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Arts Advocacy
State of the Arts: 3 Pennies Per Person
By Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida
Rafu Shimpo Column for August 13, 2003

Have you ever seen a play at East West Players, written, directed and performed by Asian Americans? Have you seen the incredible Asian American films that have been supported, nurtured and showcased by Visual Communications? Have you ever attended events at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo? Seen any exhibits at the Japanese American National Museum?

Or, are you one of the 180,000 people who have seen Great Leap’s multicultural performances since 1998? Do you ever attend concerts, theater events or visit a museum in California? Have you, your kids or grandkids ever had performers come to their school or take workshops led by artists in the schools? Did you know that more people attended arts events in 2001 than professional sports events?

When I was growing up in the 70s, we had music teachers providing violin lessons in the public schools, chorus in junior high school and staged theater productions in high school. Well, those days are over, but since that time, millions of children have received arts education through the Artists in Residence programs funded by the California Arts Council.

Last week, Governor Davis signed the California state budget. The budget provides $1 million in General Fund monies to the California Arts Council (CAC). This is an unprecedented 94% cut to the CAC and a $30 million cut in the last 2 years. That works out to 2.7 cents per capita support for California or 0.00001% of the state budget. One-tenth of one-tenth of one-tenth of one percent. Less than 3 pennies. The national average for arts spending is now approximately $1 per person.

So what does this mean for the arts in California? It means that all monies for grant programs are gone this year. In 2001-2002, the CAC awarded 1,590 grants totaling over $23 million. At Great Leap where I work, we will not receive any funding for the Artist in Residence program, which supported our hugely successful community residency program, including 13 performances of "To All Relations: Memories of Boyle Heights" earlier this year.

In one year, California goes from having the largest Artist in Residence program in the country, to having no program at all. Great Leap will also not receive organizational support which partially supports many of our staff positions, promotional materials, production costs, newsletters, brochures, videos, etc.

This kind of thing doesn’t just happen. People will say it’s the economy. Yeah, the economy is terrible. But I wonder about our priorities. The special election to recall Gov. Davis will cost $30-$35 million. It's incredible to think that cutting the arts down to 3 pennies per person will somehow make up a $38 billion deficit.

People will say that social services and education are more important, and that the arts is just for entertainment. Yes, social services and education are very important, but so are the arts. The truth is, the arts help drive California’s economy. For every $1 the government invests in non-profit arts, $8 dollars are returned to the economy. Arts and culture in California generates $10.1 billion in event-related spending by arts audiences, such as dinners, parking, shopping, etc. As an industry, arts and culture in California supports 400,000 full time equivalent jobs and generates $830 million in state income.

But this is just the economic impact. It does not consider the way the arts engages people creatively, changes peoples lives, gives people hope, and a sense of justice. At Great Leap, we hear stories every day from people how our shows and community residencies have enriched their lives, how they have become educated about diversity, and how they have felt empowered by the work that we do.

So it’s about letting people know about the value of the arts, culture and creativity. In the past few months, thousands of artists, arts organizations and supporters got organized. We held "Help Save the Arts" and "Arts Alive" rallies in Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego, wrote letters, sent faxes and emails, signed petitions, and made visits to Sacramento to speak with senators, assembly members, and the governor. We contacted the media and our audiences to let them know what’s going on. The California Arts Advocates were asking for a mere $20 million for the Arts in California for one year.

And then I heard on KPFK radio that prison spending is 12%-13% of the state’s budget, compared with one tenth of one tenth of one tenth of one percent for arts spending. I had also heard that the budget for State Corrections officers was the only line item that was to get an increase in the new budget.

Right here in Little Tokyo, the community has been organizing against the city developing a jail/police/fire/bomb squad complex, adjacent to the Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple. That project was estimated to be somewhere between $400-$700 million. I’ll repeat, we were asking for a mere $20 million to fund the arts for the entire state of California for one year.

Yes, $20 million is a lot of money, but so is $68 billion we have spent on the war in Iraq to date, to say nothing of the cost of the energy crisis of last year, and corporate subsidies to companies like Enron, which would more than pay for the arts in California.

So how can you help? Please support the wonderful nonprofit arts organizations in your community. Attend a play. See a concert. Send them a tax-deductible donation. Add whatever you can to the 3 pennies your tax dollars (ha, ha) will be paying. Write a letter to the editor and your state assembly person about how the arts have affected your life. Act now.

Another way you can help is to support Great Leap’s upcoming fundraiser. On Saturday, September 13 at 2pm, we are having our 25th Anniversary Reception and Art Auction at Nakatomi & Associates, 2013 Beloit Avenue in West Los Angeles. We’ve made it 25 years, and we want to celebrate with you, and share some of the great work we are doing in communities and around the country. We’re asking for a donation of $50.

This year’s Honorary Co-Chairs are Amy Hill, actress/writer and Mathew St. Patrick from HBO’s "Six Feet Under." Our fabulous Art Auction will be emceed by actors Michael Paul Chan and Barry Shabaka Henley, with artwork donated by over 25 of Los Angeles’ most highly-acclaimed artists.

The afternoon will feature special performances by Ruben Guevara, aurora anaya-cerda and Jo Anna Mixpe Ley, performing excerpts from "To All Relations: Memories of Boyle Heights." Great Leap artist Shishir Kurup, will perform a humorous new piece about the not-so-funny U.S. Patriot Act. Finally, Nobuko and Friends will teach us a new Obon dance, Ichigo, Ichie, which debuted at the Senshin Buddhist Temple Obon in July.

In closing, I invite you to join us on September 13. Please email me at jenni@greatleap.org with your address if you’d like to receive an invitation! I hope you will help us in the fight to bring back the arts to California. Next year’s budget will be coming out in January 2004. We can do better than 3 pennies.

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Jennifer "Emiko" Kuida is the Managing Director of Great Leap and a member of the California Asian American/Pacific Islander Arts Network (CAAPIAN). For more info, check out the websites of the California Arts Council (www.cac.ca.gov), California Arts Advocates (www.calartsadvocates.org), Cost of War (www.costofwar.com) and Great Leap (www.greatleap.org).

Updated: 8/14/03
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