SACRAMENTO — Representatives from the National Endowment for the Arts came calling on the California Arts Council here last week, and overall the state agency, which is struggling to stay in the good graces of NEA officials, managed to acquit itself rather nicely.
While the council did not receive any assurances that it will not once again face roadblocks in obtaining its share of federal grants next year as happened six months ago, council members scored points at its regular meeting Friday in two key areas: deciding unanimously to affiliate with the Western States Arts Federation, known as WESTAF (thus joining the other 49 states in regional arts activities), and in its so-called ethnic-minority, now being called multi-cultural, programming.
Along with the assessment that California's grant application proposal "lacked vision and a clear sense of direction," both the council's lack of regional affiliation as well as its "ethnic programming" had been cited in the national endowment's list of complaints last February when it deferred approval of California's basic state grant. After the application had been sent back to the drawing boards for an overhaul, a state programs panel recommended approval of the grant and other federal monies, which in the current fiscal year total more than $900,000. The council's overall budget is $12.6 million.
At the same time, council members did not attempt to hide their own concerns. Conseulo Santos-Killins of San Jose said she was "extremely alarmed" by the recent resignations of key council staff. In the last four months alone, she said, four well-regarded staffers have either left or announced their pending resignations. Bella Lewitzky, who heads the Los Angeles-based dance company that bears her name, expressed annoyance over the fact that she was being asked to read and understand "last-minute" position papers that had just been put before her. And it was learned that in a private meeting with the NEA delegation, several council members had been sharply critical of the leadership of council director Marilyn Ryan, who is a gubernatorial appointee. (Ryan declined comment on anything that had not been presented to her "directly.")
Meanwhile, for the first time in its 10-year history, the council decided late Friday afternoon to deal with its tight budget by recommending that, for certain programs, money be requested from private sources. Several Deukmejian council appointees have indicated that the governor favors such a measure. So, having lost funding for two years in a row for independent artists, the council put in a request of $100,000 for next fiscal year for independent artists' projects-- with a 2-1 matching requirement from the private sector. "That means if we don't get the money ($200,000) we don't spend it ($100,000)" said Bryan "Whitey" Littlefield, a Long Beach brewery manager who is the newest gubernatorial appointee.
The NEA "site" visit, unusual in that it lasted three days, was made by three state-program panelists: Mary Hays, director of the New York State Council on the Arts; Susan Freeman, council chairman of the North Dakota Council on the Arts, and Clement Price, former chairman of the New Jersey Council on the Arts and an associate professor of American history at Rutgers University.
On the multi-cultural issue, the council appeared to satisfy two NEA concerns Friday--lack of sufficient input from the "field" and not enough money. Voting 7-0, with one abstention, the council decided to scrap its own "pilot" program that would have been concentrated in Los Angeles, and substituted the recommendations of its own recently-appointed multi-cultural advisory panel.
That panel, led by Oscar Maciel, director of Mission Cultural Center in San Francisco, and Mary Jane Hewitt, co-director of the Museum of African American Art at the May Co. department store in Crenshaw, now has a "permanent" place in council affairs--the result of the same vote.
The new multi-cultural program, which is being instituted almost immediately, is statewide, dealing with the 72 multi-cultural arts organizations who had applied for arts council grants in fiscal 1984-85--including 18 who did not get funded. Although the council must essentially live within Gov. George Deukmejian's budget of $164,000 under the line-item of "minority arts" for the current fiscal year, it initially recommended an overall increase to $1 million in funding for the next fiscal year.
(That amount does not represent a total dollar increase due to a juggling of line items in the budget. In the 1984-85 fiscal year just completed, $100,000 was spent on minority arts and another $470,000 spent for "minority arts" organizations under the line item of "Artistic and Administrative Development"--for organizations whose budgets are under $1-million.)