Opinion: Vanity plates for a noble cause


This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

Craig Watson, director of the California Arts Council, responds to Michael McGough’s Dec. 13 Opinion L.A. post, ‘The solution to the problem of controversial license plates: Get rid of them.’ If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy.

Michael McGough expressed his concern over a new, controversial special license plate design in Texas and concludes that states should not have any special license plates at all. For California, adopting McGough’s recommendation would be a serious mistake, especially concerning arts funding for our children and local communities.


The iconic special plate design that evokes California -- recognizable worldwide -- is the classic sunset and palm trees motif of the Arts License Plate. Designed by renowned California artist Wayne Thiebaud in 1993, the Arts License Plate has raised more than $20 million for arts programs since its inception. Currently, plate revenues account for more than 60% of the California Arts Council budget and support hundreds of arts organizations, including those in schools and after-school programs. The Arts Council is currently promoting its ‘Million Plates for the Arts’ campaign to raise $40 million for arts education and local programs.

The arts plate deserves much credit for keeping statewide arts funding viable at all. When the California Arts Council budget was slashed by more than 90% after the dot-com bust, the revenue generated by the Arts License Plate saved the agency from extinction. The plate continues to be vital to the California Arts Council’s existence today. The Californians who pay extra for the plate know that their contributions help pay for programs for children and local communities. Eliminating specialty plates would deprive thousands of Californians of the opportunity to support arts programs.

Also, the concern that a private organization might seek to push a controversial cause is a moot issue in California. Under current law, special plates are sponsored by state commissions, departments or agencies (like the California Arts Council) and not by private nonprofit entities. So McGough’s proposal to eliminate all special plate programs is unnecessary in California and would do more harm than good.

As the old saying goes, don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater; or in this case, don’t take music, theater, dance and visual arts programs from thousands of children in California because of a minor controversy in Texas.


The solution to the problem of controversial license plates: Get rid of them


Texas approves controversial license plate featuring crosses

A hidden threat to drivers

-- Craig Watson