Matthew Goudeau Takes Helm of Grants for the Arts

By Jesse Hamlin

The new director of Grants for the Arts has landed in his “dream job.”

For his own pleasure, Matthew Goudeau, the new director of San Francisco Grants for the Arts, takes in everything from the San Francisco Ballet to Theatre Rhinoceros, Carnaval, the Cherry Blossom Festival and various other cultural offerings.

“Now, to have the opportunity to help support and make them sustainable for future generations to enjoy—that’s an honor,” says Goudeau, talking in his Veterans Building office, where a Golden Gate Bridge snow globe sits on the table beneath the arched north-facing window.

Goudeau took the helm of Grants for Arts in February, following the retirement of his sterling predecessor, Kary Schulman. For 38 years, Schulman ran the program that provides crucial annual general support to more than 200 arts and cultural organizations spanning San Francisco’s diverse communities. Thanks to the passage of Prop. E last November, funding for Grants for the Arts and other city cultural programs will once again be linked to the Hotel Tax Fund, providing a record $16 million for Grants for the Arts to distribute in the coming fiscal year.

Goudeau now has the pleasure and challenge of figuring how to best allot the additional $2 million from Prop. E, and whatever sums Grants for the Arts receives in future years from the Hotel Tax Fund (under Prop. E, city arts and cultural programs get 1.5 of the base 8 percent tax levied on all hotel rooms).

He approaches the job with a keen sense of the grant-seeker’s perspective, having raised money for art endeavors and produced cultural events. Goudeau previously directed the San Francisco Mayor’s Office of Protocol for many years, helping plan parades and festivals and exposing the consular corps to the city’s artistic riches; served two years as development director for the Chinati Foundation’s thriving contemporary art museum in the tiny Texas town of Marfa; and raised funds for the celebrated David Ireland House in San Francisco.

“What’s so wonderful about Grants for the Arts is that it provides general operating support,” notes Goudeau, 41, who grew up on a Modesto walnut farm and majored in Politics at the University of San Francisco. “Having been on the other side in these organizations, I can tell you to get a grant from anyone who says you can spend it pretty much how you want is sort of unheard of.”

Schulman, he says, “did an amazing job. I’m going to continue with what she’s done. I [will] bring a fresh perspective to it, and a new set of eyes.” With the extra funding, he adds, “we can look at new ways of doing what we’re doing, and fund new organizations. As the city changes, so do the arts organizations.”

In recent years, Grants for the Arts lacked the money needed to add new groups to the grant docket or to give more substantial funding to groups already on the list. “Now we have it. It’s a luxury,” Goudeau says. “I hope it allows us to provide funding for organizations that should have more, and fund new ones that haven’t received it in the past.”

The Hotel Tax Fund was created in 1961—four years before the NEA was founded—when then-Mayor George Christopher urged city leaders to create a program to provide funds to bolster cultural activities and, as he put it, “lure tourists here.”

In addition to drawing visitors to San Francisco and enriching the lives of locals, Grants for the Arts, Goudeau says, “helps give voice to some communities that might have been overlooked or felt they haven’t been heard in the past. And that’s something we’re looking at a little more closely.”

Prop. E also created the new $2.5 million Arts Impact Endowment, a joint program of the Arts Commission, Grants for the Arts and the office of City Administrator Naomi Kelly. Kelly believes Goudeau’s knowledge of San Francisco’s wide-ranging communities and city government make him a good fit for Grants for the Arts.

“His experience with cultural diplomacy as well as arts fundraising and management allow him to successfully support the city’s vibrant arts sector,” Kelly says.

For his part, Goudeau, who’s been meeting daily with grantees and would-be grantees and vows to visit all 219 groups on this year’s list, couldn’t ask for a better gig.

“For anyone who loves art and culture and loves this city, to be able to support both—to give money from the government to arts organizations and artists—that is a dream job.”