Arnold Schwarzenegger puts celebrity horsepower behind California arts license plates


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Arnold Schwarzenegger was making the rounds at the 20th Century Fox Studios on Monday morning, but his official purpose wasn’t to pitch a movie project or to hobnob with studio executives.

The governor and first lady Maria Shriver were on hand to launch the Million Plates Campaign, an effort by the California Arts Council to raise at least $40 million for arts funding through the sale of specialized arts license plates. Organizers hope to meet their goal of selling 1 million plates by January.


The California Arts Council administers arts grants throughout the state and promotes cultural awareness through schools and other programs. For the 2009 fiscal year, it had a total budget of approximately $5.4 million. The council relies on revenue from the plates to cover more than 60% of its budget.

Other entertainment-industry notables in attendance Monday were Quincy Jones, T-Bone Burnett, Valerie Harper and Wilmer Valderamma, formerly of the TV series ‘That 70’s Show.’

The event took place in a picturesque courtyard at Fox, the studio where Schwarzenegger made blockbuster movies including ‘Commando,’ ‘Predator’ and ‘True Lies.’ Speaking to the audience, the governor recalled his own school days and the importance that arts education played.

‘Where I grew up in Austria, we had twice-a-week art classes ... and once a month, we had an opera singer or other performer visit us,’ said Schwarzenegger. He emphasized that the state faces a $20-billion budget deficit and that education and other programs continue to face cuts.

To reach its 1-million-plate goal by January, campaign organizers are going to have to work extra hard. The California Department of Motor Vehicles said that there are a little more than 73,000 arts plates registered. [Updated: The figure represents the latest statistics provided by the DMV.] Since the plates began in 1994, they have brought in total revenue of about $45.3 million, or about $4 million per year.

According to the DMV, the plates earned about $4.5 million in 2008, while in 2009 they brought in $4.3 million.


The California Arts Council receives a fraction of the money raised from the arts plates. A standard arts plate costs $50 while a personalized one costs $98. For each plate sold, the council receives about $34.63 to place in the Arts License Plate Fund.

In an interview after the ceremony, Shriver emphasized the importance of the campaign as a grass-roots effort. ‘Governments are maxed out now,’ she said. ‘This campaign doesn’t involve government, and it’s a way to say that you did something to help.’ Burnett said separately that he attended public schools in Texas and that ‘there was a lot of art in the schools and it was important.’ He said that a lack of arts education would lead the country in the direction of ‘Idiocracy,’ the 2006 comedy about the dumbing-down of America.

California ranks last in the nation in terms of state arts spending per capita. According to data from the California Arts Council, the state spent just $0.12 per person on the arts in 2009, compared to $2.58 spent by New York.

The campaign has enlisted the help of prominent entertainment personalities and artists to help promote the plates. The ‘arts ambassadors’ include Tom Hanks, Morgan Freeman, Robert Redford, Frank Gehry, John Baldessari, Anjelica Huston, Billy Al Bengston and Jennifer Aniston.

Among the partners working with the California Arts Council on the campaign are the Creative Coalition, the nonprofit organization that helps raise money in the entertainment community for various causes; the Screen Actors Guild; and Avon Studio Rentals, which supplies vehicles for the entertainment industry.

The chair of the council is Malissa Feruzzi Shriver, Maria Shriver’s sister-in-law.

At the end of Monday’s ceremony, the governor and first lady received thank-you presents in the form of matching ‘Arnold’ and ‘Maria’ arts license plates.


-- David Ng


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