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State Eases Rural Arts Fund Rules

June 21, 1986|ZAN DUBIN

EUREKA, Calif. — Members of the public agency charged with administering state grants to local arts organizations agreed here Thursday to ease fund-raising requirements for arts groups serving California's 33 smaller and rural counties.

The move marks a significant departure from earlier public policy as well as the recognition that the private sector may be unable to provide adequate support for the arts outside the state's urban centers.

In a separate action, the California Arts Council also took an important step toward developing a program to fund individual artists in the state, a controversial issue that has been on and off the council's agenda for 10 years.

Often criticized for rarely meeting outside San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento or other big cities, the arts council returned this week for the first time in five years to this remote town near the giant redwoods, about 90 miles south of the Oregon border and nestled between the coastal mountain range and the Pacific Ocean.

The small-town setting provided the backdrop for the council's reconsideration of a year-old policy that, some people here said, has harmed rural arts organizations.

"We are concerned with the stability of those smaller and rural counties with populations of 125,000 and under," said David Lutz, a member of the council's State-Local Partnership Program advisory panel.

"These counties have financial difficulties meeting (arts council) matching-grant requirements not faced by larger ones," he told the council meeting at the Eureka Inn. "Many have only one industry, like timber, mining or fishing, and thus often have high unemployment rates; many have large elderly populations living on fixed incomes, and many exist on government-owned land and thus don't benefit from tax revenues."

In response to that and other comments, the council resolved to alter several elements of its State-Local Partnership Program--the major mechanism for state funding of rural arts activities--including the program's matching grant requirements for small and rural counties. Members of those communities, who often rely heavily on state funds, have felt the requirements are overly stringent and, some said, "unrealistic."

The most significant change will allow small and rural counties with populations of 125,000 and less to match their operating support grants on a two-to-one basis, starting in fiscal year 1987-88. (That is, for every state dollar given, local arts groups will need to contribute only 50 cents.)

Currently the council requires all local arts organizations to match state grants on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

Last year, the state-local program provided $512,767 to smaller and rural counties and $890,940 to larger urban and suburban counties.

Under the revised policy, there is no limit on the size of state grants, but most have been in the $8,000-$15,000 range.

Additionally, the council approved an $8,000 staff support award to be granted to selected smaller counties (with fewer than 50,000 residents) that have been judged by the council as having outstanding local arts programs.

The moves were prompted because the council recognized that rural counties rarely have the number of wealthy private or corporate arts supporters that are found in urban centers.

Ron Demle, director of the Trinity County Arts Council, testified that finding local funding sources for matching grants in an isolated county such as his is nearly as improbable as finding a large corporation or university there. No such institutions, to which urban arts organizations often turn for matching grant money or for separate private-sector support, exist in Trinity, the mountainous county about two-hour drive east from Eureka.

Yet Trinity, whose 12,000 residents live in a 3,190-square-mile area (7.5 million Los Angeles County residents inhabit a 4,070-square-mile expanse), "does have a committed arts audience," Demle said, "many of whose members drive three hours to attend cultural events."

Demle, who also writes poetry, has helped obtain state-local partnership grants to sustain his council's $20,000 budget for the last five years.

For most of that time, partnership grants, initially intended to support administrative rather than arts programing costs, were awarded without matching requirements, said Gloria Segal, partnership program manager.

But about a year ago, Segal said in an interview, the council began requesting the dollar-for-dollar match, seeking a show of local support for local arts programming. Since then, she said, it became clear that the one-to-one match was overly burdensome on rural and small arts communities.

In another key action, the council took a step closer to developing a funding program for individual artists--moving on an issue with which it has grappled since 1976 while remaining "foremost on the minds of artists and council members for 10 years," said council chairman Stephen Goldstine.

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