Where art doesn’t matter

California is flat-ass broke.

And whether you want to blame that grim fact of life on Governor Gray Davis’ alleged ineptitude or on a sub rosa Republican conspiracy to drive the Golden State into bankruptcy as some sort of payback for not continuing Ronald Reagan’s legacy, the reality is that some very difficult choices are about to be made.

A few of those choices could be made as early as July 3, the day this issue of SN&R comes out, when Assembly Bill 1769, which lists the budget of the California Arts Council and then neatly zeroes it out, will be presented to the Senate for a vote. As a result, the California Arts Council—along with the California Film Commission and the Office of Criminal Justice Planning—may be abolished. State Senate Democrats want to increase the sales tax by half a penny, and their Republican counterparts won’t let them raise any taxes unless some arguably non-essential programs are cut. And who needs art, anyway?

The California Arts Council was established in 1976 by then-Governor Jerry Brown, and it has provided more than $150 million in funds since then, all of it in grants. To give you some idea of who it benefits, here are some recent local grant recipients, the activities of which are often covered in these pages: the African Diaspora Film Society, Altares Del Mundo, the Arts & Business Council of Sacramento, the Association of California Symphony Orchestras, the B Street Theatre and Fantasy Theatre, the California Council for the Humanities, California Musical Theatre, the California Travel and Tourism Commission, the California Travel Industry Association, the California Wind Orchestra, the Camellia Symphony Orchestra, the Capital Jazz Project, Conquista Musical, the Crocker Art Museum, the Developmental Disabilities Service Organization, the Festival of New American Music, Hmong Cultural Arts, MatrixArts, Music Now, Poetryworks Performing Arts Society, La Raza Galeria Posada, River Stage, the Sacramento Ballet, the Sacramento Heritage Festival, the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, the Sacramento Opera, the Sacramento Poetry Center, Sacramento Taiko Dan, the Sacramento Theatre Company, the Sacramento Youth Symphony, Rudolf Steiner College, the Ukrainian Heritage Club of Northern California, the Vietnamese Amateur Poetry Society and various individual artists.

These organizations use their California Arts Council grants as seeding to raise more money from corporate and foundation donors. Pull that funding, and many of them will cease to exist. And when they cease to exist, along with the opportunities and sense of hope they provide, the state becomes a darker, grimmer place, and the sort of things that take root in dark, grim and hopeless places begin to fester and grow.

That is to say that if you think art isn’t important, try living without it. Soon, we may learn to do just that.

More next week.