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The Year Of The Multicultural

December 28, 1985|JUDITH MICHAELSON | Times Staff Writer

This has been a year marked by turbulence and change on California's arts-politics landscape: the resignation of the director of the California Arts Council; the realization that tightened budgets might be the rule rather than the exception; skirmishes over the location of a council satellite office in Southern California. Still, the majority of the attention was captured by the "minority" issue.

Out of that issue emerged the part-watchdog, part-policy-making board of artists and arts administrators, known as the Multicultural Advisory Panel to the California Arts Council.

The 15 panelists, unpaid except for expenses, include a Native-American visual artist who teaches at UC Davis, a Los Angeles black film artist and an Asian-American musician from San Francisco, as well as administrators from institutions such as Everybody's Creative Art Center in Oakland and Plaza de la Raza here. Excepting actress Carmen Zapata and perhaps Mary Jane Hewitt, co-director of the Museum of African-American Art on Crenshaw Boulevard, their names are not well known.

Now the multicultural panel, whatever individual changes are made along the way, promises to become a fixture on California's arts-politics scene for the foreseeable future.

Although the members have been acting as a unit for just seven months, the panel's work--indeed, the very fact of its existence--has eclipsed other council activities in 1985.

This rather hastily formed body managed this summer to overturn proposed spending policies for the special budget line on ethnic-minority or multicultural programs, then won unanimous approval from the council for its own substitute package. (Multicultural is the preferred term these days because, as Hewitt notes, minority "infers inferiority.")

In the process, the multicultural panel has had to overcome some internal conflicts involving the ticklish issue of geography (which also has an impact the state's broader constituency whether it's arts budgeting or water rights)--the conflict between North and South, between Northern Californians and Southern Californians, over who gets what.

"We're trying to heal that breach," Hewitt said in an interview recently. "We can't afford to be at each other's throats. We've got to learn to speak with one voice because we don't have that kind of strength."

Initiated with the advice and consent of Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the key Ways and Means subcommittee which funds the arts council, the panel obviously has political clout. Waters also helped choose some of the key members, who in turn, with a formal request from the arts council, brought in others.

In a sense the multicultural panel became inevitable after the National Endowment for the Arts deferred California's basic operating grant last February. Although the state eventually got its money, the NEA's sharp criticism aroused concern in Sacramento. The endowment had cited the CAC's "insufficient programming for the state's large and growing ethnic groups" and also pointed to "the (across-the-board) need for more substantive and qualitative contact between the council and its artists and arts organizations."

In its design for spending this fiscal year's appropriation of $164,000 for separate multicultural activities (along with a specially earmarked NEA matching grant bringing the total to about $200,000), the panel is convening a two-day conference the weekend of March 16. It will be held at the scenic state facility at Asilomar in Pacific Grove. Participants, some of whom will be on travel "scholarships," are expected to reflect a broad tapestry of multicultural artists and arts administrators from a variety of disciplines and strata of organizations. They include representatives of groups that have already received CAC funding (under its artistic-and-administrative-development program) and those which need to learn how to qualify.

Most of the current fiscal 1985-86 special multicultural funding will go toward technical assistance through the newly formed (and multicultural) California Consortium for Expansion Arts, based at the Mission Cultural Center in San Francisco. Mission director Oscar Maciel is a key spokesman on the multicultural panel.

"Four years ago, sitting there on Subcommittee Four on state administration, Ways and Means, I discovered that the California Arts Council did not have any serious multicultural participation," Waters noted in a recent interview. "I am very supportive of the arts. I worked very hard to expand its funding. And it was absolutely ludicrous for me to be in a position where I could help and not bring to their attention a big missing component.

"I am convinced," the legislator continued, "that there may not have been any overt attempt to keep multiculturals out, but there was no creative activity to make sure they were included."

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