Not many plays feature an all-Latino cast, let alone all El Salvadoran. But Paul Flores' Placas placed brown actors and a brown experience center stage. The 2012 production explored a father and ex-gang member's struggle, leading his son out of a hard life of drugs, violence, and perhaps death.
The play garnered favorable but mixed reviews from critics, but among Salvadorans, it was a huge hit.
"You had older generations coming to see the play right alongside their grandkids," Flores told the Guardian. The play's premiere venue packed its 500-seat capacity, and sold out seven out of its eight nights in San Francisco. "We tapped a community thirsty to hear its stories told."
Placas is the kind of creative work not being funded often enough by the city's largest arts grant organization, critics are saying. At a contentious San Francisco Board of Supervisors Budget and Finance Committee hearing on June 20, artists told supervisors that programs serving diverse communities were severely underfunded, and alleged the city's major arts funder, Grants for the Arts, awards money disproportionately to art forms favored by white audiences.
Spurred by public outcry and city studies, Sups. Eric Mar and London Breed recommended the transfer of $400,000 in unused funding from GFTA to another city arts funder, the Cultural Equity Grants (which funded Placas), to direct arts money to people of color.
The transfer won't be approved until it goes before the full Board of Supervisors next month. But as San Francisco studio and housing rents soar, Mar said this was vital to keeping diverse artists in the city.
"I think the crisis for arts groups now is many of them are being displaced," he told the Guardian. "How can the city subsidize groups with low rent or free rent, and how could we support small groups [to prevent them from] being displaced?"
Above is a PDF of the Budget Legislative Analyst's report, as it breaks down lack of funding to diverse programs. The report has relevant sections highlighted.
The Guardian reached out to City Administrator Naomi Kelly for comment (her office ultimately directs arts grants funding). She was unavailable for an interview before we went to press, but her spokesperson Bill Barnes told us, "I don't think we should be in a position of having governments regulate artistic content."