California’s arts grant-making agency announced Monday that it will get $3 million this year from state coffers instead of the $1 million called for in the budget legislators passed in June, thanks to Assembly Speaker John Perez, who’s providing the extra money from discretionary funds under his control.
It’s the first increase in taxpayer-supported funding in more than a decade for the California Arts Council. Since the agency's budget was slashed more than 90% during a recession 10 years ago, California has ranked at or near the bottom nationally in per-capita funding for arts grants.
Before the one-time infusion from Perez, the arts council had received a 7.6% budget reduction for the just-begun 2013-14 fiscal year, down to a fraction more than $5 million. The boost to just above $7 million instead represents a 29.2% increase.
“It’s a very positive first step,” said Wylie Aitken, the Orange County attorney who is chairman of the arts council. He agency leaders will quickly identify the arts equivalent of “shovel-ready” projects -- new or existing but underfunded initiatives by private, nonprofit arts groups around the state where the additional money can make a difference.
The arts council aims to closely track how the additional $2 million in grants is spent, Aitken said, and to document how the funded projects pay off in a broader way by boosting local economies or helping school districts maximize student achievement and minimize dropouts.
“This gives us the opportunity to identify projects that can prove that art does make a difference and will prove our case” that steady and ample support for the arts would be a sensible commitment for California’s elected officials and policymakers to embrace, Aitken said. “We’ll come back with concrete, empirical evidence that it worked,” and use that to support future budget requests.
Aitken said that Perez provided the money strictly for grants, with none going to the agency’s staff salaries or administrative expenses. The arts council has scheduled a retreat this month at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles to discuss its overall priorities and specific ideas for allocating the additional $2 million.
Its grants typically are awarded through a competitive process in which experts in various fields or art forms weigh and rank applications from nonprofit arts groups.
Aitken said the hope for the $2 million is to target projects that can unfold quickly and produce evidence for policymakers that arts-funding is an effective tool for achieving wider economic and educational goals. “We’ll have to sort through the rules and regulations” on how such grants can be expedited, Aitken said. “We certainly want it to be open and competitive, but we want it to make a difference.”
In previous years, the majority of the funding for the arts council came from motorists who volunteer to pay $40 or $50 extra for a special arts-supporter license plate. The arts council’s allocation of about $1 million a year from the National Endowment for the Arts typically has equaled the smaller state-funded share.