Arts and culture organizations are getting the shaft when it comes to more than $5 million in city funds slated to be doled out to Oahu nonprofits this year, according to arts advocates and concerned Honolulu City Council members. 

The Grants-in-Aid Advisory Commission unveiled its recommended grantees to the City Council Budget Committee on Wednesday and not a single one of the 32 organizations falls into the arts and culture category. 

It’s the second year in a row that such groups haven’t made the commission’s cut. And it’s stirring a new round of controversy for the grantmaking program formed just last year. 

Council Chair Ernie Martin is already vowing to rejigger the list of awardees to create more diversity among recipients. 

Some 113 nonprofits applied for the funding this year — nearly all of the 32 nonprofits that have been selected for funding fall into the public service category. 

Groups that scored the highest in the commission’s ranking system include Lanakila Meals on Wheels, American National Red Cross, After-School All Stars Hawaii, Moiliili Community Center and Special Olympics Hawaii. 

A.J. Halago, vice chair of the advisory commission, told council members that it wasn’t their intent to exclude arts and culture groups and maybe the ranking criteria needs to be revised. 

“It’s not as if members were high-fiving,” he said. “We were quite disappointed it worked out that way.”

Some of the organizations that didn’t score high enough to receive funding include the Hawaii Academy of Performing Arts, Hawaii Alliance for Arts Education, Hawaii Opera Theatre, Hawaii Youth Symphony and Hawaii Theatre Center. 

Aaron Kibota, associate director of Hawaii Arts Alliance, testified that the ranking system seemed to be skewed toward public service groups that could show they were providing an immediate need, such as feeding the homeless. But he said that other organizations have similar public service goals, they just take a longer-term approach. 

“Does the council want to put out fires today or invest a little more in the future and possibly have less fires in the future or at least smaller fires?” he said.

Council members also noted that environmental groups were conspicuously missing from the commission’s list of awardees. 

Martin, who introduced the resolution that created the Grants-in-Aid program, stoked controversy last year when he increased the number of organizations receiving grants. 

The move, criticized by the Caldwell administration and nonprofit executives, meant that a number of groups selected for grants by the commission ended up receiving less money.

But he told council members that he will likely do the same this year, noting that it’s ultimately up to the City Council and not the advisory commission to decide who gets funding.

“I know I will be criticized for it, but I know I won’t lose any more hair over it,” said Martin, who is bald, during a Wednesday hearing. 

He said that the Caldwell administration had only allocated $200,000 in the fiscal year 2015 budget for arts and culture funding — compounding the need to level the playing field in the Grants-in-Aid program. 

You can read the full rankings of the advisory commission here.

Photo: Dancers perform for the Dalai Lama (Civil Beat)

— Sophie Cocke