Tomorrow is our friend and colleague John Seto’s last day at the Arts Council. We wish John all the best in his retirement, and we know we’ll be seeing him around. Today we share a special interview with John, as he reflects on his time at the Arts Council.
When did you join the California Arts Council, and how many years have you worked here in total?
I joined the Arts Council in 2000, at the apex of our agency funding. Altogether, I have close to 16 years with the State of California, and over 10 of those years were with the Arts Council. Between 2003 and 2008 I had to take a position with CalSTRS due to a devastating budget cut that Arts Council suffered and are finally recovering from with recent budget increases.
What are some of your favorite memories of working at the California Arts Council?
As an emigrant, I was/am most mindful of the traditional and ethnically diverse constituents of our great state. Many of these organizations may be grass-roots in nature and not experienced in the areas of grants application. Yet, they are passionate about the preservation and their culture and identity. The Arts Council used to have three programs related to multiculturalism – Multicultural Entry, Multicultural Advancement, and Next Generation. And this year we launched our new Cultural Pathways program. These truly serve all unique cultures, and not just organizations of color. I’ve always felt that it was important for all people to acknowledge the uniqueness of world cultures and their historical richness. In the service of these applicants, I have learned much about diversity and the context in which world cultures have migrated to California, and how they are evolving in the new environment.
How was this work important to you?
The arts and the humanities are the essence of what distinguish us from other animals. We create visual arts, music, literature, plays, dance, etc. to celebrate and commemorate events important to our lives. The arts are individual or group expressions that come from the heart and soul and gives meaning to human existence. To work for a state agency that supports and funds collective cultural expressions reflective of our world is both humbling and extremely gratifying.
What will you miss the most about working at the Arts Council?
I will miss working with colleagues within our agency who all share the core values of services to the artists and cultural organizations that make California one of the creative centers of the world. While I will no longer be an administrator of grant programs and interact with constituents on a day-to-day basis, I plan to allocate some of my retirement time allotments to visit and participate in the activities being generated by the CAC’s many great grantees!
In what ways are the arts a part of your daily life?
My daily life in the last 25 years have primarily been involved in participatory dancing – English country, contra, and international dancing of the Balkan styles. Our international group has also started a singing group, and now has a repertoire of over 40 songs. This year I have also been drafted and joined the board of the Country Dance and Song Society, a national group based in Massachusetts that celebrated its 100 anniversary last year. As part of the organizing local group, I also help the Sacramento Country Dance Society (https://sactocds.wordpress.com/contra-dance/) put on between 4 to 6 dances a month for English country and American contra dances that feature live music and a dance caller.