Governor Jerry Brown: National Arts Leader

by Craig Watson, Director, California Arts Council

Not often (if ever) can you sing the praises of an elected official who took specific action forty years ago​ to create an enduring legacy—and then see that same person, in the same role, provide a current update to the story! But the California Arts Council will always be tied to Governor Jerry Brown…then and now.

Brown raised eyebrows during his first tenure as Governor by filling virtually every seat on the new Arts Council in 1976 with working artists. Whatever that first Council might have lacked in administrative acumen, they more than made up in artistic vision and passion. The early years were marked by fascinating discussions, ardent beliefs, and ultimately the creation of internationally-regarded, innovative programs serving Californians all over the state.

Fast forward to today and again Governor Brown is at the helm and in the limelight. Serving now an historic fourth term, the Governor was recognized today for his arts support by Americans for the Arts and the US Conference of Mayors in Washington, DC. He has been awarded the 2016 National Award for State Arts Leadership.

A Well-Deserved Honor

Governor Brown was chosen for this award for several important reasons:

Last year he signed a $7.2 million permanent increase to the base funding of the California Arts Council…this after signing a previous year one-time increase of $5 million.

In his most recent budget, he also signed off on $2 million earmarked for an inter-agency agreement between the Arts Council and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to build on pilot programs begun in 2014 which now represent the most robust Arts in Corrections work in the nation.

Governor Brown also signed exciting new legislation giving the California Arts Council authority to develop and implement a statewide certification and support program for Arts and Culture Districts. The Governor, having previously served as the Mayor of Oakland, knows firsthand the important economic development potential of the arts when targeted investments are made in cultural development. He tested this notion in a highly visible way by creating the Oakland School for the Arts (OSA) while Mayor. OSA is now a national model for arts and community development.

Forty Years and Going Strong

As the California Arts Council gets ready to celebrate its 40th Anniversary in 2016 with a sold-out kickoff celebration at the historic Crest Theatre in Sacramento on January 27th, we know that Governor Brown is a true champion for the artists and arts lovers of the state. In his own words:

“Government investment in the arts is critical to support the expression of new ideas and cultural diversity across our society. The arts and creativity play a key role in ensuring California remains a vibrant, thriving state to live in and visit…our state’s artists and creative communities are among the many features that make California so unique.”

Thanks, Governor. We couldn’t have said it any better!

Top photo: Governor Brown delivering his State of the State address on January 21, 2016

craig 2015

Craig Watson is the Director of the California Arts Council. He can be reached at

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