#SDTheatre: Art is universal. Funding, however…

by Alejandra Enciso Guzman

in National Conference

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(Pictured: Alejandra Enciso Guzmán. The following post is part of a series highlighting and celebrating the theatres and theatre people of San Diego as part of the 2014 TCG National Conference in San Diego. Email Gus Schulenburg if you’d like to participate.)

Art has no barriers; whether they are language, race or culture. When the applause, discomfort, question or inspiration hits, we coincide and share a unique moment. I strongly believe and promote this. Especially because I’m a ‘border kid’.

Who is this person exactly? It’s someone that was born in Tijuana, Mexico (one of the most crossed/visited borders in the world-about 50,000 people per day) and crossed to San Diego as part of their normal, day to day lifestyle: summer school, shopping, eating and, yes, arts related events.

In Tijuana and along the border, the arts and tourism have slowly been resurrecting themselves after the 2008 drug cartel ‘war’. Tijuana’s international image of ‘drugs, sex and rock & roll’ that Hollywood popularized in its movies is no longer the case. The cultural scene at the Mexico-United States border has once again become a rich and deliciously varied one.

Being able to live in an area where two cultures intersect -one very different from the other- has resulted in a more sensitive spectator. My experience (as an arts and entertainment journalist, covering events on both sides of the border), has been of intense arts event consumption on both borders. The choice is not whether or not to go, the choice is which one to choose!

Many of us travel up into California to see work by our favorite artists. The Mexican audience from Tijuana is very different from the Hispanic audience residing in California as well as the Mexican audience in the rest of the country, due to this border factor. Here I am, writing this piece for you now. A woman that fell in love with the arts and became a reporter because as a little girl, during the weekends, her parents (driving from Tijuana) took her to see theatre in San Diego, Orange County and Los Angeles – sometimes to see the work of Mexican artists that were being featured there.

As an adult, I’ve learned a few things about the differences between theatre in both countries. Two things that I admire and are dramatically different between Tijuana and San Diego theatre are the promotional events around shows that each theatre has and the grant writing that is needed by theatres in order to survive. I’ll begin with the promotional events I’ve seen; this kind of programming that theatres in California do is something to be admired. I understand that it’s done in an effort to engage with audiences and to promote shows. This is not seen in Tijuana around our productions – theatres do not promote their shows using other programming like talk backs, cultural exchanges or events. They use the usual ways of advertising.

The other thing I admire is how California theatres have adapted to the lack of government funding in their areas. They do a lot more private grant writing and seeking of funds from individuals than Mexican artist have to in order to do art. California has limited access to government funding for the arts whereas in Baja California, artists raise their hands every year, month and week to get the ‘famed’ (and now more and more pared down) scholarships they use to sustain themselves as artists, grants such as FONCA ( National Fund for Arts and Culture/ Fondo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes) which was established in 1989 to support:

• Quality artistic creation and production.
• Promote and strengthen culture.
• Increase and preserve the cultural tradition/heritage of the nation.

While FONCA is a national fund, PECDA (another fund) is dispersed through the governments in the different Mexican states. Each state has its own call for entry, categories and economic amounts. Even if the artist was born in a certain state and never lived there, he or she can still apply for a PECDA issued in that state. With that said, as much as these incentives are a wonderful tool for emerging and struggling artists or artists or projects in need of a little ‘boost’ – this money still has loopholes and the artists have to deal with the politics, as with everything.

Apart from individuals, theatre groups or companies have their own grants they can apply to. Supported by CONACULTA (The National Arts and Culture Council/Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes) and FONCA; ‘Mexico en escena’ (Mexico in the scene) is one of the ‘chunkier’, more praised incentives.

Mexico does have some private funding for the arts, and yes, grant writing, but, this is not seen as much. Mexican companies such as Grupo Jumex, Banamex and Santander, through their foundations (based in Mexico City), support artistic projects for social responsibility and tax return purposes. This type of private funding has not yet sunk in to the theatre and dance community, word has not yet spread and companies continue to seek out public funding first.

From what I have seen in California, this is quite different. While Mexican artists continue to rely on public funding, Americans (and Europeans) rely on private funding to help fill the gap created by ever slashed government arts spending. The ‘giving back’ to the arts mentality in citizens is something that is definitely more developed on the US side than in Mexico. Even though Mexican public support is also getting slashed, most Mexicans are not aware of the importance of purchasing a ticket to the theatre, museum or opera to help offset the diminishing public funding. They care even less about donating a percentage of their income for the arts in their community. The awareness is just not there. Mexico is an immense culturally rich country, people need to value it more and become more conscious about it as a nation. As a border kid, I can see this clearly, and also that the arts in the US could use more government (national, state and city) funding than they receive now. In my perspective, both countries can and should learn from each other’s strengths.

I’ve joined this TCG conference and the planning because I think we have much to learn from each other. We are two different countries who share the same shared artistic goals. We have a lot to talk about this summer. As mentioned in the beginning of this article, Art has no language or race barriers. I think it’s time to embrace and take advantage of that.

Alejandra Enciso Guzmán is an arts consultant and reporter in both Tijuana and San Diego. @Riselah / @Riselaheng