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.

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

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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