With small arts groups booming, Salt Lake County may rethink how it gives them millions in funding

(Photo courtesy of Sudipta Maity) Maya Jammulapati performs at the Nitya Nritya Foundation's 2018 Festival of Indian Classical Dance and Music on the weekend of Sept. 8. The foundation is one of 20 new organizations that received $1,000 from the county's Zoo, Arts and Parks Program this year.

The number of small arts and cultural organizations in Salt Lake County is booming — and it may have consequences for the way taxpayer funds are distributed in the future.

The Zoo, Arts and Parks (ZAP) program will fund more groups than ever this year with $2.2 million split among 183 organizations. But since the county had less than the approximately $3.4 million applicants requested this year, almost every group got less than it asked for, according to program director Kirsten Darrington.

And she expects competition for these grants for smaller groups, called Tier II awards, will only become tougher in coming years, which could result in a slight decrease in awards per organization.

“At every board meeting we put this in our minds and we say, ‘How do we want the future to look for ZAP Tier II?’” Darrington said. “And we still want to make sure we’re reaching as far across the county as we can but make sure we’re still funding enough to have it matter. And so it’s really … it’s such a tough balancing act.”

Tier II organizations that received funding include orchestras, dance and theater companies, botanical gardens and arts and ethnic festivals. Financial awards range from $1,000 to organizations like the Nitya Nritya Foundation, an Indian classical dance and music nonprofit, to $100,000 for the Sundance Institute, which supports independent film and theater.

No date has yet been set for County Council approval for the larger Tier I arts programs, like Ballet West and the combined Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, according to council staff. The county can only fund 22 of those bigger arts and cultural organizations.

Darrington said the growing applicant pool for Tier II, up from 156 in 2016 and 171 last year, is a “really good problem to have.” It reflects the increased sophistication of small arts programs and demand for cultural programming across the county, she said.


• Sundance Institute: $100,000

• Utah Cultural Celebration Center: $94,000

• Murray City Cultural Arts: $85,000

• Sandy Arts Guild: $80,000

• Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation: $75,000

• This Is the Place Foundation: $50,000

• Bad Dog Arts: $48,000

The Salt Lake County Council unanimously approved the funding levels that were presented by the nine-member Tier II advisory board, which spent more than 400 hours reviewing and scoring the applicants based on criteria such as artistic vibrancy, benefit to the public and organizational management.

“It is actually a fairly big commitment of time, but I also was really intrigued and excited by the offerings and the quality of many of the offerings,” said Alta Mayor Harris Sondak, who serves on the advisory board.

County Council Chairwoman Aimee Winder Newton praised the efforts of the volunteer committee and the increased interest in the program among arts and cultural groups in the county.

“The great thing about ZAP,” she added, “is it’s something that voters approve. It’s not a tax that was implemented by council or any other legislative body.”

Since 1997, ZAP has added a penny tax to every $10 purchase in the county to provide funding for zoological, cultural, botanical, recreational and artistic programs. Voters again passed ZAP with a wide margin in 2014, and they’ll have their next chance to weigh in on the program in 2024.

Larger and more established organizations tend to receive the largest dollar amounts under the program. But even smaller funding amounts can go a long way for new, up-and-coming organizations like the Nitya Nritya Foundation.

It’s one of the 20 new organizations that received ZAP funding this year. Foundation President Jyothsna Sainath said the county’s $1,000 award makes up about 10 percent of the foundation’s overall budget. This year, that money will help pay for the “top of the line” performers the foundation brought to its 2018 Festival of Indian Classical Dance and Music on the weekend of Sept. 8.


• Bhutanese Community in Utah: $1,000

• Chinese Society of Utah: $1,000

• Nitya Nritya Foundation: $1,000

• Puppets in the City: $1,000

• Ulhaas-Bengali Association of Utah: $1,000

• Una Mano Amiga: $1,000

• Westminster Concert Series: $1,000

“While art is really, really critical for society’s culture and health, if I might put it that way, it doesn’t pay for itself,” Sainath said. “It needs support from the industry and from the government, so government funding is critical.”

The ZAP advisory board offered funding to most of its applicants this year, but two organizations failed to make the cut: The Leonardo and the Institute of Classical Architecture. The Leonardo did not submit a certified financial review or audit with its application.

The higher the award an organization seeks, the more detailed financial documentation ZAP requires, Darrington said.

“We’re essentially checking for sound organizational management,” she said. “We’re basically looking to see that taxpayer dollars are going to viable organizations.”

The advisory board declined to fund the Institute of Classical Architecture because the project identified in its application didn’t include a component open to the public, as is required to receive ZAP money.