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Arts funding at risk in Brown’s budget proposal

originally posted by The Los Angeles Times
January 9, 2014

Advocates of boosting California’s meager state-funded grants to the arts received official word Thursday that they’ve got some heavy lifting to do, because Gov. Jerry Brown’s new budget proposal has no good news for the arts.

Brown’s budget plan calls for an overall 8.5% spending increase, including major boosts to education, but envisions a $9,000 cut for the state’s arts-grant agency, the California Arts Council — from a projected $5.058 million in the current fiscal year to $5.049 million in the 2014-15 budget year that begins July 1.

Brown’s budget also would exact a small cut from another cultural program: the budget for the state-run California Science Center in L.A.’s Exposition Park, which also includes funding for the next-door California African American Museum. Brown has proposed a $76,000 reduction to $28.71 million.

“We were expecting it,” Brad Erickson, president of the lobbying group California Arts Advocates, said of Brown’s essentially “flat-lined” proposal for arts grants.

The game plan now, he said, is to persuade legislators, who’ll pass the final budget after further consultation with Brown, who has line-item veto power, to be more generous and end California’s chronic last-place ranking in per capita funding of state arts grantmaking agencies.

This year, a one-time $2-million allocation from Assembly Speaker John Pérez’s discretionary funds has lifted California temporarily into 48th place, above Georgia and last-place Kansas.

Erickson said arts advocates are already trying to make a case with legislative leaders for a $10-million to $25-million general fund allocation for the arts council. “We think that’s something that would be significant but obtainable,” given the improving picture for state tax revenues. “We’re not talking about something that seems a stretch anymore,” he said.

Such amounts would be a huge relative increase. For years, the arts council has received a fraction over $1 million from the general fund, the core pot of money fed by state taxpayers. Its budgets also include a comparable amount from the federal government and more than $2 million a year in charity from California motorists who voluntarily pay extra for special arts-funding license plates.

With a 15-member staff and a volunteer board of political appointees, the council runs a grants program for nonprofit arts organizations, with an emphasis on grass-roots education programs and community-building through the arts.

Last year, arts advocates rallied around a bill submitted by Assembly member Adrin Nazarian (D-Sherman Oaks) that called for a permanent annual arts-grant allocation of at least $75 million from the general fund – a $2 per capita commitment that would have put California just outside the top ten states nationwide in per capita arts funding.

Although the bill died in committee, arts advocates felt that it helped draw legislators’ attention to the issue and figured in Perez’s decision to provide his one-time $2 million allocation.

Erickson said this year’s push will begin next month, when L.A.’s Otis College of Art and Design is scheduled to issue its “Annual Report on the Creative Economy.” Previous reports assessed the economic impact of the arts and culture in Los Angeles County and Orange County, but the report to be released Feb. 6 examines the statewide economic impact of the arts.

Otis used a grant from the California Arts Council to expand the report’s scope, and advocates hope to make it part of their pitch to persuade legislators and the governor that investing in arts grants can yield broad economic benefits.

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