees and full Commission to consider our requests.

We, the undersigned members of an ad hoc committee of the San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition, respectfully request that the Commission for Arts and Culture adopt the following changes to the FY 19 OSP and CCSD Guidelines. These recommendations are rooted in our collective experience as Commission contractors and arts professionals.

  1. Short Form: The FY 18 funding cycle was the first to eliminate the option of a Short Form application. This was appropriate because the funding guidelines and application were completely revised and all contractors needed to participate in this new process equally. Now that the process has been utilized and Commission staff has indicated no substantive changes are to be recommended to the funding guidelines for FY 19, we believe organizations should be given the option to submit a Short Form version and be exempt from the panel review process.

Adopting this recommendation will create efficiencies for the Commission, Commission staff, review panels and organizational contractors. The annual application and review process is immense for all parties involved and occurs over a tight timeframe. Reducing the volume of applications to be fully reviewed by panels will reduce the number of hours panels meet which will in turn reduce the number of panelists required to be recruited, trained and scheduled by Commission staff. Having fewer panelists will also create more consistency throughout the panel review process. For the contracting organizations, submitting a Short Form will free staff hours to focus on their important work of serving the people of San Diego through arts and culture programs.

  1. Appeals Process: We request the Commission reinstate the Appeals Process for all OSP and CCSD applicant organizations, not just those who have been denied funding. The Appeals Process is a simple and necessary accountability measure that ensures occasional mistakes and misstatements by review panels which adversely impact an organization’s ranking can be addressed. The Appeals Process utilized by the Commission in the past included specific guidelines for an appeal to be considered and specific grounds upon which an appeal might be approved. The elimination of the Appeals Process and diversion of it to the public comment portion of a full Commission meeting ultimately undermines the transparency of the panel process. Providing applicant organizations with a defined mechanism for submitting an appeal to the Executive Committee to address a misreading or misinterpretation of their application or lack of compliance with panel instructions is essential to the integrity of the full application process. The Executive Committee can then forward its recommendations for appeals to the full Commission. At present, it isn’t clear why the Appeals Process was removed from the application guidelines.

In addition to requesting these specific application guideline updates, we also recommend the Commission initiate an analysis of the panel process utilized for the FY 18 funding cycle so appropriate updates to the FY19 panels can be instituted. We believe the following aspects of the panel process deserve examination:

a) Panel Composition: Panelists are expected to understand the operating and program structures of numerous applicant organizations. To achieve this, peer-review panels are the standard across all sectors and levels of government funding programs from the sciences to education to the arts. With this in mind, we encourage the Commission to consider a policy stipulating at least 50% of non-Commissioner Panelists will have first-hand professional experience in arts and culture with an in-depth, professional understanding of at least one art form under consideration. Panelists qualifying for this designation could bring an understanding of the business model of nonprofit arts and culture organizations as either Board members or professional staff of an organization. These panelists can be selected from the organizations that are not under consideration within the category they are reviewing during the FY 19 funding cycle.

b) Panel Training and Preparation: A review of Panelist training will ensure participants are prepared with a consistent understanding of the goals, objectives, and processes of application review and the funding guidelines. Likewise, developing a means for assessing panelist’s pre-panel review of application materials will ensure smoothly running panels with well informed contributions from every panel member. 

c) Panelist Participation and Attendance: Panels are only effective when a sufficient number of panelists attend and participate. An analysis of panel participation during the FY 18 funding cycle is needed to reveal issues associated with absent panelists. Establishment of a minimum participation policy can simultaneously prepare for last minute absences as well as guarantee that panels only proceed with a fair number of participating panelists. We believe panels consisting of at least seven panelists can appropriately proceed if no more than two panelists are unable to attend. Fewer than five panelists in attendance would warrant a panel to be rescheduled.

d) Commission Staff Role: Commission staff members are the most familiar with the funding guidelines and panel scoring rubric. They are an essential resource to the funding panels. A review of the role and expectations for Commission staff during the panel process will create greater clarity for panelists, Commissioners, and applicants. Articulation of the staff role in maintaining accountability throughout the panel process will lend strength to the final panel rankings and outcomes.

e) Financial and Governance Content: Assessing the impact of not providing the panelists with applicant financial and governance information will likely reveal gaps in panel knowledge. Financial and governance information is critical to understanding organizational health, operational model, capacity and programmatic focus. Without access to financial and governance data panelists are challenged to comprehensively understand applicant organizations.

f) Scoring: Determine the value of eliminating the highest and lowest scores from the final panel scoring calculation and ranking. This can be achieved with an examination of how FY 18 final rankings may have shifted as a result of outlier high and low scores.

We understand that time is of the essence as you prepare to issue the FY 19 funding guidelines and convene the funding panels. We strongly believe our recommended adjustments to the guidelines and requested analysis of the panel process will further strengthen the entire funding cycle by adding parity and transparency. Ultimately, these steps will be beneficial to the Commission, Commission staff, review panels and the hundreds of organizations applying to contract with the Commission. Thank you for your attention and consideration.



San Diego Regional Arts and Culture Coalition Ad Hoc Committee Members

Matt Carney, Treasurer

Rising Arts Leaders


Llewellyn Crain, Director of Development

The Old Globe


Erin Decker, Vice President of Development

The New Children’s Museum


Victoria Hamilton, President

Californians for the Arts and California Arts Advocates


John Highkin, Director

Fern Street Community Arts


Michael Rosenberg, Managing Director

La Jolla Playhouse


Todd Schultz, Vice President for Institutional Advancement

San Diego Symphony


Dalouge Smith, President & CEO

San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory


Steve Snyder, President & CEO

Fleet Science Center