When Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the 2021-22 state budget on July 12, the arts, culture and live events industries got $616 million — a figure that, according to many longtime arts advocates, could herald a new era in how the state supports the arts.
Ron P. Muriera, board president of Californians for the Arts, a co-founder of San Jose Arts Advocates as well as a consultant and artist himself, remembers when the California Arts Council had less than $1 million to grant to the entire state, in 2003-04 fiscal year.
“When we look at the 2021-22 budget, the words that come to my mind are, ‘This is historic. It’s bold. It’s unprecedented,’” he said.
The approximately $616 million includes:
- $50 million for small nonprofits for employee expenses, which could help those organizations comply with AB5, the gig work law that makes it harder for businesses to classify workers as independent contractors.
- $150 million to live event venues and businesses, including minor league sports.
- $128 million to the California Arts Council, $60 million of which supports the piloting of the California Creative Corps, the program modeled after a San Francisco project hiring artists to further public health goals.
- $50 million to museums.
- $238 million in a series of earmarks to specific organizations.
Muriera credits the increase partly to Newsom, noting that the governor also increased the California Arts Council’s budget by $10 million in 2019, and partly to an unusual coalition of advocates brought together by the pandemic. California Arts Advocates joined forces with the California chapter of the National Independent Venue Association and the California Association of Museums, meaning that rock ‘n’ rollers were partnering with stereotypically more decorous museum leaders on a major lobbying effort.
Though arts audiences might readily lump together different media as part of one industry, that doesn’t mean different sectors have historically worked together or even been in communication with each other. The divide between for-profit and nonprofit alone often looks impassably vast. Music venues, in particular, have long operated independently; associations of venues at the local, state and national level sprang up only during the pandemic.
“This allocation will play a big role in saving many California stages,” Casey Lowdermilk, co-founder of NIVA California, part of the National Independent Venue Association, said in a statement.
Though industry leaders praised the increase, any state budget lasts only a year, and lawmakers frequently cut back funding for the arts during budget shortfalls. Wayne Hazzard, executive director of Dancers’ Group, a nonprofit serving Bay Area dancers and dance companies, notes that no single infusion of any size magically fixes an industry.
“It’s about time, and we need more,” he said of the increase. “This is where it should have been through these past decades, and we’re just now right-sizing.” He made an analogy to human biology. “When there’s been a deficit of vitamin D, what happens? Bones get brittle. This in no way makes us strong; this makes us start to come back.”
Hazzard emphasized that no artist or arts organization would send any government funding back, but he questioned the way the $616 million is distributed. “Because we’re capitalist, it’s like, ‘Let’s fund the new thing because the new thing is really shiny,’ ” he said. “I don’t want to sound too pessimistic, but there was a missed opportunity in (not) just funding the existing arts council programs.”
Securing arts funding is only the first step, said Californians for the Arts Executive Director Julie Baker. “Advocating and educating the state agencies that administer the funds to the needs and process of artists, arts workers and arts businesses is ongoing work,” she said.
Still, for many arts companies, any aid is welcome.
“Funding like this is the difference between being able to reopen strong and sustainable or not,” said Leigh Henderson, managing director of Teatro Visión, a Chicanx theatre company based in San Jose. “It’s not just about getting people into the theatre to see just any story. It’s about what is the story that means something to the community that we’re serving specifically, and how do we make sure people can see it, people can hear it, people can feel it?”
Source : Datebook