The Art of the Possible: Increase funding for the arts in 2008

By Lisa Caretto

January 1, 2008, PUBLISHED BY IN DANCE

It has been four years since the California Arts Council’s (CAC) budget was drastically cut by 94% leaving our state at the bottom of the nation in per capita spending on the arts. At the Council’s high point in FY 2000-01, California was ranked 24th in the nation with a budget that exceeded $30 million. Today, depending on how you do the math, California continues to spend 3 to 6 cents per capita on the arts.

Prior to 2003, the CAC had a long history of making an indispensable contribution to social and economic life. It created partnerships between schools and artists. The CAC gave organizational support to nonprofit arts groups and brought performers and artists to isolated rural regions and underserved urban areas. Its partnerships with other state agencies enhanced social services provided to Californians statewide. Although the last four budget cycles have prevented the CAC from continuing many of its grants programs of the past, federal matching funds, foundations grants and revenue generated by the California Arts License Plate sales has made it possible for the agency to still be a valuable resource for more than 10,000 nonprofit arts organizations.

Is it possible for the CAC’s budget to return to its heyday, to a time when its grants programs included organizational support, artists in residence, performing arts touring and presenting, artists’ fellowships, multicultural entry and advancement, traditional folk arts and infrastructure support? We, at California Arts Advocates (CAA), think that it is possible. As a California lawmaker once said, “Politics is the art of possible.”

For some time now, CAA lobbyist Kathy Lynch and I have been presenting legislative briefings and advocacy forums to representatives of arts organizations and arts stakeholders throughout the state. At each gathering Kathy has urged the field, “to prepare for the moment,” by staying informed with the help of CAA legislative updates, responding swiftly to CAA action alerts and above all, informing elected officials at the local, state and national level about the valuable contribution the arts make to their communities in California. Kathy feels the pulse of legislators at the State Capitol every day and believe it or not, she believes that legislators from both sides of the aisle have been listening and some are ready to increase funding to arts programs that will reach more Californians.

When the Ventura County Arts Council hosted an advocacy forum last fall, called “Straight Talk About Advocacy,” Kathy and I were invited to be the panelists. Representatives of local arts organizations throughout the region asked the question, “Why should I care about advocacy?”

“It becomes a critical issue for you to be involved, because elected officials don’t know their communities unless you tell them…and then they will respond,” Kathy answered. “If their community speaks loudly about something, I never see that fail.” We have prepared for the moment, and right now we have something to speak loudly about. Before us is a critical issue that should engage all arts stakeholders. It is Assembly Bill (AB) 1365. If this bill passes the legislature and the Governor signs it into law, in its first year of implementation, the CAC budget will return to its FY2000-01 level.

AB 1365, the transfer of sales and use tax to the California Arts Council, was introduced last year by Assembly Member Betty Karnette (D-Long Beach). The bill is before the Assembly Appropriations Committee, chaired by Assembly Member Mark Leno. This bill does not call for a new tax or an increase in taxes. It does not take away revenue from local government. Simply put, AB 1365 requires 20% of the state’s General Fund sales and use tax revenue derived from taxpayers when purchasing from two, specific retail categories pertaining to arts, crafts and music. Better put, this bill means more funding for more arts for more people.

Now is the time to take action! We need to make sure this bill passes out of committee and passes the State Assembly by January 31. Your help is needed to build public awareness, gain media attention and to educate elected officials about this bill. It is important to explain to lawmakers about how this bill will help your dance company, and how increased funding for dance programs can reach more people in every city and county in California. CAA has numerous tools on its website to help you communicate this message to your elected officials quickly and easily.

At you will find the Resources Page. This page has sample letters and information that will assist you, your staff, students and audiences to send your elected representatives information about your dance company, and to make the case for public investment in the arts.

There also is a link to the California Arts Action Center. It’s very simple. Enter your zip code where it reads WRITE YOUR LEGISLATORS. Click on GO! Click on the TAKE ACTION button. You can select one or more paragraphs from the listed talking points, and also add your own text to describe your dance programs that contribute to the economy and quality of your community.

Type in sender information, click on the Send Message button, and your message is sent to the Governor, and to your state Senator and Assembly member. It takes two minutes to do this, and one more minute to tell a friend that you did. The California Arts Action Center also provides you with a web sticker to place on your dance company’s website to encourage your audience members and supporters to advocate for the arts. Please ask your board members, staff, instructors, students, volunteers, donors and vendors to support securing a stable revenue source for the California Arts Council. Take Action to pass AB 1365. stART NOW!

Lisa Caretto is the executive director of California Arts Advocates. CAA was founded in 1997 as a means of bringing together individuals and organizations who believe in the importance and vitality of the arts in California and to support increased public investment and legislation that benefits arts and culture throughout the state. CAA will celebrate the first Arts Advocacy Day in California on March 5, 2008. For more information, please visit