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Cash-strapped California Arts Council pays it forward

Rock Band Workshop, an after school program at LeConte Middle School in Hollywood, is funded by the California Arts Council.
Rock Band Workshop, an after school program at LeConte Middle School in Hollywood, is funded by the California Arts Council.
California Arts Council

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The California Arts Council is funding new public school, youth, and community-building arts programs with an unexpected $2 million donated by State Assembly Speaker John Perez from a pot of state funds under his control.

After debate at its meeting last week, the council decided to spend the bulk of the new cash to fund non-profits trying to build a sense of community through festivals and urban arts efforts, through a program called "Creative California Communities: Transforming Communities Through the Arts."

But a big chunk – about $600,000 - will go to classrooms. Half will fund a collaboration with the California Department of Education to improve arts education in elementary and middle schools through a program called: "The Arts in Turnaround Schools in California: Creating Successful Schools through Arts Education."

The other half will be used to train teachers to infuse the arts into classroom work in line with the new learning standards known as the Common Core. That program is called "Creativity at the Core: Powerful Arts Teaching and Learning in the Common Core."

The arts council is also dedicating funds to arts programs for troubled and incarcerated teens through the new program "JUMP StARTS: Juveniles Utilizing Massive Potential Starting with Arts."

About $15,000 will go to fund a cultural exchange program with China.

The art council’s chairman told the Los Angeles Times he hopes the approach builds “goodwill” with run of the mill Californians.

Thirteen years ago, during the dot com boom, the art council's budget was about $32 million, mostly from state funds.

Since then, Sacramento has been slashing arts council funding, despite efforts by advocates to convince policymakers that investment in the arts fuels an important engine in California's economy.

The state legislature allotted the council $1,070,000 from the general fund this year.

The art council's budget last year - made up of state, federal, and grant funds - was about $5.5 million. This year, it's $5.2 million, according to the group.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the council had failed to secure $1 million from state legislators for this year’s budget and used an out-of-date budget figure. The story also omitted the first part of the art council program name, “Creative California Communities: Transforming Communities Through the Arts.” KPCC regrets the errors.