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Other voices: California arts are an investment in our future

Michael Alexander and Malissa Feruzzi Shriver

Friday, Oct. 5, marks the seventh annual California Arts Day in our Golden State. It’s time for Californians to sit up and take notice.

California has the most arts-related businesses in the nation, employing more than 420,000 at last count. Studies indicate that creativity and innovation will be essential as the U.S. competes in the global marketplace. What will differentiate the U.S. from foreign competitors will be innovation and creativity – two qualities that require a robust artistic atmosphere.

Web design, architecture, urban planning, multimedia, tourism, communications and computer graphics are a small sampling of careers that require creativity and the innovation of the arts – the reason why the arts are considered a core subject in school.



“Teach sculpture with clay first, and once students have clay under their fingernails, they can start on the computer,” says Randy Nelson, dean of Pixar Animation Studio’s learning facility. “Without a firm grounding in the arts, they’ll miss art’s major lessons.”

Educators know that the visual and performing arts can motivate students who might otherwise lose interest in other core subjects. Law enforcement officials recognize that the arts play a significant role in providing a solution for youthful apathy and anger.




“If kids accomplish something like arts and music, they’re more inclined not to give up later on,” says San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey. “I support the arts because I want fewer people in my jail.”

Young adults who participated in the arts in their youth emphasize that lives can be forever changed by the arts. “A lot of these kids are used to listening to gunfire in their neighborhoods every night,” said Rachael Clarke, an Inside Out Community Arts participant who returned to the L.A.-based nonprofit as a mentor to Teaching Theatre magazine. “When you’re working on your play, or doing an improv, or painting a set, you get to put all that stuff aside.”

The governor and Legislature have made steps toward bringing arts back into our schools by slating more than $100 million annually for arts education. But recent studies indicate almost one-third of California public schools offer no visual or performing arts at all. Parents can help ensure that schools provide music, theater, dance and visual arts training by talking to teachers, principals and educational boards about the importance of the arts and creativity in schools.

Of equal concern is the amount of arts investment in our communities. California has a vast network of professional nonprofit arts organizations – i.e., museums, theaters, galleries, choral groups, dance companies, orchestras, museums, festivals and hands-on arts facilities. In the past, the state recognized their importance in the creative fabric of our society and invested in these organizations through grant funding administered by the California Arts Council.

The council’s current budget of $5 million is a fraction of its 20-year average of $16.2 million (not adjusted for inflation) prior to the fiscal crisis in 2003. For some arts organizations, investment from the state made the difference between being solvent and going under. Arts organizations in rural areas and those serving low-income communities have had difficulty raising funds since the council’s budget cuts.

So to celebrate California Arts Day, go to your local schools, your local organizations and your local arts councils and commissions and get actively involved in your creative community. Many organizations will be offering discounts and free tickets as part of California Arts Day and National Arts and Humanities Month to encourage newcomers to the arts to take part. But the real message behind the day is the important role that arts, culture and creativity have in our communities, in our schools and in our society.

California comes alive with the arts. Let’s keep it that way.

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Michael Alexander is the chair and Malissa Feruzzi Shriver the vice chair of the California Arts Council


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