Blog bite: The power of poetry

Online news source Circa put the spotlight on poetry this week, publishing a story that called out the work of Street Poets Inc. The L.A.-based California Arts Council grantee has a firm grasp on both rhyme and reason: Dedicated to transforming the lives of at-risk and incarcerated youth, the organization inspires its participants to find their voices through the art of poetry and chart a new course toward a better future.

Street Poets Inc. is funded in part by the California Arts Council JUMP StArts grant program, supporting arts education and artist-in-residence programs for youth engaged in the juvenile justice system, in the classroom, after school, or as a social service or in an incarceration setting.

We’re proud to support the work of Street Poets Inc.! Read the full story here and check out the video below:

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This week in arts funding

It’s been a busy and exciting week in the world of arts funding!

On Tuesday morning, the California Arts Council made what is arguably our biggest announcement of the year: more than $15 million dollars to be distributed among 1,076 grantees! We increased maximum grant request amounts within many of our programs and expanded our arts education grant programs to reach students outside the classroom. We also funded grantees through three new pilot programs this year: Reentry through the Arts, Research in the Arts, and Arts and Public Media.

Award totals were nearly double that of last year, and mark the largest investment in grants for the Arts Council since 2003. No small achievement!

We will admit, it’s our favorite time of year. It’s the culmination of all of our efforts here at the CAC. To be able to share the news, congratulate all of our grantees, then sit back and put the spotlight on the great work they’ll do locally with the state’s support—fostering art and creativity, shaping our communities, inspiring and informing.

Right away, our social media started lighting up with giddy grantees and appreciative art supporters. We love it, and we love our grantees!

We were still floating high on that cloud when, the very next morning, another big reveal: this time from the National Endowment for the Arts. The federal agency announced its second round of funding for the 2017 fiscal year, including $5.3 million for 162 grantees in the state of California. More than $1.1 million will provide support directly to the California Arts Council.

NEA funding has a massive impact on California communities, not just through direct contributions to arts organizations in the form of grants, but through its intrinsic value. The power of an NEA grant can attract matching funds and spur economic interest through other means.

And the NEA as a leader and partner is, of course, invaluable to us at the Arts Council. The annual grant we receive supports the fulfillment of our strategic plan, provides additional funds to our grantees, and helps California’s overall creative economy thrive.

A huge thank you to the NEA, and a whopping congratulations to state and federal grantees!

(Pictured: The Regional Organization of Oaxaca in Los Angeles will receive a California Arts Council grant to produce a series of workshops celebrating the state of Oaxaca, Mexico. The organization also receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts.)

Blog bite: Shakespeare at work in Solano State Prison

A quick shout-out to one of our Arts in Corrections providers, the Marin Shakespeare Company! Yesterday, CNN’s Great Big Story highlighted the theater group’s work with inmates, helping them to confront emotions and heal through self-expression, channeling their own life stories through Hamlet.

Arts in Corrections is a partnership between the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and the California Arts Council to combat recidivism, enhance rehabilitative goals, and improve the safety and environment of state prisons.  The program has reached more than 2,000 inmates since its return three years ago, and is expanding this year to all 35 institutions statewide.

Check out the clip of Marin Shakespeare Company’s great work below:

State of the arts: Joint Committee on the Arts assembles voices on creative economy and creative space issues

The California Arts Council was at the state Capitol on Wednesday as artists, arts agencies, organizations and advocacy groups gathered for a seat at the table of the Joint Committee on the Arts. Joint Committee Chair Senator Ben Allen and other committee members listened intently and asked questions as various panelists expressed their views on the state of the arts in California.

At the top of the agenda was the newly released Otis Report on the Creative Economy of California, with special attention paid to the addendum white paper addressing the need for safe and affordable live-work spaces for artists. The turnout and the passion was so great, we’d thought it best to let the attendees speak for themselves, with a sampling of quotes below. You can check out the full hearing in the Senate media archive.

On the Otis Report:

“The [Otis Report] challenges the existing understanding that the arts are side activities to the ‘real’ economy. … It asks the question, what would it look like to put the economic output of creativity connected industries front and center in our economic and political initiatives?”

“It’s my hope that cities and counties throughout California can leverage the Otis Report to encourage further investments in art education, economic development and cultural planning.”

“If we could touch the invisible or some of the soft statistics, these statistics would be even higher and more productive for you to look at, I think, as a major, major engine of the economy.”

Bruce Ferguson, Otis College of Art and Design

“Artists don’t conform to the way that the government likes to collect statistics. I would say that the numbers in here are undercounted.”

“Activities based on creativity are essential components of a robust, healthy and growing economy.”

Kimberly Ritter-Martinez, Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation

On the value of the arts:

“The question is, how can we in the United States immerse ourselves so fully in arts and culture but place so little value on artists, when other countries place their arts and culture in higher regard?”

“Part of why California has been able to be the economic juggernaut that it is—the sixth largest economy in the world—has so much to do with the creativity that exists here, and the fact that so many business want to be in this creative place. For that, I am eternally grateful to our creative industry, our creative economy.”

Senator Ben Allen, Joint Committee Chair

“Being someone in education now for the past 25 years, I can tell the difference when I walk in the school whether there is a robust arts program or not. Without seeing the classrooms, without seeing what’s on the walls, there’s a feeling in the way the kids bounce through the halls.”

Donn Harris, California Arts Council Chair

“All of these different groups now understand what we as the arts sector can do, and it has fundamentally changed our relationship with the city. … This one project, with each of these agencies, it helps meet each of their discreet missions. And that’s magical. And that’s one of the things that you can do when you use the creative process to address a problem.”

“These programs matter. Arts matters. It has powerful potential to change our communities.”

Michelle Williams, Executive Director, Arts Council Santa Cruz County

“Certainly cities and developers have been using artists for ages to stimulate growth, so we need to find ways of protecting them as well.”

Teri Deaver, Vice President, Consulting and Strategic Partnerships, Artspace

“If this is what we value, we need to put a little more wood behind the arrow.”

Ron Vidal, Oakland artist and firefighter

On artist displacement:

“We really do have a challenge. There are a lot of artists out there that are struggling to do their work, and do it in a way that doesn’t break the bank. But ultimately, how do we do it in a sustainable way? …. Nobody should have to choose between having a roof over their head and having a place to make a living.”

Senator Ben Allen, Joint Committee Chair

“The community is feeling it. It’s a very public conversation. It’s a challenge for organizations like Self Help Graphics who are undercapitalized, and have historically been undercapitalized, to continue to support the community in a moment where they’re under so much pressure. It feels like a very personal attack on the community, this idea of displacement and being pushed out due to high rents.”

Betty Avila, Associate Director, Self Help Graphics and Art

On artist housing:

“Controlling real-estate, or art space, is critical to the long-term sustainability of the arts. No space, no art. No art, no good.”

Ron Vidal, Oakland artist and firefighter

“Our first obligation, especially at a state level, is to enact legislation … that will allow a sustainable model for our low-income live-work communities.”

Jonah Strauss, Oakland Warehouse Coalition

“What can we do to ensure that we have affordable housing? One is preserve what we have currently. There is a lot of displacement happening—can we extend rent stabilization and tenant protection rights to artists that are living, perhaps, in nonconforming, nontraditional housing situations in light industrial areas? Can we create special use permits in areas that have existing communities that can be put toward safe spaces that are in some of these more industrial areas?”

Teri Deaver, Vice President, Consulting and Strategic Partnerships, Artspace

“The energy, activity, and economic development created by [the Warehouse Artist Lofts] community of mostly low-income artists has exceeded even my own expectations.”

“We created a platform for artists to build a community and to do what they do best—imagine, create and inspire.”

Ali Youssefi, Vice President, CFY Development Inc.

On the aftermath of the Ghost Ship fire:

“The wider DIY community across America is under threat.”

Sinuba Solomon, Oakland artist

“We’re past the raw impact of the [Ghost Ship] fire. It was immediate, it was visceral. … But now we’ve moved into committees and proposals and policies and rules, and so now it’s about enacting change based on what is the way forward, as opposed to the urgency of the response.”

Ron Vidal, Oakland artist and firefighter

“Regardless of how aggressive the city is, we have some very reactionary landlords who go after the tenants in no uncertain terms. So we’ve had this wave of evictions. … The Oakland warehouse scene is dying.”

Jonah Strauss, Oakland Warehouse Coalition

On safety issues:

“If you don’t have a safe place to be in, you can’t function as an artist. … I mean safety from eviction, safety from fire, safety from crime, and economic exploitation, and long-term affordable work-live.”

Thomas Dolan, Oakland architect and artist

“There’s this issue of life safety people keep talking about. It’s like, of course we want to be safe, but there’s this other form of safety that’s just being able to exist as yourself, completely free. Representing your gender, representing your race, representing your history.”

Sinuba Solomon, Oakland artist

Lastly, an eloquent and simple summary for a complex problem, from the author of the Otis Report’s addendum on the artist housing crisis, Artspace’s Teri Deaver:

California’s creative economy is booming (and it’s our duty to help it stay that way)

In case you missed it: Some big deal data was dropped this morning.

For the last four years, the California Arts Council has supported the generation of a report, developed by Otis College of Art and Design and its research partner, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. The Otis Report on the Creative Economy of California takes a deep dive into California’s creative industries; more specifically, into their impact on our state’s economy.

Artists are often an overlooked contributor to our state’s GDP. But it’s no coincidence that California leads the nation in creative jobs and stands alone as the sixth largest global economy in the world. And this year’s figures back up that relationship, putting the money where our muse is.

A snapshot of some relevant findings:

  • California’s creative economy generated 747,600 direct jobs, nearly 270,000 more than the second ranking U.S. state for creative occupations, New York.
  • From 2010 to 2015, direct wage and salary employment in California’s creative industries increased by 88,600 jobs to 747,600, an increase of 13.5 percent.
  • Creative occupations often require high levels of education or skills training, with close to 50 percent of those examined requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Property taxes, state and local personal income taxes, and sales taxes directly and indirectly generated by the creative industries totaled $16.7 billion across all of California.
  • The total income reported by arts-related nonprofits in California was $7.8 billion.

So, what do all these numbers mean? It means the arts matter—for wealth as much as health. It means California is awesome—skilled, diverse, imaginative, altogether unique. It means that creativity is an enterprise in and of itself, woven into the fabric of doing business in our state, not as an accent for an already flourishing economy.

It also means that in order to maintain our position as the nation’s nerve center for creativity, we need to invest in our artists that give our state its identity. With rising real-estate costs, an artist’s ability to secure an affordable, appropriate and safe place to live or work presents an enormous challenge. The Ghost Ship fire in Oakland was a harrowing reminder of the reality facing California’s artists, often sacrificing safety for the sake of their work.

This year’s report features an addendum tackling the issue of artist housing, offering solutions for the future. It’s our duty to support the workforce that supports us, and keep the welcome mat out for the creatives to come.

Check out the full report, including the addendum, at www.otis.edu/otisreport.

California Arts Council tours Chicano Park

Underneath the San Diego-Coronado Bridge lives an amazing display of color and culture.

After our public meeting in San Diego on Tuesday, Arts Council members and staff took some time to explore a highlight of the city’s vibrant arts and culture scene—Chicano Park. Steering committee members Tommie Camarillo, Victor Ochoa, and Josie Talamantez, along with park artists Mario Chacon and Irma Patricia Aguayo, served as our gracious tour guides.

Chicano Park stands as a cultural and political stronghold for San Diego’s Chicano community. In 1970, as neighborhood gathering spaces were being lost to rigorous development, residents of Barrio Logan held their ground, staging an occupation of the area for 12 days before city officials conceded. Just three years later, a large-scale art project was organized, paving the way for what is now the largest collection of outdoor murals in the world. The vivid hues and evocative images range in size and subject, but all share a story of human experience—and empowerment.

It’s been a national symbol for Latino activism nearing 50 years, but the 7.4-acre park earned its rightful place as a National Historic Landmark just this year. And with fewer than 200 of the 2,500 registered landmarks tied to minority ethnic groups, we were honored to offer our full support for the national designation.

To have such a knowledgeable group share this rich cultural icon with us was a real treat!

As an added bonus, we were delighted to be there as our partners at the Latino Arts Network of California presented Josie Talamantez with her Maestro Award, recognizing her commitment to work in the community. Among many other accolades, Josie is the founder and chair of the Chicano Park Museum and Cultural Center, a member of the Royal Chicano Air Force, and—we’re proud to say—a former CAC staffer for more than 20 years. Congratulations, Josie!

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A beautiful day at Chicano Park!

A year in the life of an Arts Council grant

We know the grant process can sometimes feel … a little long. There’s somewhere close to six months’ time between application availability and approvals, with a whole lot happening before, after and in between.

Whether you’re new to California Arts Council grants or you’ve been here before, join us on a journey through the seasons to demystify the grant process, phase by phase.

Phase 1. A grant (program) is born. It’s late summer: The California sun is shining, the air is warm, and your grant is, more or less, still a twinkle in the eyes of the Arts Council. The state budget for the fiscal year has just been finalized, and our Council members and CAC staff are taking a long look at last year’s program priorities, making improvements upon existing programs—or establishing new ones, if funds allow. As the leaves start to turn, the Council and staff spend the next couple months developing and updating everything you’ll need to succeed during the application process.

Phase 2. There’s an app for that. This is the part where you—the applicant—come in! Once everything is in order—nearing the end of the calendar year—the grant programs are announced. Guidelines and applications are posted to our website, along with deadlines and other useful documents and significant dates. You are now free to start putting together your primo application package, with approximately 6-10 weeks to get it done.

This is also the time when we provide extensive technical assistance to applicants. Our knowledgeable programs staff host webinars, post FAQs, respond to your emails and answer your calls pertaining to the application process. We really, really urge you to take advantage of these opportunities for guidance—especially first-timers—we can’t stress enough the value this can have in helping you to get answers to any questions you may have in order to create a complete and effective application.

Phase 3. Crunch time. Around early spring comes the final scramble before deadlines. Ask any final questions you may have of our staff, and be sure you have all the required components of your application accounted for.

And while you’re all tenaciously assembling your apps, we are (also rather tenaciously) recruiting panels of experts to guide the review process—bringing us to Phase 4.

Phase 4. Read, rank, recommend. Things get pretty quiet on your end around this point, wondering and waiting—but there’s a lot going on over here. The rest of the spring belongs to our peer review panels. Groups of three to five panelists, experts in their respective fields, meticulously pore over each grant candidate’s application, scoring them based upon our ranking guides. Once that’s done, it’s time for some serious math. A Council committee and staff analyze in depth how to distribute funds equitably, taking into consideration the funds available, the number of applications, and their ranks. Their recommendations are submitted to the Council, who vote on the final grant awards.

This is actually the phase we’re in right now, with applicants for the 2016-17 fiscal year. The Council will be reviewing the panel’s recommendations during their upcoming public meetings on May 9 and June 7.

Phase 5. Funds in the sun. It’s summer—again! The sun is shining, the air is warm, and your grant has been approved! You’ve received a letter notifying you of the award, and sign your grant agreement. Keep in mind that based on ranking, most grantees receive only a percentage of funds requested, and you must still be fully able to commit to your proposed project given that amount.

Congratulations! It’s finally time to put that hard-earned money to good use, enriching the lives of Californians by connecting them with the arts and cultural experiences.

And if this wasn’t your year, don’t be discouraged! There’s still good news for your organization. All applicants receive detailed notes on the panel’s analysis of their application—so even if you didn’t get the grant, you do get valuable input from our expert panelists to help you learn from the experience and better your chances for next year.

Note: This specific timeline applies to most but not all CAC grants. All follow this process, but deadlines may vary for some programs.

Levi Lowe represents California at NEA Poetry Out Loud Semifinals

High school senior Levi Lowe approached the microphone. Standing tall under bright lights, in a low and steady tone, he began:

I am wondering what became of all those tall abstractions
that used to pose, robed and statuesque, in paintings
and parade about on the pages of the Renaissance
displaying their capital letters like license plates.

The 17-year-old made Sonora High School and California proud last night, performing on the national stage of the Poetry Out Loud competition for a second time (his first was in 2015). The National Endowment for the Arts program inspires students’ interest in poetry while increasing self-confidence and developing public speaking skills.

At this year’s semifinals, held at The George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Levi recited “The Death of Allegory” by Billy Collins and “Chorus Sacerdotum” by Baron Brooke Fulke Greville. With conscious gestures and telling looks, he conveyed his authors’ meanings through action as well as words.

Though he won’t be moving on to the finals this evening, it was no easy feat to have made it this far. To earn his place in the national contest, Levi first had to beat out more than 35,000 of his fellow students here in California, the biggest state poetry competition of its kind nationwide.

“To win—not once but twice—with such a large number of students in such a highly competitive event is a testament to Levi’s talents for spoken word. His delivery is captivating and we are proud to have been represented by him,” said Ayanna Kiburi, Interim Director of the California Arts Council.

Well done, Levi!

Students honor legacy of Armenian culture through art

On Monday, California Arts Council staff had the privilege to join legislative members in remembering the Armenian genocide. The California Armenian Legislative Caucus marked the 102nd anniversary at the state Capitol with a universal refrain of “never again.”

“Armenian-Americans have not only survived, they have thrived and enriched the fabric of our communities,” Senator Scott Wilk stated.

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Salinas High School senior Hanna Hitchcock received first prize in the 2017 California Armenian Legislative Caucus Visual Arts Scholarship competition. Second and third place winners Bora Wie and Gavny Vardanyan were also recognized.

High-school students lent their voices to the conversation by commemorating the tragedy through essay and visual art submissions, with scholarships awarded to the top three students in each category.

The visual arts contest—currently in its first year—challenged students to create two-dimensional drawings, paintings, photographs, digital illustrations and graphic design that centered on a theme of “Human-to-Human Interaction.” Members of the CAC staff assisted in judging the submissions.

At the event, Arts Council Interim Director Ayanna Kiburi highlighted the value of art in education, as well as in shaping and preserving the story of the Armenian people: “Artistic and creative expression allows us all to express our humanity, to keep cultural traditions and histories alive within our communities, and to connect deeply with each other, as Californians,” she said.

File your taxes, Keep Arts in Schools

Alyse is a student at Elizabeth Freese Elementary School in San Diego who loves to dance.

Her favorite subject is math.

California Arts Council grant recipient the Malashock Dance Company is there to make sure both of Alyse’s passions stay strong.

Malashock’s Math in Motion program, explains managing director Molly Puryear, was developed in response to student’s creeping doubt of their mathematical abilities as they grow. Through dance, MIM teachers offer kids a tangible, kinetic connection to math, boosting their confidence to self-express and solve equations.

“Dance and math are my two favorite things, so being able to combine those two together makes me really happy,” said Alyse.

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Alyse (right) and fellow students show off their moves during their Math in Motion course.

As an arts supporter, we know you get it. You understand the relationship between the arts and academics, and the importance of programs such as Math in Motion. Yet less than 40 percent of all California students currently receive any kind of arts education in school.

If you have yet to file your taxes this year, consider making a tax-deductible contribution on your state tax return in the amount of $1 or more to the Keep Arts in Schools Fund. Donations from the fund are critical to our efforts to increase arts education statewide, and every dollar counts. Just look for the fund in the Voluntary Contribution section of state tax returns. All donations directly support our arts education grantees – we don’t hold on to a penny here at the State.

This year, thanks in part to contributions from the Keep Arts in Schools Fund, we are able to expand our arts education grant programs to reach even more students than ever before. By making a contribution, you’re making a difference. You can help more grantees like the Malashock Dance Company bring arts experiences to more kids like Alyse.

After all, we’re in need of creative math whizzes like her for many tax seasons to come.

Visit the California Arts Council Keep Arts in Schools page to learn more.