Arts for a Better Bay Area (ABBA) is a collective network dedicated to building community-wide solidarity to increase support and equitable access to the arts. By raising the voice of the arts in the Bay Area and building a network of advocates and supporters through community-driven action, ABBA focuses attention on the support needed to sustain arts in the Bay Area.
Founded in 2015 as a volunteer-led group of artists and community representatives, ABBA began its work on a collaboration to recommend funding increases for the arts budget in San Francisco. Though that goal was successfully achieved, it was short term, and the collective set it sights on longer-term increases in arts spending. ABBA brought together representatives from across the arts community – leaders of multi-million dollar and smaller arts institutions alongside community organizers, cultural workers, and individual artists – to share space and find common ground.
In 2016, the group helped organize the efforts to pass Proposition S, a ballot initiative to secure a portion of San Francisco’s hotel tax revenue to fund the arts and homeless support. The Prop S campaign brought together a broad cohort of arts advocates, and despite the fact that Prop S did not pass (by a slight margin), the collective felt a growing sense of solidarity and strength. Armed with knowledge and more time to plan, their efforts were reborn in 2018 as Proposition E, this time a ballot measure exclusively dedicated to arts funding, with over 140 arts organizations in San Francisco signing on with their support, which passed in November 2018, with 75% approval from voters.
The momentum felt like something tangible, a coming together of voices that had not been in conversation before, let alone in support of a single idea. In 2018, ABBA hosted State of the Arts, an event bringing together arts workers and leaders from across the Bay Area. The fractured and sometimes competitive nature of the arts (for funding, for audiences) is an ongoing challenge, but the passage of Prop E showed how much could be accomplished and with wide-ranging benefit, if arts organizations united in a common cause. ABBA secured its position as a uniting agency for the Bay Area arts community.
The benefit of having such an organization in place is that, when crisis strikes, there is a place to turn for information, guidance and support. Now led by a team of stewards from the community acting as an advisory board, ABBA (a fiscally sponsored project of SOMArts) is rising to the occasion in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to working closely with local service organizations to develop and distribute funds to artists in need through the Bay Area Arts Worker Relief Fund, ABBA has been helping to coordinate industry-wide conversations around the short- and long-term impacts of venue closures, recovery and reopening strategies, and the many questions around how to engage in responsible safety measures that arts organizations will be navigating in the coming months. ABBA is also helping to support conversations around how arts organizations can band together to lobby city leadership for consideration in the economic recovery efforts, as well as making sure municipalities are mindful of both the unique needs of arts venues but also the similarities with other industries, such as fitness centers, churches and restaurants.
ABBA has already hosted the first in a three-part panel discussion series titled Rebound: Arts Equity and Recovery Series, in which they connect Bay Area artists and arts organizations to decipher the guidelines and regulations around safely reopening spaces in the wake of the COVID-19 venue closures. The first conversation, held September 24, 2020, was recorded, and can be found on their website along with links to important informational resources.
While ABBA is currently largely focused on recovery in San Francisco, the conversations are applicable region-wide. The best way to find out about upcoming events and other advocacy opportunities is to sign up for announcements or become a member.