Adding to nonprofits’ frustrations, the GFTA has yet to release information on their FY23 grant cycle, applications for which would normally be due in February 2022. Arts administrators point out that it this is not an easy application process. The package of required documents can be dozens of pages, including a long narrative, budget overview, board membership documents, recent financial review, several tax forms, list of past events and planned, brochures and press clippings.
Last year, the GFTA even partnered with Intersection for the Arts to offer a four-part workshop and series of labs to walk nonprofits through the process and make the grant more accessible to newcomers. candidates. But if last year’s GFTA watchword was “equity,” this year’s seems to be “to be determined.”
“The process has become a great mystery”
Seeking information on the status of its current grant cycle, KQED received an automated response from the GFTA that paints a picture of a seriously understaffed organization. The email explains that GFTA is “reduced to a team of two” and that two employees from the San Francisco Arts Commission have been recruited to help with the workload. In a bulleted list of what appear to be common email topics, the auto-reply says the release date for the next grant cycle “has not been identified.”
A spokesperson for the Office of the City Administrator, which oversees the GFTA, provided KQED with a statement on the delays: “Many city departments are currently experiencing staffing impacts due to the pandemic. It has been and will continue to be a priority to secure grants and contracts for all of our municipal service providers and the Arts Commission and Arts Grants staff are working together to achieve this.
GFTA grantees who have spoken to KQED say it has been difficult to get in touch with anyone in the organization to even check on the status of their grant agreements. KQED’s multiple calls to the office went unanswered.
Arts administrators say that over the past few years, even during the pandemic, the granting process has worked quite well and on schedule; staff were approachable and supportive of GFTA-funded organizations. But they began to notice a series of departures from the GFTA after Director Vallie Brown was appointed to the post by Mayor London Breed in February 2021. The four staff members who worked at the GFTA before Brown’s arrival have since retired or left, and only one new employee has joined.
Perhaps as a result of these personnel changes, current GFTA recipients have been asked to resubmit their information up to four or five times in recent months, causing confusion and anxiety in an industry. already tense.
Jeff Thomas, executive director of the San Francisco Center for the Book, recalls when GFTA had five employees. “The general feeling is that a lot of really good people have left for whatever reason, that there’s now a huge shortage of staff to be able to do all the good things they’ve done in the past,” he says. “And that the process has become a big mystery that really stresses people out.”
‘What if I lose my funding?’
After months of requesting and resubmitting their information, GFTA recipients received a Nov. 11 email from Brown. The subject line said “URGENT”:
I appreciate how the lion’s share of organizations we are privileged to support have worked diligently to meet the requirements of our FY22 General Operating Support grant. However, many of you continue to have outstanding documentation, which prevents my staff (and those assisting us from SFAC) from generating your contracts. …
If GFTA does not have all your documents by Wednesday, November 17, 2021, we cannot guarantee that your contract will be executed in a timely manner. It is your responsibility to ensure that you are in compliance with my department and the City, and I hope you will be able to respond to the emails that my staff have been distributing for several weeks.
Even administrators who knew all their paperwork was in order suddenly had second thoughts. The mass email, says Gray Area’s Threw, made it unclear who was actually missing information. “Do you have our things or not?” he wondered.
“It got really frustrating when people thought they were done, and then all of a sudden everyone was knocked down,” says Thomas. “What if I can’t prove I sent it?” What if I lose my funding? he remembers asking. “I mean, it’s a major source of funding for a lot of small organizations.”
Jennifer Walsh, executive director of ABADÁ-Capoeira San Francisco, says they still don’t have a grant agreement despite having submitted all the required documents. “We received an email explaining that they are working hard to get agreements so they can start processing refunds,” Walsh wrote via email, noting that GFTA is one of the main backers. of the organization and that they are deeply grateful for the support. While hoping that the GFTA will get agreements and payments to people as soon as possible, Walsh wrote, “Funding delays are straining our operating budget, as we use funds for fixed costs, including rent.
Many of the arts administrators KQED contacted for this article would not speak publicly about their experiences.
“The pandemic continues,” says Thomas of the San Francisco Center for the Book. “There’s no more Paycheck Protection Program, there’s no more of this other funding. No one wants to report an organization where they could get substantial funding.
“I think GFTA has been such an amazing organization,” Thomas continues. “There’s no reason why he can’t come back and be like that again, but it just feels like he’s going through a tough time.”
A bad patch, unfortunately, which affects the results of 226 artistic nonprofit organizations in San Francisco.