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California is last in arts funding — as usual

February 12, 2009 |  3:54 pm

When it comes to funding for state arts agencies, California remains not-so-proudly ensconced in its customary slot — dead last — according to a report from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

Caclogo_2The service and advocacy group calculates that the California Arts Council's  $5.6-million budget comes to 15 cents per capita — 11% of the national average of $1.35. We've been in the cellar since 2003, when the budget crisis before the current budget crisis led to the agency's gutting. The arts council's starvation diet has been a bipartisan affair: Former Democrat Gov. Gray Davis, who had built the arts budget to more than $30 million in 2001, slashed it to barely more than $3 million two years later. Under Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, the tax-generated share of arts funding has been about $1 million.

Taken together, the 50 states' 2008-09 budgets include a pinch less for the arts than they did a year ago, down from $414.3 million to $412.5 million. But if you subtract federal largess distributed through the National Endowment for the Arts and count only funds that states ante up from their own revenue sources, arts funding slipped 3.3% — the first drop after four straight years of overall gains.

Artst_150 The California arts budget includes $1.1 million from the state's general fund — the minimum needed to qualify for matching money from the NEA. The bulk of our state arts council's money — $3.2 million — is, in essence, a form of charity: voluntary extra payments that arts-loving motorists make so their vehicles can sport special arts-themed vanity license plates.

At least the arts council's new chairwoman, Malissa Feruzzi Shriver, should have a decent chance of getting the governor's ear: A painter and art dealer, she's the wife of Santa Monica City Council member Bobby Shriver — and thus the sister-in-law of the governor and his wife, Maria Shriver. She became chair by a vote of the arts council members last month, succeeding Michael Alexander, the executive director of Grand Performances, the free performance series in downtown L.A. Another Angeleno, Eunice David, wife of lyricist Hal David, is the new vice chairwoman.

CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly said that Schwarzenegger “engineered” the policy of offering special arts license plates to help fund the California Arts Council. The arts plates debuted in 1994; a bill sponsored by Sen. Jack Scott (D-Altedena) boosted the price of the plates in 2005, creating a bigger yield to the arts council. Schwarzenegger supported that price increase.

— Mike Boehm

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