ArtsVoice to revamp county Arts Council

By Carolyn Barbre

The Arts Council of Tulare County (ACTC) website hasn't been updated since early 2002, and the information is pretty bare bones as follows: "We are the Arts Council of Tulare County, a nonprofit organization. We partner with the state-funded, California Arts Council headquartered in Sacramento. We are an umbrella for all the art associations in and around the county. We write grants to help support local artists display their works and we have a wonderful Arts in Education program that is sponsored by the Tulare County Office of Education. We regrant artists of all types - musicians, visual artists, theater companies, storytellers, dancers and more - to perform assemblies, class lessons, and workshops in the schools. We have a partnership with the Visalia Convention Center, which enables us to exhibit local artists' works in rotation, every three months, in their accommodating hallways."

They give their new location and invite artists to visit and show with them. There are no graphics, no color, nothing like how you might expect an arts council website to look.

A story in the Visalia Times-Delta from Aug. 8, 2003 stated that the Arts Council of Tulare County staff was downsized to one person and office hours reduced to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, because of budget cuts in Sacramento.

The California Arts Council had been funding 58 city and county arts councils throughout the state, but its budget in fiscal 2002-03 was $3.1 million, down from a high of more than 430 million in 2000-01. Gov. Schwarzenegger is expected to keep it at this amount this year, placing the Golden State last in the nation in per capita spending for the arts by state governments.

What the ACTC suggested in the Times-Delta article, was that readers should send in a buck or two, the same way the Chaffee Zoo is getting funding. There was no follow-up but it seemed like a stretch.

Jim Thompson, a "volunteer" with ACTC, is heading up a subgroup, ArtsVoice 2004. "We're just trying to reinvent the Arts Council of Tulare County because the funding for the California Arts Council has dried up on account of the budget crisis," Thompson said. He said he didn't want to sound negative. He said the county is trying to become self-sustaining and the California Arts Council wants local art agencies to become self-sustaining, "So we apparently timed it just right."

Thompson said the California Arts Council is "pretty confident that the funding will come back again, but it may take a couple of years." He also said they talked about moving the California Arts Council under the department of libraries which sounds like a really, really bad idea, given the fragile situation with library funding, but apparently they changed their minds.

"We want to be in position in this county to fit right into the new process with the California Arts Council. We want to have a strong, viable Arts Council for Tulare County, in order to take advantage of the new way of doing things," Thompson said.

Carole Firstman, with ACTC, said it is an umbrella group to secure funding sources and to regrant to smaller groups. She said they also giving technical assistance to the smaller groups, taking an advocacy stand for arts in general and just being there as a resource of information.

"So ArtsVoice is really more of a temporary group. All of the members of the current Tulare County Arts Council are in ArtsVoice." She said they just put out general invitation to all the other arts groups in Tulare County saying, "Lets talk about what arts should and could be doing for our county. Lets talk about all of your individual groups."

Firstman is also heading up First Saturday Arts Market in Visalia. (See related story on page ??)

Thompson said the group that has come together with the county has identified several things that could bolster ACTC. He said, in order of importance they were: a collaboration of arts groups; marketing for the arts; forming partnerships with businesses and corporations; and promoting arts as a social asset.

Thompson decried the lack of public art and arts awareness in the county, despite a large number of excellent local artists. He said there is an organization called the California Assembly of Local Arts Agencies (CALAA) mandated to go out and see if they can help local arts agencies during the budget slump. Thompson said they [CALAA] are meeting with the Irvine Foundation and other foundations to get some money to hold regional meetings for the Ars Council of Tulare County.

CALAA is a non-profit member-supported organization representing the state's 250 local arts agencies. CALAA defines local arts agencies as community organizations (private), or agencies of local government (public) which provide services, support, or other programs for a variety of arts organizations and/or individual artists, and the community as a whole. CALAA's members are organizations and individuals who use the arts as a tool in the pursuit of community development goals. The membership includes local arts agencies, professional arts administrators, arts organizations, arts and business consultants, individual artists, board members, community leaders, arts patrons, funding organizations, students and other people interested in the arts.

He said Al Mateland, Executive Director of CALAA, facilitated the first meeting and will facilitate the next two.

Mateland said the conference calls he had with ACTC leading up to the first meeting were "profound." He said because he has no vested interest in how things turn out, he is free to introduce new ideas and enjoy new relationships, noting that some people were harboring old resentments that prevented them from moving ahead. He was promoting cultural tourism and the integration of Latino and Native-American (or Mexican-American and Indian) art in a way that wasn't there before.

"When the economy crashes it provides the opportunity to do new things," he observed.

Mateland hasn't yet visited Lindsay, but he said he would like to. He said Visalia was a natural for marketing the arts with its beautiful convention center. "I commend Jim Thompson in taking a lead in this," he said.

Mateland recounted the fact that the majority of tourism in California is within the state or by Californians. He suggested reading a book the Sierra Business Council put together called "Investing in Prosperity: Building Successful Communities and Economies in the Sierra Nevada."

It is reviewed on the SBC website as "A new guide to economic and community development that offers hundreds of ways to achieve prosperity in fast-growing rural regions. One of the book's key findings is that communities in the Sierra Nevada can diversify and expand their economies in ways that were never possible over the last 150 years, thanks to new technologies and the market premium put on the Sierra's natural assets and livable communities." They offer a number of other books about the Sierras including "Planning for Prosperity."

"They followed the arts dollars and related them to all the other issues including transportation, environmental concerns, education, and showed how those things weave together to make our cultural arts fabric more important than art or tourism by themselves," Mateland said about "Investing in Prosperity."

He said he believes Tulare County is poised to do great things because of its various elements. The question is how to link city growth with county growth with arts education, including the Latino culture.

"My role is to bring the research and studies that will back up the steps they want to take. It doesn't matter how many zeros are at the end of the budget, we're looking at the same problem." He said cultural tourism accounts for one of every four dollars generated in the California economy.

"People want to see open studio sessions, want to see art in public places." He said there is no need to bring in a structure from outside, that it needs to grow from within.

"My other goal is to convince county boards of supervisors that developing space for artists is an economically sound investment." Mateland said creating space for at-risk populations or trading space gets the various groups to unify behind a vision.

"The purpose of the ArtsVoice meetings is to get everyone on the same page," Thompson said.

When the Gazette offered to attend the next meeting in May and give ArtsVoice 2004 some publicity, Thompson said that would not be a good idea. He said the June meeting would be "where the rubber hits the road."

Actually we had already been invited to the May 15 ArtsVoice 2004 meeting by Lindsay photographer Dave Thompson who is a new member of their board.

"We're asking the people in every facet of the community that is involved or concerned with art to come forth with their input. The goal of ArtsVoice is to assist in making sure that art is a viable part of your community, not just dessert at the end of the week, or a reward when the important things are done, but actually a substantial part of the world around you," Dave said.

"I feel art is just as important to a healthy human being as air, food, water and safety. And there are myriad studies showing how having art included in education makes better human beings. The sad fact is that whenever there's a budget constraint in education, usually the first things to go are art and music and theater. It's a drag."

Dave tossed out a lot of statistics on how art improves youngsters' abilities in math and many other things, "making a more complete, competent adult."

He said the first thing ArtsVoice 2004 determined is that there are a lot of organizations that have been around the South Valley a long time, but a lot of art groups don't realize that neighboring art groups exist. Therefore, people frequently feel slighted or left out which is not intentional, just that other organizations didn't know they were there - which is a good reason to get on with the news coverage about ArtsVoice activities and goals.

The next open forum meeting is May 15 at the Visalia Convention Center. According to Dave, anyone who has input or a concept to share, including artists, art teachers, administrators, members of art groups, or just a concerned citizen that cares about art in the community is invited.

He said it is all being done in a very democratic way.

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