The California Arts Council is back on the state Legislature’s chopping block , but arts advocates are gearing up to build support to save the state agency.

An Assembly bill was introduced this week that would abolish the agency; Gov. Pete Wilson, as part of his early budget recommendations, has raised the idea of slashing CAC’s budget in half for 1993-94 and privatizing the org by 1995.

Currently CAC gets $ 12.7 million in state support plus $ 1 million from the National Endowment for the Arts. If the org were privatized, the impact on the state’s already financially stressed arts community could be devastating.

“We’re undoubtedly faced with a huge battle,” said Jennifer West of the California Confederation for the Arts. They are taking their cause to state legislators, corporations and the entertainment industry.

For one thing, if the CAC were no longer receiving state monies, it would not be legally able to distribute the NEA funds it receives. Those funds must be matched by the state.

“Actually, there are two versions of next year’s budget being considered,” said CAC exec director Joanne Kozberg. “One has us at a flat budget with this current year, with possibly a 15% cut, and then there is a discussion document from the governor that talks about privatization.

“What we’re trying to do is flesh out the pros and cons of that idea,” she said. “But by no means is it a fait accompli.”

The CAC funds such things as artist-in-residence programs, arts programs in the schools and touring and presenting programs for rural areas and the inner cities.

A large portion of CAC monies are handed out as matching grants as a means of stimulating private arts funding in the state. “Our $ 13 million actually generates $ 23 million for the arts,” Kozberg said.

Yet, as West noted, the state’s private sector is already pushed to its limit in recessionary times.

“This isn’t the time to cut off the public side,” West said.

Nonetheless, state legislators will begin a lengthy process this month to pound out a budget, which may end up being one of the roughest they have ever seen.

As one state insider noted, “It is just gruesome this year.”

Kozberg agreed, saying that the economic choices the state is faced with this year are “dreadful.

“It’s always very difficult when the arts are placed in a position where it comes down to whether you are going to fund education, social services or the arts,” she said. “We believe the arts are part of both education and social service.”

Yet getting that idea across to legislators is an uphill battle, she said.

“I believe a lot of people have a misunderstanding of what the arts council does and the role the arts play in California. We put $ 4 million into arts education last year, which raised another $ 7 million from the private sector. You cut that $ 4 million and you’ve lost $ 11 million.”

Just last summer, as the state’s legislature was fighting over the budget, the CAC was again a prime target. It managed to survive, sustaining a 15% cut in its budget.

In an effort to make up some of the cuts of recent years, the CAC is taking part in a new artistic license plate program. The plates, which will go on sale the first week in March, will be sold at $ 20 each, with all money raised going to the CAC’s arts-in-education program.

For personalized plates, it’s an additional $ 40, with those funds going to environmental concerns.

Kozberg is hoping the program will raise $ 2 million for the CAC.

“This is just one indication that we’ve been looking at alternatives to supplement our budget,” she said. “As our state is devastated by the current economic situation, we’re trying to be creative.”

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