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Arts council fears cuts but remains hopeful

John HartPenelope Curtis (left), executive director of the Nevada County Arts Council, and Tony Hardwick, president of the board of directors, ponder state budget cuts.
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Facing impending budget cuts, Nevada County Arts Council representatives could easily say they were handed the proverbial lemon.

The Nevada County Arts Council lost 25 percent of California Arts Council grant funds in fiscal year 2002-2003, which decreases the local nonprofit organization’s state-derived income from $41,000 to $30,000. The slashed funds went to the Nevada County Arts Council’s operating expenses, including salary, office rent, marketing and programming.

With the currently unresolved state budget, the local arts council funds will invariably be cut yet again.



That unwelcome news, though, didn’t sour funding conversations by the local arts advocacy organization last week. Instead of dwelling on the cuts, Nevada County Arts Council Executive Director Penelope Curtis and board President Tony Hardwick enthusiastically agreed the state’s budget crisis motivates them to educate politicians and business owners about the arts’ fiscal importance.

“Part of what we have to do is share figures that show what arts and entertainment bring into Nevada County,” said Hardwick, a jazz musician, glass artist and writer. “It impacts the state big time; some politicians don’t understand that.”




Curtis pointed to a two-week-old preliminary study that indicates Nevada County nonprofit arts organizations had an economic impact of more than $15 million in calendar year 2001.

The conservative figures were compiled by Sierra Economic Development District Chief Executive Officer/President Betty Riley, who is also the Nevada County Arts Council’s board secretary.

“Cutting out the arts is the worst economic plan. Arts are one of the biggest generators for the economy. A lot of visitors come up here for Foothill Theatre, Music in the Mountains, Center for the Arts, St. Joseph’s and the Schoolhouse event, Fairgrounds events like the World Music Festival,” Curtis said. “If they’re from out of town, they’re going to eat in town, maybe sleep over, buy gas, buy gifts, do all sorts of things.”

In addition to buying tickets for area events, a visitor will spend about another $23 per day, Curtis estimates. If the visitor stays overnight, add lodging expenses to the mix.

“Part of the education process is that the artists are manufacturers. We have a product to sell. We’re now thinking as a business,” Hardwick said.

That new way requires finding nongovernmental funding.

“We’re trying to think out of the box and jump out of the old paradigm with creative solutions,” Hardwick offered, “such as year-round art classes for youth and Art Trek day trips and overnight trips.”

The Nevada County Arts Council will also continue successful programs, including the second annual Listen2Jazz Summer Camp in July for all ages and levels, Festival of the Arts on Memorial Weekend (cosponsored by Grass Valley Downtown Association) and the annual Western Nevada County Open Studio Tours in October.

“We’re very positive. We had a very good board meeting on Jan. 27. Board members were very enthusiastic about looking for income-generating projects,” a hopeful Curtis said. “We’re looking at ways to collaborate with other arts organizations and venues. We will start going forward.”

This collaboration will spill over to the arts council-sponsored town hall meetings the third Wednesday of the month at the Miners Foundry Cultural Center in Nevada City. Arts organizations’ representatives, artists and interested community members network at 5 p.m., followed by the 5:30 general meeting.

Defining the Nevada County Arts Council as an umbrella organization for at least 40 area arts groups, Hardwick pointed out that the council’s “quest is to call attention to the plight of all the organizations.

“The public can help, especially during this crisis, by attending performances and supporting the arts. Get out more and have fun,” Hardwick said. “We’re all so busy focusing on the economics, but we don’t want to lose sight of how the arts enriches life. Many people moved to this area because of our talented artists, theater groups and music performances. The arts just makes life more bearable during these difficult times, especially when you turn on the TV and all you hear about is war.”

For the current fiscal year (2002-2003), local groups awarded organizational support program grants last September are the California Indian Basketweavers Association, Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra, Foothill Theatre Company, North Columbia Schoolhouse Cultural Center, Performing Arts Guild, Twin Cities Concert Association and Music in the Mountains, each at $4,000; and the Nevada County Composers Coalition at $2,000.

California Arts Council Communications and Marketing Director Adam Gottlieb said those eight organizations have already received 75 percent of the funding since the money is traditionally awarded in stages. With the current budget crisis, it’s likely those grantees will lose five percent of the total sum.

If Gov. Gray Davis’ proposed 2003-2004 budget is approved by the Legislature, Gottlieb said the total CAC grants budget for nonprofit arts organizations will be reduced approximately in half, to $8 million. That equates to funding at about 33 cents per capita, down from nearly a dollar two years ago.

Gottlieb said regardless of the budget cuts outcome, the arts are very resilient even in this unique financial climate.

“For the first time in modern history, all five revenue streams are simultaneously down – corporate funding, government funding, foundation funding, individual donations and earned income (ticket sales),” Gottlieb said. “It is a tragic alignment of the stars. What we’re trying to do is position the arts community so that when recovery happens, the arts will be strong and ready to rebound.”

In other words, organizations need to economize, i.e., a theater company scaling back its office hours or an organization’s workers sharing custodial duties.

Organizations should also educate elected officials, said Gottlieb, acknowledging that Nevada County arts representatives are doing just that.

“It’s our responsibility to show the governor and the Legislature the value of the arts,” Gottlieb explained, “which is a $16.75 billion economic engine, excluding the entertainment industry. The arts are a catalyst for economic growth. The arts count for more than 400,000 full-time equivalent jobs, and the economic engine known as arts and culture generates $830 million in state income in the form of fees and income and sales taxes.”

Estimating at least 10,000 full-time and part-time artists are in Nevada County, Curtis hopes artists get behind her organization’s push to inform the state’s legislators.

“The California Arts Council funding went from $32 million two years ago to the current proposed budget of $8 million,” Curtis said. “But nothing has been said about cutting out funds to build a death row prison for $220 million. The new prison is so inmates won’t have to share a cell. We pay $26,000 to house these people; they get three good meals and now a room to themselves. The real generator of income is not prisons but the arts. The governor’s budget reflects cuts to the arts. It’s so incredibly lopsided.”

How to help

Penelope Curtis (left), executive director of the Nevada County Arts Council, and Tony Hardwick, president of the board of directors, ponder state budget cuts.

Meeting set

3The Impact of the Arts on California1s Economy² will be the topic of the Joint Committee on the Arts meeting from 10 a.m. to noon, Feb. 7, at State Capitol, Room 4203.

California Arts Council Director Barry Hessenius will speak at the meeting chaired by Sen. Jack Scott (D-Altadena).

Terry Taylor-Solario, president and CEO of the California Travel Industry Association; Moy Eng, arts program officer for the Hewitt Foundation; Dr. Richard Florida via video, Carnegie-Mellon University professor and 3The Rise of the Creative Class² author; and a Mexican Federal Cultural program representative will also speak.

California Arts Council Communications and Marketing Director Adam Gottlieb said the public is welcome to attend.


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