Published in Benefit Magazine, Jan/Feb 2007
You Get What You Pay For- California trails the nation in arts funding
Assume you are an average California taxpayer, sending 9% of your average annual income of $36,890 (12th highest in the U.S.) to Sacramento for road repair, education, prisons, parks and other programs. How much of this $3,320.10 would you want to spend on the arts?
New Yorkers spend $2.35 per person, but that isn't the highest per capita funding in the country. That accolade goes to Hawaiians, who spend $5.56. In California, we spend just three cents each, the lowest per capita funding for the arts in the entire country.
In 2003, the State's General Fund budget for the California Arts Council plummeted to $1.1 million and has stayed at that level. Then Gov. Gray Davis and Sen. President John Burton were persuaded to maintain at least $1 million or lose a federal grant from the National Endowment for the Arts that required a match from the state.
At its peak in 2001, funding for the California Arts Council was $32 million, which provided for arts organizations of all sizes and genres, as well as artists in schools, jails and senior centers, arts touring programs, performance seasons, festivals and exhibitions.
Thankfully, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the current legislature have provided funds to revive arts and music in the schools, but their generosity hasn't yet reached the art programs that serve the general public and create a sustainable path for our most creative people.
Indeed, the creative people are leaving. Add the lack of affordable housing and studio space to the scarcity of paid work for artists and the situation is untenable for emerging artists. Mature artists who choose to stay are finding more support and recognition outside the Bay Area.
For example, Idris Ackamoor, co-Artistic Director of San Francisco's Cultural Odyssey was recently on his way to Rio after rehearsing a new piece with his partner, Rhodessa Jones, in Atlanta. With close to $90,000 in CAC funding four years ago, Cultural Odyssey provided after-school classes in jazz dance and tap for 50 kids in the Western Addition. Emergency Report, the group's signature youth performance, provided kids with ways to express their fears, anger and other raw emotions on stage, rather than in the streets.
But when the organization lost state funding, the board and staff decided to eliminate the youth programs and concentrate on local productions and national and international touring, where they could find support. ;We could no longer commit to a schedule at home, Ackamoor said, and the organization finds itself living its name.
Thanks to the leadership of San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessey, the California State Sheriffs Association has asked the Governor to restore funding for the California Arts Council. At a recent forum, Hennessey explained that arts programs help maintain discipline inside the jails by providing means of self-expression and positive role models, The arts also offer opportunities for meaningful rehabilitation and reduce recidivism of ex-offenders. Without such programs, California's recidivism rate is twice the national average, according to a recent report in the Los Angeles Times.