Mired in budget cuts, the California Arts Council may lay off its folk arts coordinator, a move that could endanger the perpetuation of ethnic cultural traditions that already are at risk, local and national experts say. It also could jeopardize the state program's ability to continue receiving National Endowment for the Arts funding, NEA officials said.
Kathi Stockdale , CAC chief deputy director, said earlier this week that the council, which will get $15.84 million for 1992, plans to trim its administrative budget by at least $293,000 and has targeted nine positions for elimination, including the Traditional Folk Arts Program coordinator, Barbara LaPan Rahm(. The fate of those jobs hinges on the outcome of collective bargaining negotiations, Stockdale said.
Unlike other CAC grant program managers, the folk arts coordinator has specialized training as a folklorist to deal with a variety of ethnic communities and artists, from Scottish fiddlers to Laotian dancers.
These artists, some of whom do not speak English, typically are far less savvy than officials at mainstream arts groups about obtaining state or federal grants or other assistance. Therefore, folk artists are more dependent on trained administrators who are sensitive to their needs and cultural differences, experts say.
Since 1986, the CAC's folk arts program has received $152,900 from the National Endowment for the Arts, most of which was been redistributed to artists, LaPan Rahm said. But NEA officials said the federal arts agency does not fund folk arts programs that are not conducted by people who have had special training and experience "of some breadth and depth" working with folk artists, said Bess Lomax Hawes, the NEA's folk arts program director.
CAC officials assert that the folk arts program will continue--its state allocation is not threatened--and that LaPan Rahm, who is targeted for layoff early next year, would probably be replaced with a generalist grants administrator.
They note that it costs $100,000 to administer the program, which awards $80,000 in grants annually. But they acknowledge that the program, like others targeted for administrative cuts, will suffer.
"We recognize that if we lose the specialist, we will lose some aspects of the program," Stockdale said. "But we will continue to do the best we can for the folk art field. . . . And we'll try to change the program as little as we possibly can."
Joanne C. Kozberg, who will start as the CAC's new executive director next week, said that despite the proposed layoff, "the council really has a strong commitment to the traditional folk arts program, and we will maintain that commitment."
Experts, however, remain skeptical.
Folk arts activities have dropped measurably in the only four states that lack a specially trained coordinator, NEA's Hawes said.
"It's amazing how local folk art activities and events (decline) when there isn't somebody with some experience giving them cultural TLC," helping them write successful grant applications or offering other sorts of technical assistance, Hawes said. "It's just never worked in the past."
The lack of a specialist would be "particularly devastating" to California's American Indians who are struggling for "cultural survival," said LaPan Rahm, who is paid about $48,000 a year.
"A lot of Native American people are turning once again to their elders, wanting to learn how to make baskets, how to construct ceremonial regalia, or learn tribal bird songs. These are young men who are on the verge of losing their cultural connection," LaPan Rahm said.
UC Irvine anthropology professor Robert Garfias, a member of the NEA's advisory National Council for the Arts, thinks the layoff would be a serious mistake.
"We're talking about all those (ethnic) communities who don't even know (state assistance) exists," he said. "They are struggling too--and paying taxes. (Those communities) are becoming a major part of the state's population . . . yet they are (not) getting the majority of the funds. Politically that's untenable."