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TBA Online: News & Features: May 2014

Executive Director's Note: Once More into the Breach

Wednesday, May 28, 2014   (0 Comments)
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By Brad Erickson

California has a population of nearly 38 million people, with some 10,000 arts nonprofits. The Golden State is home to more artists than any other in the nation, and our creative economy is the state's most important economic sector. The recently released Otis Report shows California's creative economy generates $273 billion each year; constitutes 8% of the state's GDP (gross domestic product); and employs nearly 10% of its workforce. Yet for more than a decade, California has held the dubious distinction of investing less in the arts than nearly any other state in the nation—just 3 cents per person from the state's general fund. The national median is more than one dollar. 

Executive Director Brad Erickson 

It hasn't always been this way. In 2000 funding for the California Arts Council stood at more than $30 million (nearly $1.00 for every Californian). Support flowed to programs that reached into every county in the state, serving inner-city youth and rural communities, the incarcerated as well as public school children, providing especially significant support for community-based and multicultural artists and arts groups. But in 2003 arts funding was slashed by 97%; investment from the state's general fund fell to just $1 million—and it has stayed there for 10 years.

Draconian cuts meant that programs that once opened the door to access for millions of Californians were eliminated or drastically curtailed. With ongoing structural deficits in Sacramento, the way forward looked bleak. That is, until last year, when a changed political and fiscal climate in Sacramento encouraged arts advocates—and legislators—to push for change. 

Last spring, Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian authored a bill to bring arts investment by the state to $75 million annually, a figure that seemed outlandish to some, but that in fact would have placed California only in 12th place in terms of per capita spending on the arts, still behind Minnesota, Hawaii, New York and Montana, among others. The bill failed, but it did set the bar, and it helped inspire grassroots advocates and well-connected supporters alike. It no doubt played a role in encouraging Speaker John Perez to allocate an additional $2 million to the Arts Council—the first significant bump up in its appropriation since 2003.

Then, on February 12 of this year, at a hearing of the Joint Committee on the Arts—where the Otis Report was made public and experts testified for three hours on the economic, educational and social value of the arts—both the committee chair, Senator Ted Lieu, and its vice chair, Assemblymember Ian Calderon, each announced their intention to author bills to reinvest in the arts. Arts advocates suddenly found themselves in the unfamiliar position of having not one, but two bills that would restore funding to the California Arts Council, and through it send support to artists and arts organizations across the state.

Advocates are now racing against the clock to move this new legislation through the committee processes in both chambers and find the necessary two-thirds of legislators needed to pass these bills. A parallel effort is unfolding through the annual budget process. Insiders, led by Assemblymember Nazarian, are working to substantially increase arts investment in the fiscal 2015 budget—a strategy that would need only 51% to pass, along with the governor's signature.

Artists, arts leaders and arts supporters are girding themselves once more for an all-out push, an effort that stands the best chance in a decade to reverse a history of disinvestment and restore real support for the artists and arts organizations that are changing lives and enriching communities across this golden state.

To help, write, email or call Senator Lieu and Assemblymember Calderon, along with your own assemblymember and senator, and voice your strong support for Senate Bill 1432 and Assembly Bill 1662. Click here for more information and template letters.

Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more!

Brad Erickson is executive director of Theatre Bay Area.