2018 by the dozen

A look back on the last 12 months at the California Arts Council

Artwork from a student at La Peña Cultural Center, a California Arts Council Artists in Schools grantee organization.

Suffice to say 2018 was a challenging year for many. These past 12 months have been no different for us at the California Arts Council — we’ve been hard at work toward fulfilling our vision of a California where our daily lives are enriched by arts and cultural experiences that reflect who we are as a state.

Below is a list of some of our accomplishments for the agency this year — by no means all of them!

1. Equity above everything

California Arts Council staff members matriculated from their first year as part of the Capitol Cohort for the Government Alliance on Race & Equity (GARE). The agency joined 18 other California state departments in intensive training and speaker sessions focused on addressing systemic inequities and achieving racial equity in state government. As part of the initial learning year, we completed a draft racial equity action plan, identifying areas for improvement. We’re now looking forward to year two in 2019: plan implementation.

2. For those who serve

Helping our servicepeople cope with the complex after effects of military combat is a priority of arts and military leaders in California. In May of this year, the Joint Committee on Arts hosted an informational hearing at the state Capitol that gathered federal and state departments, arts providers, and veterans to explore the role of community arts programs and arts therapy in healing the wounds of war. Committee Chair Senator Ben Allen, Vice Chair Assemblymember Kansen Chu, legislators, and witnesses were visibly moved as agencies, advocates, and veterans shared profound experiences and spoke passionately to the impact of art services as a mechanism for recovery from the physical and psychological trauma of military service, and reconnecting veterans with their communities. California Arts Council Executive Director Anne Bown-Crawford offered testimony on behalf of the agency in support of veteran arts programming, including our own Veterans in the Arts program.

As part of a similar effort, last year, the California Arts Council hosted an arts and military summit in San Diego as part of our participation in Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network, a National Endowment for the Arts initiative in partnership with the U.S. Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, plus state and local arts agencies.

3. Arts access on the inside

The California Arts Council continues to recruit new and existing Arts in Corrections coordinating organizations offering rehabilitative services to incarcerated individuals in California’s state prisons, as part of the program’s objective to diversify art disciplines and increase the number of Arts in Corrections offerings based on specific institutional needs. Eleven new contracts were awarded in August, with more to be awarded soon.

The intersectionality of arts and justice has been a steadily growing area of interest in recent times. Through our work with Arts in Corrections, as well as through our Reentry Through the Arts and JUMP StArts programs, the California Arts Council has earned a place as a well-respected thought leader in the arena. In 2018, our staff were invited to share their knowledge and expertise as presenters and leaders at various convenings, including the Grantmakers in the Arts Conference, National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, and the Art for Justice Forum from the California Lawyers for the Arts.

4. Smart, simple grants management

The California Arts Council made the switch to a new online platform for grant applications and administration at the start of our 2017-18 grant season. True to its name, SmartSimple integrates the entire grantmaking process, from applications to panel reviews to contracts, final reports and invoicing. We’re continuing to streamline the system with each passing grant cycle.

5. Pay for panelists

The California Arts Council celebrated a major success this year with the adoption of legislation to allow peer-review panelists to receive an honorarium for their service. Panels lie at the core of the California Arts Council’s work and ensure a democratic, fair, and representative grant application review process. Taking into account Council priorities, and listening to the needs of the arts and culture community, the added compensation allows for greater integrity of equity and diversity within the panel selection process.

6. Wildfire recovery funding

California is facing a somber “new normal,” with a massive increase in far-reaching and fast-spreading wildfires and related disasters taking place year-round. 2017 and 2018 brought the largest of these fires in the state’s recorded history, leaving total devastation in their wake. With special one-time funding from the National Endowment for the Arts — designated for areas with disaster declarations for the October 2017 wildfires and December 2017 wildfires, flooding, and mud and debris flows — the California Arts Council was able to work with a network of arts agencies in Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties to provide re-granting support in their local communities, to quickly and effectively meet the needs of artists and arts organizations who suffered major losses as a result of the fires.

7. In community

California Arts Council Executive Director Anne Bown-Crawford spent much of her summer getting to know our county arts partners. From June 20 through August 22, we convened seven State-Local Partner Roundtables throughout the state, with participation from 37 executive directors. The meetings provided a chance to foster a sense of community among leaders within a region, to learn firsthand about the challenges and successes of our county arts agencies in order to strengthen our state-local partner program, and to reignite a historically strong tradition of in-person engagement with our partner grantees.

Programs staff later hit the road in the fall to host six in-person grant workshops, garnering interest from hundreds of local participants from Oceanside to Chico.

8. Connecting California

Building on the momentum of the Roundtables, the California Arts Council directly convened a statewide meeting of our county partners and Statewide & Regional Network grantees earlier this month. Local arts councils and arts service organizations came together to grow their capacity through two days of speakers, workshopping, creative experiences and connection with each other and with California Arts Council staff and Council members. The conference was a success — and the first of its kind held in more than 15 years.

9. Arts under the microscope

Research in the Arts launched in the 2016–17 fiscal year, the first grant program of its kind in the U.S., developed to foster original research on the value of arts experiences. Supported projects measure and assess the vital impact of the arts and develop tools to help educate the public and invigorate public will for the arts. Interim reports from research grantees were submitted to the California Arts Council this year, addressing the arts’ impact on older adults, chronic pain, and mental health. Final reports are due in 2019.

10. Keep on keeping arts in schools

Less than 40% of all California students currently participate in arts courses. To bolster arts learning in our state, the California Arts Council participates in the state’s Voluntary Contribution Fund tax return program with its Keep Arts in Schools Fund. California taxpayers can make a donation of $1 or more to directly support California arts education programs. This year, residents of the Golden State showed their support more than ever before, besting the previous high in 2016 by more than $30,000 — even with December’s totals not yet accounted for!

11. Pathways meet

The California Arts Council’s Cultural Pathways program recently completed its initial grant cycle. Created to strengthen the capacity of small, new and emerging arts organizations rooted in communities of color, recent immigrant and refugee communities, and tribal or indigenous groups, the program provides two years of operational support. The pilot cohort participated in technical assistance and professional development opportunities, peer-to-peer activities and one regional convening each year. Held in the fall of 2017 and spring of 2018, convening sessions covered topics of grassroots fundraising, organizational leadership and board development.

12. Poets unite

California’s literary community came together for a historic gathering in early October at the McGroarty Arts Center in Tujunga to celebrate our state’s creative expression through words. The occasion was marked by a collaborative group reading by more than 60 of California’s city, regional, and county poets laureate, followed by special guest readings from renowned California laureates, past and present, including then-State Poet Laureate Dana Gioia, Los Angeles Poet Laureate Robin Coste Lewis, and former California Poet Laureate Carol Muske-Dukes. The event was the first large-scale gathering of California’s laureates since the termed position of state poet laureate was first established in 2001.

In short, we’ve been busy! The priorities of 2018 have laid a solid foundation for the years ahead. Our one-time budget infusion will help us to reach more communities, to grow our CAC family, and bring more people together through the power of the arts (more from us on this soon!).

Next year, we’ll undergo a new strategic framework planning, envisioning the agency through a lens of equity and taking into account all the other pressing challenges of our state, such as rising housing costs and the impact of natural disasters. The California Arts Council is committed to building a roadmap that will be relevant, beneficial, and adaptable to the future of the arts field in our state, with its many twists and turns.

Arts and culture are a way of life in our state, for all walks of life. They restore, and they transform. We are humbled to play a part in cultivating the creativity of California — this year, and for many years to come.

Happy new year to all, from all of us! How will you create your 2019?