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Cuts in arts funding deeper than expected

Many community leaders are shocked as the state slashes the contribution next fiscal year to $1 million from $18.4 million.

August 01, 2003|Diane Haithman | Times Staff Writer

Though California's dismal economic picture led the state's artists to be prepared for the worst, many arts leaders remained in shock Thursday after being notified the day before that California state funding for the arts has been slashed from $18.4 million in fiscal 2002-03 to $1 million for 2003-04 -- leaving state arts spending at less than 3 cents per person and ranking California dead last in per capita arts spending among the 50 states.

The cut is even deeper than the draconian reduction in state funds for the California Arts Council's annual grants to artists and arts organizations that was proposed in Gov. Gray Davis' "May revise" of the state budget. That budget proposed a cut from $18.4 million to $5 million.

Kristin Margolis, government affairs liaison for the state arts agency, said that the council also will receive $1 million from the National Endowment for the Arts and expects nearly $1 million in revenue from sales of its arts license plates, which funds arts education, bringing the grant-making budget for 2003-04 to $3 million.

Margolis added that the cut will result in roughly half of the agency's staff of about 35 losing their jobs and will eliminate virtually all arts programs for at-risk youth, seniors and the disabled.

"We'll have to reinvent what we do, to rethink how we're going to meet our goals and our mission, and hope that the state reinvests in the arts in California next year," she said.

"I'm reeling from it," said Gordon Davidson, artistic director-producer of the Center Theatre Group. "On the one hand, it doesn't surprise me, because of the disaster of our state, but it's also horrifying when you see it in print, that we're talking about 3 cents.

"The handwriting had been on the wall. We started saying, 'We'd better put in a zero for state funding this year.' We're going to have to scramble and find it elsewhere, because we want to keep our programs going. We're going to go to the private sector, but everyone else is going to be doing that too."

Even though the May revise sparked artists' protests in Los Angeles and San Francisco, Margolis said artists were still blindsided when they received an e-mail from the CAC confirming their worst fears. While the 26-year-old state arts agency has experienced several reductions since 2001 -- when its budget peaked at $32 million -- in recent years the approved reduction has generally been less, not more, than the May revise, Margolis said.

Los Angeles writer Cliff Rothman was one of the organizers of a Hollywood protest of the proposed budget cuts in late June that drew actor Tim Robbins, author and screenwriter Antwone Fisher, Geffen Playhouse producing director Gil Cates and other celebrities.

"I'm still in shock," Rothman said. "I don't know if people ultimately thought this was going to happen. People are going to have to think: 'What now?' "

Tomas Benitez, executive director of Self-Help Graphics in East Los Angeles, said his organization will probably lose about $80,000 in support from the state arts agency toward its annual budget of $900,000. He called what's left in the council's budget "just enough to keep the lights on and the porch unlocked. It's like when you keep a bank account open with 100 bucks.

"We lost $80,000 yesterday," Benitez added. "We can survive. We're tough. But the message the state is sending is shameful."

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