Recognizing the role the arts plays in the cultural life of Orange County, the Board of Supervisors has unanimously approved spending $150,000 in each of the next three years to support arts programs.
The approval was lauded as a major breakthrough by arts advocates, who said the county government has not been a strong financial supporter of arts initiatives and programs.
"It's a huge leap for the county Board of Supervisors," said Bonnie Brittain Hall, executive director of Arts Orange County, the organization that spearheaded the broad-based efforts a year ago and will distribute the new funds.
The grants are part of a package approved June 26 that also included funds for the Film Commission, Tourism Council and Business Council. Last week the county and Arts Orange County finalized an agreement on how the funds will be used.
"I saw this as a good opportunity for the county to step up and advocate these arts programs," Supervisor Tom Wilson said. "If you talk about public money, this is a good way to see it go to good public use."
Art supporters initially lobbied for 35 cents per capita, or about $1 million based on the county's population. That amount is below public funding levels for arts in places such as the cities of Los Angeles and San Diego, and San Francisco and Santa Barbara counties, where arts councils receive between $1 and $4 per capita.
The $150,000 approved by the supervisors falls short of Arts Orange County's request, but arts advocates see the grants as an important step.
"I believe this is the first time the county is providing funding for the arts," said Wilson, who personally has supported children's arts programs. "They asked for a million but we don't have those resources. It's step one and if they demonstrate that this is a good investment that benefits the people of the county, I don't see why we wouldn't continue the relationship long-term."
The contract can be revisited after the first year and the funding could increase if the program is considered successful, Wilson said.
Arts Orange County "will report back to us, and we'll see if we can do better next year," he said.
The $150,000 will be split three ways: one-third will help groups build their marketing strategies and develop core audiences; another third will sponsor public awareness projects; and the rest will support Arts Orange County's programs and services.
"Because Orange County has a relatively young arts community, there's a continued need to locate funds to stabilize and sustain our arts organizations here," Hall said. "I see the county's funds being very key to that over time."
The supervisors recognized the 6-year-old arts council as the county's official local arts agency. Arts leaders say they hope the money will provide more visibility for their organizations and attract additional grants and private donations.
Having Arts Orange County distribute grants to individual organizations is a good plan, said John Forsyte, president of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra. "I think that's a better way to spend public money."