California state arts grants rise $1 million in key categories

California’s arts grant-making agency has announced stepped-up funding in three key  categories.

The round of grants issued this week by the California Arts Council gives boosts to “Local Impact” projects that are aimed at helping small arts organizations work in poor and rural communities that lack cultural resources. Another category is Creative California Communities, in which nonprofit arts organizations use grant money to connect with neighborhoods in ways aimed at helping economic development or community cohesiveness. The third is an Artists in Schools program.

Grants in those categories combined total $3.8 million in 2015-16, up $1 million for the same categories in the 2014-15 fiscal year that ended June 30.

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Besides approving the grants at its most recent meeting, the arts council -- a volunteer panel appointed by the governor and legislative leaders -- asked its staff to start planning for additional grant programs made possible by improved funding authorized in the recently passed state budget.

Caitlin Fitzwater, the arts council’s spokeswoman, said the new programs being considered are artist residencies in which artists work with specific communities, and support for fledgling arts nonprofits that are in their second or third year.

She said both were popular grant programs that had to be discontinued in 2003 when arts council funding fell from a peak of about $30 million two years earlier to a bare minimum of $1 million from the tax-fed general fund -- a funding level that prevailed. It was augmented in recent years by funding infusions of $2 million in 2012-13 and $5 million in 2013-14.

The current state budget creates a less stingy ongoing annual baseline for funding the arts council -- $8.3 million a year from the general fund. Instead of automatically plugging in $1 million as they prepare their annual budget plans, Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative budget committees will pencil in $8.3 million as the new minimum.

The increase still leaves California near the bottom in state funding of a government arts-grant agency -- 31 cents per capita compared with a national average of $1.09, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

The biggest grant recipient in Los Angeles is the downtown arts and education group Piece by Piece, which will get $73,000 to bring mosaic art to neighborhoods stretching from skid row to the Mercado La Paloma east of the Harbor Freeway near USC, and to help open a gallery, Arte Mercado, that will sell the work of local artists.

The Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena will get $50,000 for “What Fuels Development?” a play and art exhibition being developed by the Los Angeles Poverty Department theater group, to run next year from January to May. Directed by LAPD leader John Malpede, it aims to “explore the mechanics of displacement in an age of immense income inequality.”

The city of Los Angeles’ Department of Cultural Affairs also will receive $50,000, for “Warner Grand World Stage,” a once-a-month performance series at the city-owned Warner Grand Theater in San Pedro.

Fullerton’s Muckenthaler Cultural Center gets $45,000 to turn an unused building in Placentia’s Kraemer Memorial Park into a teen arts center.

Los Angeles public television station KCET will get $42,500 for its “Artbound” program covering the L.A. arts scene.

Smaller grants of about $7,000 to $12,000 will go to groups including Tia Chucha’s Cultural Center, the Company of Angels, Watts Village Theater Co., Cornerstone Theatre and Highways arts space in Santa Monica, for specific productions or festivals.

The L.A. group Street Symphony Project will get $10,440 to partner this fall with the Los Angeles Master Chorale to give a series of free performances of Handel’s “Messiah” in county jails and skid row shelters, culminating in an outdoor performance downtown in late November.

Los Angeles Opera receives a $10,200 artists in schools grant for “Voices of Tolerance,” which sends teaching artists into schools to develop their performing skills around themes of diversity and tolerance.

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