California Governor Gavin Newsom
California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the 2021-2022 budget on July 12.

What is it worth to the state of California to have a thriving not-for-profit arts and culture scene? The traditional answer is “not much,” if you look at actual allocations rather than rhetoric: The California Arts Council has been woefully underfunded for decades.

Great Seal of California

But with state government determined to spend whatever is needed to stimulate the pandemic-weakened economy, that attitude has abruptly shifted. The 2021–2022 state budget, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on July 12, invests more than $600 million in the cultural sector of the economy, according to an analysis by the advocacy group Californians for the Arts.

“This is the largest historical appropriation of funding to arts and culture in California ever,” said Julie Baker, the organization’s executive director.

“While the arts suffered more than most industries during the pandemic, it is heartening to know our sector has been seen and recognized for our valuable contributions both to California’s economic recovery and to our overall emotional health and wellness.”

Among the budget’s highlights:

  • $128 million to the California Arts Council, the state agency tasked with supporting arts and culture.
  • $150 million to live-event venues, including minor-league sports.
  • $50 million to the Natural Resources Agency for grants to museums.
  • $50 million to small, nonprofit arts organizations for “workforce development,” which should help these groups comply with the 2020 law that classifies more of their workers as employees rather than contractors. The money can be used for pay and benefits, as well as recruitment and training.

A $128 million budget is unheard of for the Arts Council, which had a budget of $26 million for 2020–2021, according to an earlier Californians for the Arts analysis. That amount was actually an increase from past years: The agency’s 2013–2014 budget was an astonishingly low $5.2 million.

A sizable chunk of this year’s money — $40 million — is dedicated to Creative Youth Development grants, which help fund arts education and training programs. That’s a huge increase from the $12 million distributed in those grants last year.

Another $1.7 million has been budgeted for San Francisco’s National LGBTQ Center for the Arts. KQED reports that money will be used to install a new air filtration and circulation system, a vital need in the pandemic era.

In addition, $60 million has been allocated over the next three years to fund the California Creative Corps, a program that began this past January in San Francisco as a way to use artists to encourage proper public-health practices during the pandemic. In the expanded program, artists will continue that effort and create campaigns to encourage water and energy conservation and civic engagement, including voting.

The state budget includes nearly $238 million to 81 organizations and governmental agencies that is earmarked for specific projects, most of which involve culture or the arts in some way. These include:

  • $3,000,000 for capital improvements for the San Diego Symphony.
  • $8,000,000 to the Debbie Allen Dance Academy to support a new facility.
  • $14,900,000 to the City of Los Angeles for restoration of the Breed Street Shul, an architecturally and historically important synagogue built in 1923.
  • $1,600,000 to the City of Pasadena for Pasadena Playhouse HVAC upgrades.
  • $1,000,000 to the Chinese Cultural Center of San Francisco for grants combating anti-Asian hate.
  • $400,000 to the City of Pittsburg for the historic California Theatre renovation.
  • $5,000,000 to the City and County of San Francisco for Improvements to Peace Plaza at Buchanan Center Mall, Japantown.
  •  $1,000,000 for Capital Public Radio for equipment and seating for public performance space at 1010 8th Street in downtown Sacramento.

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