California arts advocates are fighting battles on many fronts these days. As cuts loom over federal arts funding, local organizations are lobbying state lawmakers to maintain the same level of support for the arts in the new state budget as the previous year
The California Arts Council hobbled along on just $1 million a year for more than a decade in the early 2000s, but last year state lawmakers approved more than $17 million for the California Arts Council, including a one-time bump of $6.8 million.
This January, Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal was missing that extra money.
“We were disappointed but not surprised,” said California Arts Advocates President Richard Stein, who’s also president and CEO of Arts Orange County.
“Because Gov. Brown’s approach to budgeting is very prudent,” he said. “And he generally would like to see the legislature take the lead on funding for the Arts Council.”
Stein and his Arts Advocates colleagues delivered their plea Tuesday in the form of a letter to Assemblymen Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove; and state Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside. Each chairs a budget subcommittee overseeing the California Arts Council.
“Even at last year’s funding level,” said California Arts Advocates Board Member Brad Erickson, “we’re still way behind. We’re at 40th per capita investment in the arts among all the other states.”
Erickson and Stein's letter notes how important state funding may be if President Donald Trump gets his way and cuts all federal arts funding for next year. The budget cuts would mean a loss around $10 million to California alone.
Cooper issued a statement late Tuesday saying he and his Democratic colleagues voted to add back $4.5 million dollars in arts funding, about two-thirds of what the governor cut.
“I believe it is more important than ever to support the arts,” Cooper wrote, “and look forward to continue fighting for additional funding and urge my colleagues in the Senate to do the same.”
A spokesman for Sen. Roth noted there’s a lot of “uncertainty” in the budget, not just about arts funding. President Trump has threatened to cut off other subsidies if state legislators pass a law blocking local law enforcement from working with federal immigration authorities. That could leave the state budget short by billions of dollars, pushing state arts funding near the bottom of a long list of priorities.