On the Road with California’s Poet Laureate

This summer, California’s Poet Laureate Dana Gioia will visit communities across the northern part of our state for a series of poetry readings and conversations, and other special events.

Appointed by Governor Jerry Brown in December 2015, Dana Gioia serves as the state advocate for poetry and literature in libraries, classrooms and boardrooms across California. An award-winning poet, Gioia is the author of Can Poetry Matter?, which is credited for helping revive poetry’s role in American public life.  He is also the former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts where he championed arts education. As state laureate, Gioia will work to inspire a new generation of writers and celebrate California’s great literary legacy.

Here’s a list of upcoming public events. Join us!

Columbia – An Afternoon with Dana Gioia hosted by the Tuolumne County Arts Alliance

Saturday, June 18, 4 pm

Angelos’ Hall in the State Park of Columbia

11255 Jackson St, Columbia, CA 95310


Click here to learn more.

Sacramento – Remarkable Artist Series presented by the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission

Sunday, June 26, 6 pm

Crocker Art Museum, Setzer Auditorium

216 O Street, Sacramento, CA 95814

Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission presents The Remarkable Artist Series: California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning poet. He will be joined by the CA winner of the 2016 National Poetry Out Loud competition, Chigozie Maduchukwu. This event is presented in partnership with the Sacramento Poetry Center. Click here to RSVP online.

Davis – A Poetry Reading and Conversation

Tuesday, June 28, 7 pm

Stevens-Davis branch of Yolo County Library

315 E. 14th Street, Davis, CA 95616

530-757- 5593

Introduction by Andy Jones

Lakeport – A Poetry Reading and Conversation

Wednesday, July 6, 5:30 pm

Lakeport branch of Lake County Library

1425 N. High Street, Lakeport, CA 95453

707-263- 8817

Colusa – A Poetry Reading and Conversation

Thursday, July 7, 6:30 pm

Colusa County Library

738 Market Street, Colusa, CA 95932

530-458- 7671

Eureka – A Poetry Reading and Conversation

Monday, July 18, 7pm

Immanuel Lutheran Church

3230 Harrison Avenue, Eureka, California 95503

707- 839-4255

Joined by James McCubbrey of Eureka High School, Poetry Out Loud Champion for Humboldt County

Crescent City – A Poetry Reading and Conversation

Tuesday, July 19, 7 pm

Del Norte County Library

190 Price Mall, Crescent City, CA 95531

Yreka – A Poetry Reading and Conversation

Wednesday, July 20, 6:30 pm

Yreka Branch, Siskiyou County Library

719 4th Street, Yreka, CA 96097

Redding – A Poetry Reading and Conversation

Thursday, July 21, noon

Redding Library

1100 Parkview Avenue, Redding, CA 96001



“40 Stories” Spotlight: Juan Felipe Herrera

To celebrate our 40th Anniversary, we asked forty of our amazing grantees, past and present, to tell the story of their work and their relationship with the California Arts Council. Throughout this anniversary year, we’ll be sharing excerpts from our special publication 40 Stories, 40 Years here on the blog. You can view the complete collection at this link.

Editor’s Note: This week, we’re proud to feature a story from Juan Felipe Herrera, who was just reappointed  for a second year as United States Poet Laureate. 

Juan Felipe Herrera, Fresno

By Juan Felipe Herrera, United States Poet Laureate

Year of first CAC Grant: 1976

Dreams Fulfilled

The four grants that I received from 1976–1987 allowed me to fulfill my dreams as a community poet, artist and arts catalyst. My first grant, for the Expresión Library project, saved me – like all of the California Arts Council grants. My life has been devoted to the arts and to the community; in 1976, my financial resources were few, if any. And my one chance to survive financially was through a CAC grant. I organized a city and county-wide set of exhibits, forums and readings. This gave artists public space to set their works into motion. The next step was a new literary form, at least in San Diego.

A New Poetics

Each of my CAC grants propelled me, urged me, fascinated me, encouraged me and expanded my sense of the powers, compassions, and condorwingspan reach of poetry in the community. Each project was new. Each outcome was inspirational. Each step was a necessary move on the path to a new poetics and self.

Walking to a Crossroads

From 2012 to 2014 I was the California Poet Laureate. Today, I am the United States Poet Laureate. My current project is called Casa de Colores, House of Colors. You can view it online at the Library of Congress website. It is an outcome of many years of experimentation and trials and new findings – and I give great credit to the CAC for walking me to this new crossroads.

Juan Felipe Herrera on the floor of the California State Senate. July 6, 2015. Photo by Lorie Shelley. 

JFHJUAN FELIPE HERRERA The son of migrant farm workers, Herrera was educated at UCLA and Stanford University, and he earned his M.F.A from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. In addition to publishing more than a dozen collections of poetry, Herrera has written short stories, young adult novels, and children’s literature. In 2012, Herrera was named California’s Poet Laureate, and the U.S. Poet Laureate in 2015. He has won the Hungry Mind Award of Distinction, the Focal Award, two Latino Hall of Fame Poetry Awards, and a PEN West Poetry Award. www.juanfelipepoet.com  (Photos by Ted Catanzaro unless otherwise noted)

View the complete 40 Stories, 40 Years collection at this link.

Arts in the Post-No Child Left Behind World: Watching ESSA Carefully

By Donn K. Harris, Chair, California Arts Council
Executive and Artistic Director, Oakland School for the Arts

The 2001 federal educational law known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was a skillfully marketed attempt to balance all sides of the educational equation: for schools and districts, incremental gains in achievement were acceptable, as long as all subgroups gained at least the minimum required; low-performing schools were both stigmatized and forced into supports simultaneously; cohort groups were created in some states so that one could compare oneself against schools deemed “similar” based on transitory rates and socioeconomic data.

There were new credential requirements, a new designation called “Highly Qualified,” and in some cases teachers with credentials were not “Highly Qualified” depending on whether they received their credentials through coursework or testing — high school science in particular began demanding specialized credentials in Physics, Biology and Chemistry as opposed to the more general “Physical” and “Life” Science designations of the past. We seemed to be equating rigor with specialization, and achievement with test scores, and at times words and titles seemed to overwhelm reality. One school I visited had students enrolled in Calculus who could not even pronounce the word, but their boast was: every kid takes four years of math here.

The plan began to dissolve into a morass of regulation and compliance fear. Lists began to be published in local media as to who was in “Program Improvement” (the category for schools who did not meet their expected yearly gains), and when the time came to reauthorize the bill in 2006, things stalled, but the schools kept up with NCLB lingo and process for nine more years, an extended stay by any measure in accountability limbo, and by that time in California over 70% of the schools were in Program Improvement status.

My own school was a California Distinguished School one year, in Program Improvement the next. Then, finally, in 2015, Congress adopted a new law designated the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), billed as a deeper, more demanding curriculum that replaced the rote with the thoughtful, dictation with facilitation, commonly-accepted facts with challenging questions and then deeper questions. Mathematics was to be a communicative, collaborative subject, student teams approximating engineering teams with their creative energy, and the world seemed new again.

But what about the arts?

Much of the analysis around ESSA praised its arts friendliness and the use of the phrase “a well-rounded education” as evidence of that. Maybe there is some kind of code here, but that in and of itself is a problem: Why are we speaking in code as if hiding some dirty or dangerous secret? An even more intractable problem than language is the way school days are constructed and how artists are used in classrooms and other school settings: There is rarely the sense that the arts are on equal footing with the academic pursuits. Being special and different has its advantages most of the time, and the arts are branded as that no matter how many times someone screams “But they are core!”– and in a bureaucracy divergence and uniqueness are rarely seen as desirable qualities. So in some environments the arts are at a disadvantage from the start: The strange and unexpected behaviors of a young artist are not something we are comfortable with in schools, and when we give these young artists full rein to create, we often have an output that is profane, enraged, the opposite of tame. Are we prepared to unleash the demons that lurk beneath the surfaces of our children? Not to scare you off, but the arts may do that. Are schools as much places of truth as the church, or the community center, or the streets for that matter?

Not usually. Schools are places of convention. The word appropriate is probably used in schools more than anywhere else –- we expect young people to do the right thing for the time and place, and in schools that means to play to the middle ground, to community standards. Schools are the American social institution that has changed the least in the past 200 years, technology notwithstanding. Truth is often painful, and deep, and in the arts it knows few boundaries: There have been symbols in student art work that caused me to reveal the pieces only in private showings, with someone there to explain the themes, to prove the adults understand the limits and have found creative ways to express that. I once changed the title of a poem or was about to deny the student the right to read it publicly. We don’t censor, but we do control.

So will ESSA even bring this to bear in our schools?

Perhaps I am too hopeful, but I do lead an arts school, where every day something extraordinary is created. If many more schools are able to unleash student creativity, we could be awash in some kind of unpredictable youth movement. It seems we are already on the verge of one as it is.  Will the ’20s be the new ’60s?

The real test will come when the Smarter Balanced assessments have built a few years of credibility and we start to look at schools that are struggling. Will the arts be cut right away? Will it be NCLB 2.0, with schools pushing even science and social studies into a corner to improve reading and math scores? Today I heard an awful thing: After just getting used to a robust economy and rising funding levels for education, there’s a new prediction that a downturn is on the way and we’d better build a nest egg, or remain cautious and wary even with the current high revenues.

ESSA is bound to be tested in these next few years, and the arts should be a measuring stick of our commitment to the new principles of creative expression and cultural relevance. The hope on my end is that failing schools are given more art resources to stimulate children and build engagement and investment in learning, rather than falling back on the ages-old fallacy that NCLB embodied: If you’re failing at something you do four hours a day, just add a fifth hour and everything should be fine, and if it isn’t, heads will roll. And it’s so much cheaper than keeping that art class going: There are no paints, or clay, or stage props, or special teaching artists –- just the usual books and paper, and maybe if we all try a bit harder it will click. History tells us probably not, though, and for me this is the test of ESSA: When the going gets tough, in achievement measures and financially, what is going to happen? The Every Student Succeeds Act is tied to the Common Core Curriculum, and the idea is that we are going to go deeper into subject matter, probe more aggressively, demand that students express a point-of-view. How much will that be worth when some data point is not reached, or when finances are low, or when the content of the expression becomes unnerving and controversial?

With NCLB, we never even got that far, so controversy itself would be a sign of progress. These are the things we should be watching. If the values are truly different in this new world of ESSA, the solutions to problems should look far different than they have up to this point. Maybe the student with a poor vocabulary will be assigned a part in an August Wilson play, and pure emotion and the adrenaline created by movement and purpose will nail home words he otherwise would never have understood.



Donn K. Harris is the Chair of the California Arts Council and the Executive and Artistic Director of Oakland School for the Arts. He also sits on the leadership council of the statewide arts education coalition Create CA and is a member of the Board of Directors of the national Arts Schools Network.

#MyCreativeCA Video: Malashock Dance “Math in Motion”

We’ve created a series of short-form, documentary videos that celebrate creative expression in California. The videos follow art programming across California, from rural towns to some of the state’s largest cities, which are making positive impacts in our communities.

STEM + Arts = STEAM. In this week’s #MyCreativeCA video, watch San Diego’s Malashock Dance Company teach students math through movement at a local Title 1 elementary school.

#MyCreativeCA #CAarts40 http://www.arts.ca.gov

#MyCreativeCA Video: Destiny Arts

We’ve created a series of short-form, documentary videos that celebrate creative expression in California. The series of videos follow art programming across California, from rural towns to some of the state’s largest cities, which are making positive impacts in communities.

The first video in our series comes from the Bay Area. Oakland-based dance organization, Destiny Arts first received California Arts Council grant in 1989. They currently receive support through our Artists in Schools and JUMP StArts programs.

#MyCreativeCA #CAarts40 http://www.arts.ca.gov

40th Anniversary Celebration: Welcoming Remarks from Annette Bening

On Wednesday, January 27 the California Arts Council celebrated its 40th Anniversary with a special event at the Crest Theatre in Sacramento, hosted by former Council Member Annette Bening. Below is a selection from Bening’s opening remarks.



California Poet Laureate Dana Gioia and Annette Bening at the California Arts Council 40th Anniversary Celebration at the Crest Theatre in Sacramento. January 27, 2016. Credit: Tia Gemmell Photography

We have come together tonight to celebrate the arts – to honor the countless ways in which creative expression enriches our lives as Californians – whether through community transformation and social prosperity, cultural exchange or individual discovery, or lifelong learning for all generations. As we just saw in the beautiful film that shared a few stories from across our state, the importance of the arts cannot be overstated.

And we’ve come together to consider a question: Why should government support the arts? Why indeed…Of course it is the government’s role to serve its citizens, and as the film we just saw illustrates, the California Arts Council surely does that. But there is a larger purpose to public support of the arts, which is why, for as long as mankind has had governments, governments have funded the arts. Ancient civilizations are endlessly fascinating, but why is that? Without the paintings and the sculpture, the architectural marvels, and every art form from pottery to poetry, what would we know today about ancient Egypt? About Greece, or Rome, or Babylon … the list goes on and on. Art, it has been said, is the signature of a civilization.

To me, arts and creativity are an essential part of what makes us human. As an actor, I tell stories – stories that move audiences to reflect on, and empathize with, people who may be very different from themselves. Movies transport us to places far and near, real and imagined. There’s nothing more human than that. It is imagination—expressed in art—that lifts us out of the everyday and connects us to a larger world. As a member of the California Arts Council I spoke up for the rights of our state’s young people to experience the transformative benefits of arts education, as I did. And as a Californian, I personally take pride in the creativity that makes our communities such wonderful places to live.

The California Arts Council is a special agency. From its beginnings in 1976 to today the Arts Council has demonstrated why government support of the arts is so important. Public support is what brings the arts, with all their power to heal and inspire, to rural communities, towns large and small, blighted neighborhoods, struggling schools, prisons and hospitals, and everywhere the arts can make a difference – from Skid Row to symphony hall. The arts are an invaluable policy asset and prosperity generator for California. The creativity of our state sets us apart and gives California a special place in people’s imaginations. California’s scenery is matched by its spirit, and on this stage tonight you will see a sampling of what I mean by that.

Through the years, the work of the California Arts Council has demonstrated that beyond the arts’ sometimes intangible, inherent value to society, and beyond their value as the signature of who we are, the arts help the state succeed – through economic growth, education, tourism, health and public safety.

This has been the case from 1976 to today, and it will continue to be so for the next forty years.


Annette Bening is a four-time Academy Award nominee, two-time Golden Globe-winner, and a recipient of the Screen Actors Guild Award. She served as a member of the California Arts Council from 2004-2008.

Video Series: My Creative CA

We recently traveled across California to film some of the inspiring people making an impact in their communities through art and creative expression. Over the next couple of months, we’ll be sharing a new video here each week. Here’s a sneak peek that was previewed at our 40th anniversary celebration at the historic Crest Theatre in Sacramento on Wednesday, January 27, 2016.

As our host Annette Bening stated on stage at the Crest Theatre, “From its beginnings in 1976 to today the Arts Council has demonstrated why government support of the arts is so important. Public support is what brings the arts, with all their power to heal and inspire, to rural communities, towns large and small, blighted neighborhoods, struggling schools, prisons and hospitals, and everywhere the arts can make a difference – from Skid Row to symphony hall. The arts are an invaluable policy asset and prosperity generator for California. The creativity of our state sets us apart and gives California a special place in people’s imaginations.”

From the role of art in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art and math) to preserving traditional and folk arts, this video shows the wide reach of California Arts Council’s grantees and partnerships to advance arts in California for everyone.

Featured California nonprofits include:

The videos were produced by Los Angeles-based, For Example Media.

‪#‎MyCreativeCA‬ ‪#‎CAarts40‬

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 craig.watson@arts.ca.gov.

Shelly’s Musings: Meetings, Convenings, and Cultural Equity


Shelly Gilbride

In the fall, I’ve been on the road and in the air much more than usual. In the span of 30 days, I workshopped best practices in arts education with my fellow Arts Education Managers across the country, learned about the most recent research on cultural equity and creative placemaking with other Grantmakers in the Arts, been inspired to nurture diverse arts leaders in the future with the Western State Arts Federation and helped the California Arts Council to allocate $9 Million in grant funding in the coming year.  Meetings, panels, presentations, think tanks, work groups, agendas, action items, work plans, reflections, to dos – it’s been inspiring, exhilarating and exhausting.  There is one tie that binds these events together, a constant theme and omnipresent issue that grantmakers, artists, educators and cultural workers are all grappling with – Equity. Equity is the central issue in the arts and culture field around which all other topics like evaluation, data collection, sustainability and artistic ingenuity revolve and return to.

What does Cultural Equity mean?

Cultural equity, racial equity, educational equity, structural equity – the quest for fairness and justice needs many modifiers. I’ll focus on that first one –what exactly is cultural equity? I ask that question for real, because the term seems to mean different things to different people. For some, cultural equity is inherently about race and ethnicity. Some think it’s about the preservation of cultural forms.  For others, it’s about cultural sensitivity. It can be about one of those things, and often it is about all of those things.

I’ve looked for a stable definition for cultural equity – one that is from a reputable source, that is not full of jargon, that any grownup can understand, and that is distinct from the public understanding of diversity, inclusion, multiculturalism and access.  Has cultural equity become the jargon basket that holds all of those terms? A friend of mine recently asked me what I was working on and I responded that I was working on a new cultural equity program. She looked at me quizzically and said, “like a diversity program?” That question could have easily been “like a multicultural program, or an access program?” Well, yes, it is a diversity thing and an access thing, and a multicultural thing and an inclusion thing.

I couldn’t find a definition for cultural equity that I liked (and please send good definitions my way), but here is what my colleague Jason Jong and I came up with: Cultural equity refers to “the effort to minimize disparities in accessible and relevant arts opportunities to all people.” For the California Arts Council, cultural equity reflects a desire to address inequities within the cultural landscape of the state, and to promote cultural practices that are representative of all of California’s diverse communities.

Where did all of this come from?

Holly Sidford’s seminal study in 2011 reported that large cultural institutions with budgets over $5 million most often steeped in Euro-centric artistic forms comprise less than 2 percent of the universe of arts and cultural nonprofits, yet receive more than half of the sector’s total revenue. Since then, research about the disparities in the field has grown and the depth of knowledge has deepened. As the LA Times recently reported, the diversity and multicultural programs of the past thirty years have not led to significant change. The 2 percent universe that Sidford describes is the reality after many years of diversity programs. What is the California  Arts Council’s role in that universe, and what can we do about it? An overwhelming majority of California Arts Council applicants and grantees have budgets of less than $500,000, let alone $5M. I don’t feel like we directly perpetuate the cultural ivory tower, but we are still very much a part of this inequitable reality—and we need to be a leading part of the solution.

Former California  Arts Council Director Barry Hessenius summed it up nicely in his eponymous blog about the opening of the Grantmakers in the Arts conference: “funders are trying all kinds of approaches, and it’s too early yet to pass judgment on what might work and what won’t. But time is part of the problem, for delay in equity is denial of equity and the field must make some giant leaps to address the inequity issue.”  At the California  Arts Council, we are working to figure out how best to make those leaps to address equity from within the institutional walls of a state arts agency…so maybe we are climbing rather than leaping.

What do we know? A Programs Perspective

Since we have defined what the California  Arts Council means by cultural equity, we are taking every opportunity to engage in this discussion. We sent Jason Jong to Policy Link’s amazingly comprehensive Equity Summit in Los Angeles, where over 3,000 equity-minded folks from across the country engaged in this discussion. We are taking stock of where the California  Arts Council is in relation to equity and where we are going.

Where we are now: Scratching the surface

Our history with the Multicultural Entry and Advancement Program, our work in Corrections and Juvenile Justice, and our signature Local Impact grant program indicate a philosophical and mission-driven focus on equity that is authentic and real. The Arts Council programs staff knows intrinsically, if anecdotally, that we serve a very diverse cohort of grantees, even if we have a difficult time proving it with demographics data – a lack we are beginning to address by revamping our final reports to include more specific demographic and quantitative questions.

Applicants to our grant programs tend to be small grassroots organizations, or lean mid-sized organizations. 40% of organizations that apply to our grant programs have no full time employees—zero! With that in mind, our programs staff is keenly aware of the burden that grant applications and reports put on an organization. Weare working to minimize or abolish the possible inequity that we may be inadvertently perpetuating through our grant application processes. We are always working to improve our processes – revising final reports to include more quantitative and demographic data, and streamlining application questions. We are considering how we may provide bilingual materials, build more robust technical assistance tools for applicants, and receive more timely and constructive feedback on the application process.

Where we are going: Cultural Pathways

We are also addressing cultural equity through a new pilot grant program called Cultural Pathways (guidelines coming soon!). Jason has enthusiastically and thoughtfully dived head first into these cultural equity waters, consulting with experts as well as community members. Sometimes it feels like this cultural equity conversation is happening around and about people and communities without their actual engagement in the discussion.  We hope that Cultural Pathways will raise the volume for voices of some unheard communities in the state, and bring those communities authentically to the table.

Cultural Pathways will only be open to organizations and artist groups that are not current or recent California  Arts Council grantees. This acknowledges our need to reach different communities in addition to those we currently serve. In the pilot phase, Cultural Pathways will be a two-year grant program for small cultural organizations that serve communities of color, recent immigrant and refugee communities, and tribal groups. Adopting a “grants plus” strategy, the grantee organizations will each receive $5000 a year of general operating support as well as a host of technical assistance and professional development services. We are trying to address all of the potential barriers to access—like language, technology and communication—as best we can, knowing that we will learn a lot in this first pilot year.

The travel is over, and my feet are on the ground here in Sacramento for a few weeks. The implementation of the Cultural Pathways program feels like a giant leap into the equity fray sometimes, and at other times it feels like a teeny baby step. At all times, it feels like good forward motion, sharing the knowledge and putting the learning to action so the California  Arts Council can help lead the charge to an equitable cultural future in California.

Blog5-ShellyHeadshotShelly Gilbride is the Programs Officer at the California Arts Council. She can be reached at shelly.gilbride@arts.ca.gov.

– See more at: http://cac.ca.gov/blog/blogdetail.php?id=236#sthash.0IQCaFg1.dpuf

Cue the Violins

One of the most often-heard remarks around the California Arts Council office has, for years, been: “That’s a Scott question.”

What should we do if … Have we ever … How do we … Which artist is … When is the deadline for … Where is … How much is … Do we have a … Those are all “Scott questions,” and they pop up every day.

Scott William Heckes has served the California Arts Council in one capacity or another for over thirty years. He presently serves as our Deputy Director, wearing several hats including Chief of Administration and Chief of Programs. You know the old adage that “nobody is indispensible?” It’s not true. Scott Heckes is indispensible. And we’re about to lose him.

Cue the violins.


A career in the arts was not on Scott’s radar as he grew up in Sacramento. He entered Sacramento State University as a criminal justice major—having seen one too many episodes of “Starsky and Hutch.” It became clear after just a few courses, however, that criminal justice was not what he’d envisioned while watching all those great 70s cop shows. Scott, no longer certain of his direction, changed his major to business. He figured that would be applicable to just about anything.

Meanwhile, his sister was majoring in art history and some of his friends were studying visual arts. They had an art history class scheduled during a time when Scott had a break between classes, so he tagged along. Scott ended up auditing the class. He loved it so much that he actually participated in class, even though he was not officially enrolled.

photo by Janice Burgoyne Hess
Scott in college – Photo by Janice Burgoyne Hess

A friend who was interested in public relations invited Scott to join the Associated Students’ Concert Committee—an arm of student government responsible for bringing artists to perform at Sacramento State. The Concert Committee sounded like fun, and it was. The first event Scott helped to organize brought mimes Shields and Yarnell to perform in the men’s gymnasium. As Scott and his friends plunged into the work, the importance, prestige and power of the Concert Committee grew. They booked Peter Frampton, Pablo Cruise, The Ramones, Pat Metheny … exciting stuff. Scott began to dream of becoming the next Bill Graham.

concert committee 1981
Concert Committee, 1981 (Scott hugging knee) — Photo by Janice Burgoyne Hess

It wasn’t a far-fetched idea. Scott became Production Chairman and excelled at handling all the details, from security arrangements to stage setup. The Concert Committee grew so vital to the campus that classes would be canceled to enable the acts they booked to have private access to the gym’s locker rooms. Scott received valuable experience in juggling details, making things happen, remaining calm under pressure, soothing prima donnas, learning quickly on the job, and appreciating great artistry—all of which came in handy later, as he morphed into the central cog in the CAC machine.

During his last semester at Sacramento State, Scott interned at the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission. At this point, he had never heard of the California Arts Council or even the National Endowment for the Arts—but the head of Sacramento State’s art department, Phil Hitchcock (who had recommended Scott for the SMAC internship), clued him in. In December of 1983, Scott received bachelor’s degrees in both Business and Communications. And in March of 1984, he came to the California Arts Council. No positions were available, and paid internships were only given to students who were still enrolled, not to graduates. So Scott volunteered.


For the next two years, Scott worked at the California Arts Council part time without pay. He supported himself by working nights at Weinstock’s Department Store and part time for the IDEA Gallery as Operations Manager. Meanwhile, the CAC repaid his energy, his dedication, and his intelligence by training him, and treating him, as if he were staff. Scott coordinated a site visit program with Ray Tatar, who was then our Theater Specialist. But when it came time to give oversight of this program to an intern, the job was handed to one of the official, paid interns – a student.

At about the same time, Dance Specialist Anne Smith was leaving the CAC to start a consulting business in San Francisco. At Anne’s invitation, Scott moved to San Francisco to work as an arts consultant, leaving us bereft. We totally deserved it.

Scott began working half time at Anne Smith’s consulting business and half time as operations manager for Rosa Montoya’s Bailes Flamenco. But while he was in San Francisco, the CAC “posted an exam”—governmentspeak for “announced a job opening.” We will be forever grateful that Scott took the exam. He jumped through the hoops with his customary flair, and we were finally able to offer him a position.

Scott began working full-time for the California Arts Council in November of 1986 as an Assistant Arts Grants Administrator in the State/Local Partnership Program. It’s difficult, in these lean years, to picture this, but we have it on excellent authority (Scott’s) that in those days the SLP program employed three full-time arts specialists and a secretary. And while working on the SLP program, Scott visited every single California county (yes, Modoc, we’re looking at you).


Over the next three decades or so, Scott brought his unique skill set to every facet of this agency. He worked in Organizational Support, eventually becoming the Manager of Organizational Support and overseeing nine discipline categories. As Organizational Support Manager, Scott attended every panel—and in those days, there were many. He says, “You really got a sense of what was happening artistically in the state.”

Operations Manager, 1996

But he did more. Scott served as a Visual Arts Specialist. He worked on the Art in Public Buildings program, tying up loose ends after the program was discontinued. He briefly managed the Touring and Presenting program. He was promoted to Assistant Chief of Programs (a title he shared with the legendary Josie Talamantez, who oversaw a different set of programs). And during the budget trauma of 2002-2004, when the California Arts Council lost 94% of its funding and most of its staff, Scott was asked to step in and serve as Chief of Administration.

This was a time of high anxiety. Layoffs are always traumatic, particularly at this scale. But Scott reports that the skills and flexibility the staff acquired while working here served them well. All the CAC staffers who were targeted for layoff found jobs in other state agencies during the six-month warning period, leaving the CAC with nobody to let go at the end of the process. And as time went on and the agency learned how to make do with less, some of them came back. “Nobody quits the CAC,” says Scott—and he ought to know, since he has been a large part of what makes this agency such a stellar place to work.

scott king
Scott, king of the Christmas potlucks

Scott’s role at this agency has been unique. We have benefited from the talents of dedicated programs staff with similar longevity, and accounting personnel who have been with us for years, but only Scott has bridged those two sides of the agency by working as a programs staffer—and on so many programs!—and also working in administration, rising to the management level in both areas.

When Scott stepped into the Chief of Administration role, chaos reigned. Our budget had been slashed, the person who had filled the job before him was gone, and there was no one to train him. Scott found himself in a brand new position of intense responsibility with no mentor, no reference materials, and no clear path forward. The word he uses to describe the situation is “harrowing.” Scott vowed that whoever his successor was, he would not leave that person similarly adrift. He has kept a careful, clearly-organized paper trail “from Day One – for better or worse,” he says, ruefully surveying his neatly-labeled, but thoroughly intimidating, stacks of deadlines and instructions.

Scott desk
Deputy Director: Be careful what you wish for

For all good things must come to an end, and Scott Heckes is retiring. His last day in the office will be July 30th. Scott’s present position is Deputy Director, and as the agency has evolved, more and more of its reins ended up in his capable hands. He now serves (unofficially) as both Chief of Administration and Chief of Programs in addition to his responsibilities as Deputy Director. Only Scott could wear all three hats at once.


What makes Scott unique? His dual perspective as an arts programs person and an administrative wiz. His ability to bring order out of chaos. And his pure, disinterested love of the arts.

By “disinterested,” we mean that Scott’s love for the arts—particularly visual arts—is completely free of ego. He claims no talent of his own. He does not paint. He does not sing. He does not sculpt, or act, or dance, or play an instrument. And yet his eyes light up when a new gallery catalog comes through the door. He has collected so much art over the years that wall space is a major consideration when house hunting. His admiration for our panelists is deep and sincere. We have seen him absolutely star-struck over the chance to meet and work with artists we’ve barely heard of. Scott knows them all. Loves them all. And inspires everyone around him with his contagious enthusiasm, arcane knowledge, and the joy of appreciation.

Of course we asked him what his best memory was. And of course it was hard for him to pick just one. But one experience was a stand-out.

During his intern days, Anne Smith gave him tickets to the Joffrey Ballet at the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco. Scott had never been to the ballet. He had also never been to the War Memorial. But Anne knew Scott’s love of early twentieth century arts and this particular ballet was the Joffrey’s revival of Leonide Massine’s Parade, featuring elaborate sets and costumes designed by Picasso. “Trust me,” said Anne. “You’ll love it.”

Scott arrived at the War Memorial not knowing quite what to expect. To his surprise, he was greeted at will-call and personally escorted to the Director’s Box. Scott was half afraid he was going to be “found out” somehow…after all, he was just an intern! But apparently there was no mistake. He and his friend Kelly took their seats amid the grandeur of the War Memorial theater and drank it all in. When the orchestra began playing, right in front of them, and the huge velvet curtain rose to reveal a breathtaking scrim designed by Picasso, Scott felt overwhelmed. The music, the visual elements, and the movement all combined in an unforgettable, transformative experience that has stayed with him ever since.

Picasso’s curtain for the ballet “Parade”

Scott says, “This job has been a true education for me.” All we can say is, we’re glad the California Arts Council was able to provide it. We’re stamping an “A+” on your forehead and sending you off to new adventures and, we hope, many more unforgettable, transformative encounters with the arts.

Bon voyage, dear friend.

Scott with Josie Talamantez at the Capitol, 2004

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