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State Arts Council Marking Its 10th Year

August 20, 1986|ZAN DUBIN

It's not easy to get to Weaverville.

Large dance companies, symphony orchestras or major art exhibits rarely tour to the tiny Northern California town, 90 miles south of the Oregon border and a mountainous hour's ride from the nearest airport.

Large corporations--vital sources of financial support to arts organizations--aren't attracted there either.

But a hunger for the arts thrives in Weaverville and surrounding Trinity County, and the California Arts Council, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this month, has made arts activities a reality in this remote area.

Most supporters of the council, the state's arts funding agency, believe it has been vital to arts groups statewide--from Trinity County to the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Tonight at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, 400 arts leaders, politicians--including Gov. George Deukmejian--and others will celebrate the council's birthday with a reception sponsored by Anheuser-Busch Inc.

In its decade, the council has awarded $60.2 million to California arts groups. Launched in 1976 on a $1.9-million budget, the council--often hounded by critics in the state's arts community and in the legislature--has graduated this fiscal year to $13.5 million, both figures including some funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. Nationally, however, California falls in the middle of per-capita spending on the arts.

For five years the Trinity Arts Council has relied almost entirely on council funds.

"There are people in Trinity who will drive for five hours to San Francisco or Ashland, Ore., to see art," said Ron Demle, director of the Trinity council.

So Trinity sponsors arts festivals and workshops featuring local artisans and performing artists. These, Demle said, are also attended by people who have driven for hours across a county nearly the size of Los Angeles County but with only about 1/650th the population.

In the new fiscal year which began July 1, the California Arts Council awarded $17,000 to the Trinity Arts Council--bringing Trinity's total budget to $20,000.

"It would have been impossible for us to survive without the California Arts Council," Demle said. "A lot of us wouldn't live here unless it feels like home and home is where the arts are."

Traditionally, the council has awarded grants to the state's largest cultural meccas and its most fledgling groups. But it has had its greatest impact on the smaller organizations, or those with budgets of $500,000 or less, according to arts officials around the state.

"The council has made a profound difference on the smaller and mid-size organizations," said June Guttfleisch, former director of the California Confederation of the Arts, the 11-year-old statewide arts advocacy and lobbying organization. "In some cases, that has meant survival."

A $1,000 grant to the Los Angeles Chamber Ballet helped co-artistic director Victoria Koenig and her company to produce "The Little Prince," its first full-length ballet last year.

"Things got really hot and heavy right before our opening," Koenig explained. "The piece (crafted by four choreographers) required a lot of coordination in creating elaborate costumes and sets and music that was being composed and performed live as we choreographed."

"One of the things that makes the council funding so critical is that it isn't just interested in funding high-visibility projects," Koenig said. "The nitty-gritty funds we need just to operate--like salaries--are what makes our company happen."

Koenig added that the "leveraging aspect is also very important. The council grant is a prestigious one which strengthens your credibility when you go elsewhere for funding."

The so-called "prominent" organizations, such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco Opera, both with $22-million annual operating budgets, get the largest grants each year, though the amounts are minute compared to the overall size of their hefty budgets.

Ernest Fleischmann, executive director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, said the state grants support programs which bring in little box-office revenue, but without which "music would come to a stand still" in the community.

Last year's $321,000 grant went toward such projects as free school concerts, the annual Hollywood Bowl open house and regional touring programs, Fleischmann said.

In its early days, everything from grant awards for music made for migrating whales to then anti-Vietnam war activist Jane Fonda's thwarted appointment to the council made it a magnet for media attention.

Widely known as one of then-Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.'s pet projects, the council also received criticism for administrative failings, fought off several legislative attempts to abolish it entirely, and suffered about a $2-million cut under Proposition 13 in its 1978-79 fiscal year.

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