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July 02, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, July 02, 2004

Arts leader speaks at CSMA Arts leader speaks at CSMA (July 02, 2004)

California native discusses current state of arts in state, nation

By David Herbert

Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, spoke to a crowd at the Community School of Music and Arts (CSMA) in Mountain View last Sunday, addressing the state of the arts in the nation and outlining his vision for the agency.

"The NEA is one of the most noble aspirations of this republic," Gioia, himself a California native, said to a collection of Silicon Valley artists, educators and philanthropists. However, he continued, the agency became the main battlefield in a nationwide culture war during the 1990s as conflicting political, religious and social ideologies dueled, and its budget was slashed. On the state level, too, budget squeezes have led to a 60 percent decrease of arts funding over the last three years.

"In general, Silicon Valley arts organizations are feeling the crunch in both public and private funding," said Brisen Brady, who is development director for CSMA.

The California Arts Council (CAC), a state-funded agency which distributes money to artists, had its budget slashed by 94 percent last year. Bay Area arts funding organizations independently cut their budgets by 33 percent as well. Despite its wealth, California is not adequately supporting the arts, Brady said.

"We are the fifth-largest economy in the world, but we rank dead last in the United States for per capita funding for the arts," she said.

Gioia acknowledged that another obstacle facing California artists was the widespread prejudice within the East Coast artistic community towards the West Coast. Part of this bias, he said, comes from the natural rivalries between centers of power and the fact that the arts tend to be urban and centralized in the East, whereas the arts community out West is "atomized." The Golden State, Gioia added, is partly responsible for this prejudice.

"California tends to be too apologetic," he said.

Whatever financial hurdles lie ahead, however, Silicon Valley artists are keeping their heads up and looking for reasons to be hopeful. The CAC, for example, is slated to receive a $2-million budget increase next year, Brady said.

Gioia has a reason to be optimistic, too: Congress is expected to pass a $10-million increase for the NEA.

E-mail David Herbert at [email protected]

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