The California Arts Council continues its upward climb out of near financial starvation with news Tuesday that the new state budget includes a $10.8 million bump, bringing state support to the agency in fiscal year 2016-17 to roughly $21.1 million.
Included in that sum: a one-time only boost of $6.8 million for the council generally, and $4 million in ongoing funding for the state's Arts in Corrections program, an initiative that provides arts programming to the state's prisons.
From lean to fat
While it's not the council's first budget after the Great Recession to feature a significant top off, the spike in funding is unusually big.
Caitlin Fitzwater, communications director for the council, says the agency used to get north of $30 million in the early '00s. "With the Recession, that went away," Fitzwater says.
For more than a decade following, the state's general fund offered only $1 million dollars, reflecting a cut of more than 96 percent. That said, the council continued to get federal support from the National Endowment for the Arts, and from sales and renewals of California's Arts License Plate and voluntary state tax return contributions to the Keep Arts in Schools Fund.
The picture started to turn around in 2013. Then, in fiscal year 2015-16, the annual budget was permanently boosted by more than $7 million.
Fitzwater says the increased funds will go to programs the council already serves, with a special focus on school children and veterans in under-served communities. "There is already a large demand that we haven't been able to meet with our current budget," Fitzwater says. "So this one-time boost will allow us to increase our investment in those programs."
Boosting art in prisons
Currently in its third year, the Arts in Corrections program, which brings art workshops to prisoners incarcerated in state penitentiaries, has an annual budget of $2 million. It reached around 20 facilities in partnership with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR).
"It's great," says Krissi Khokhobashvili, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Now, with $6 million dollars annually, she says the program will reach nearly every CDCR facility in the state. "We're really excited, as this means we'll be able to expand this to every adult facility." That's about 34 facilities, up from 14.
"It's a testament to the program. The artists that come into our institutions are amazing," Khokhobashvili says, noting they work with inmates coming at the arts from every level of experience or lack thereof.
"If we have a program that works," she adds "We want to replicate it to all the prisons."
Another happy beneficiary is Dancers' Group, based in San Francisco. Program Director Michelle Lynch Reynolds called the news "a really good step forward that will support so many amazing organizations and artists." She added "Governor Brown has made an important statement on what our state values, and we applaud him for his support of the arts. Here’s to a bigger allocation in 2017!"
That remains to be seen, but this coming year's budget might also help California rise in the national rankings for state arts spending. According to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, the state ranked 46th out of 50 in per-capita arts-funding for 2015-16.