California Focuses on Underserved Communities with $16.3 Million in Grants

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A 916 Ink workshop in action. The Sacramento creative writing organization received $45,000 in grants from the California Arts Council this year. (Photo: Courtesy of the California Arts Council)

The California Arts Council has announced more than a thousand grants to cultural organizations across the state this year. The $16.3 million in funds, announced Tuesday, will mostly go to support groups working with underserved communities.

"Our goal is to reach and to represent all of the citizens in the state of California," says Anne Bown-Crawford, California Arts Council director. "I want to support as many historically marginalized communities as possible."

Among the groups benefitting from this round of funding is 916 Ink, a creative writing nonprofit based in Sacramento. Development director Justin Self says the $45,000 his organization receives from the California Arts Council will provide writing workshops for at-risk and incarcerated youth.

"Without communication and literacy skills, these kids are essentially on a pathway from school to prison," Self says. "We can take those kids that are most at risk of ending up in that situation and engage them in a program where they're able to express themselves with honesty and authenticity, so they can process the trauma they've experienced."

Self says 916 Ink has received California Arts Council funding for the past three years and that the funds are critical to his organization's success.

Teatro Vision of San Jose is another group to receive funding this year from the California Arts Council.
Teatro Vision of San Jose is another group to receive funding this year from the California Arts Council. (Photo: Courtesy of the California Arts Council.)

"Without these grants, it's very likely that we would only be able to do maybe 10 or 20 percent of the amount of this work that we do," Self says.


A study commissioned by the Irvine Foundation shows that California has 11,000 arts and culture nonprofits, placing the state ahead of most nations in the world.

The California Arts Council provides grants to around 6 percent — or roughly 700 organizations — of the total field each year, and to between 60 to 70 percent of applicants to its programs.

Yet according to 2018 data from the National Association of State Arts Agencies, California ranks 38th in the United States for cultural funding, investing 46 cents per person in the arts. The national median is $1.03.

The relatively low ranking may improve in the coming months. The state arts funding budget is up by $1.3 million over last year. And, in an unusual move a few weeks ago, Gov. Jerry Brown proposed boosting the state arts budget by a further $5 million.Since then, thanks to calls for additional funds from the legislature, that number could be as high as $10 million next year.

"It is my goal to keep the ranking rising," Bown-Crawford says.