California Arts Council

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California Arts Council
State agency overview
Jurisdiction State of California
Headquarters Sacramento, California USA
Employees 15
State agency executives
  • Craig Watson, Director
  • Donn K. Harris, Council Chair

The California Arts Council is a state agency based in Sacramento, USA. Its eleven council members are appointed by the Governor and the state Legislature. The agency's mission is to advance California through the arts and creativity.


The California Arts Council was established in 1976 and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown,[1] who dissolved the existing 15-member California Arts Commission, which had been in existence since 1963.[2]

The opening paragraph of California Code Section 8750-8756 reads:

  • The Legislature perceives that life in California is enriched by art.
  • The source of art is in the natural flow of the human mind. Realizing craft and beauty is demanding, however, the people of the state desire to encourage and nourish these skills wherever they occur, to the benefit of all.'

[For the government code, see .]

Purpose of state arts agencies[edit]

When Congress created the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 1965, it required the NEA to apportion funds to any state that established an arts agency. State arts agencies increase public access to the arts and work to ensure that every community in America enjoys the cultural, civic, economic and educational benefits of a thriving arts sector.

To do this, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, state arts agencies:

  • provide grant funding for artists, arts institutions, schools and community groups,
  • offer training and information that strengthens the management and entrepreneurial skills of artists and arts organizations,
  • support in- and out-of-school arts activities for young people,
  • lead initiatives to foster economic and civic development through the arts,
  • advance arts education through teacher training, curriculum development and assessment projects,
  • conduct research that documents the impact of the arts,
  • educate the public about the role of the arts in American life,
  • preserve and celebrate the cultural traditions of each state,
  • recognize and promote artistic achievement.

All 50 states and the six U.S. jurisdictions (American Samoa, District of Columbia, Guam, Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands) have state arts agencies. The NEA is required by law to allocate 40% of its grant funds to states and regions. State arts agencies, including the California Arts Council, use these dollars to leverage matching funds, to address local needs, and to expand the reach and impact of federal arts funding across the country.


Although the structure of state arts agencies anticipated that the bulk of their funding would come from annual or biennial appropriations from state legislatures, in California that has not always been the case. Funding of the California Arts Council has followed the general fiscal trends in the state.

The California Arts Council’s biggest budget was $32 million in 2000-01.[1] During the fiscal crisis of 2003-2004, the California Arts Council lost 94% of its funding from the state legislature, resulting in deep cuts to arts council programs and staff. Ripple effects from these cuts were felt throughout the creative economy (for example, in 2003 funding from the California Arts Council supported 54 local arts councils in counties and cities throughout the state; by 2006 many of these local agencies had disappeared). California now dedicates fewer tax dollars per capita to support the arts than any other state or territory of the United States.[2] However, the California Arts Council receives revenue from two income streams that are not dependent on allocation of tax dollars: the Arts License Plate and voluntary contributions, both of which the Franchise Tax Board deems tax-deductible as charitable contributions to the California Arts Council. In 2013, the Arts Council received a budget reduction down to $5 million for the 2013-14 fiscal year, before later receiving a one-time infusion to just above $7 million, representing a 29.2% increase.[3]

Arts license plate[edit]

In 1994, through special legislation, the California Arts Council and the California Department of Motor Vehicles began offering the first license plate in the United States to directly benefit the arts. The image on the plate, Coastline, was created by California artist Wayne Thiebaud,[4] who retains copyright to the image but gifted its use to the California Arts Council for the production of the Arts License Plate. The license plate is available to California car owners for a modest fee, with the bulk of the proceeds dedicated by the California Arts Council to fund their programs. It is the only California specialty plate available for purchase as a gift. (See Fees incurred in the purchase and/or renewal of the Arts License Plate are deemed tax deductible by the California Franchise Tax Board as a charitable contribution to the California Arts Council.

Tax check-off box (voluntary contribution fund)[edit]

In 2010, the legislature passed SB 1076 by Senator Curren Price, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed it into law. The California Arts Council was included on the 2010 and 2011 "Voluntary Contribution" portion of the state tax form. By choosing "Arts Council Fund" and indicating the amount they wish to contribute, individual taxpayers were able to make tax-deductible contributions in amounts of $1 or more. This option was removed for 2012 because the Arts Council Fund did not achieve the $250,000 goal specified in the enabling legislation.

In 2013 the legislature passed SB 571 introduced by Senator Curren D. Price, at that time Chair of the Joint Committee on the Arts. Authorship was assumed by Senator Carol Liu when Senator Price was elected to the Los Angeles City Council in early 2013. Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law in September 2013. The bill returned the California Arts Council to the voluntary contribution portion of California tax return forms through the "Keep Arts in Schools Fund," which first appeared on California tax returns in 2014.

The California Arts Council today[edit]

Arts Council members and staff come from many walks of life and have experience in the arts, creative industries, arts education, community development, state and local government, and the nonprofit and for-profit sectors of California's economy. As a state agency, the California Arts Council encourages public participation in the arts in the state, helps build arts organizations at the local level, assists with the professional development of arts leaders, promotes awareness of the value of the arts, and directly funds arts programs for California citizens. The California Arts Council assists in locating artists and artists' estates that are due monies under California's Resale Royalty Act (California Civil Code Section 986), and distributes these royalties when artists are found.

Members of the public are welcome to observe the meetings of the California Arts Council. Every meeting includes a section of Public Comment where citizens can offer support, voice concerns, or share ideas. Meetings are held approximately quarterly, at locations throughout the state. Each meeting's agenda is posted on the California Arts Council's website and Facebook a minimum of ten days prior to the meeting. Minutes from previous meetings are posted on the website.

The California Arts Council provides information for artists and the public on its website at In addition to information about the California Arts Council's current grants and programs, including application instructions, the website includes links and information to grants from other agencies and foundations, arts jobs postings, arts news and links to articles of interest, information about California Poetry Out Loud, festivals around the state, events such as California Arts Day (which occurs on the first Friday of October, National Arts & Humanities Month), and much more.

The public may view the California Arts Council’s Strategic Plan here, and view annual reports for the past decade here.

The California Arts Council established a social media presence in 2009. It can be found on Facebook at and on Twitter at @CalArtsCouncil.

Council members[edit]


Prior to 2011, Directors were appointed by the Governor of California. In 2010, the legislature passed AB 2610, which Governor Schwarzenegger signed into law, requiring the Council Members to select the Director. The current director is Craig Watson. His tenure began in August 2011.

  • Marilyn Nielsen (Jan-Aug 2011 Interim Director)
  • Muriel Johnson (2005-2011)
  • Juan Carrillo (2004-2005 Interim Director)
  • Barry Hessenius (2000-2004)
  • Barbara Pieper (1993-2000)
  • Joanne Kozberg (1991-1993)
  • Robert Reid (1986-1991)
  • Marilyn Ryan (1982-1986)
  • Bill Cook (1979-1982)
  • Gloriamalia Flores (Perez) (1978-1979 Acting Director)
  • Clark Mitze (1976-1978)
  • Eloise Smith (1976)

See also[edit]


External links[edit]