The devastation wrought by the pandemic has paved the way for a once-in-a-lifetime windfall for the arts in Orange County and throughout California, thanks to a fiscal year state budget for 2021-22 which allocates some $615 million in funds, including more than $120 million in funding for the state’s designated arts agency, the California Arts Council (CAC).

Bipartisan support within the state legislature led directly to increases that took effect on July 1, 2021, the start of the new fiscal year. A surplus of $76 billion and another $27 billion in federal aid paved the way for an operating budget of $262.6 billion and kicked open a door for legislators to address urgent needs throughout the state in the areas of culture and the arts.

The consensus is that the increased funding of the arts is an investment not only in the CAC’s mission to strengthen the arts, culture and creative expression – all of which are vital tools in cultivating a California in which everyone sees and realizes benefits on multiple levels – but also by giving a leg up in areas like staffing and for pilot and development programs.

Rick Stein, CEO of Arts Orange County Credit: Photo courtesy of ArtsOC

Richard Stein, president and CEO of Arts Orange County (ArtsOC), said the funding “will target several different sectors” of the arts, “such as cultural institutions, museums and venues of various sizes” and that it’s also designed to assist “specific constituencies, such as youth and people of color.”

Obvious areas meant to realize benefits from the spending are performing arts organizations large and small, while entities such as symphony orchestras and dance academies, which might not normally be on the radar, are also in line for assistance.

Stein emphasized the importance of understanding that the advocacy of numerous arts organizations in helping to effect the recent legislation “was not solely about funding: We also sought to get clarification on safety protocols that would enable arts venues to reopen, as there was urgency to being able to have live performances again but there was delayed response by the state to the kind of protocols the field was proposing.”

In a very real sense, the massive levels of arts funding and the calamitous effects of the pandemic are conjoined. The closure of arts venues had a devastating impact that infusions of monetary support will help to offset. As Voice of OC spoke with those at the forefront of this effort, it became clear that no one is in a position to predict the results of relief funding.

Determining Levels of Loss – and Possible Remedies

California has been hit especially hard. The state’s Department of Labor reports that in the six-month period from March to August of 2020, the combined fields of arts, entertainment and recreation accounted for 40.3% of job losses statewide.

In hearings held in February 2021, Julie Baker testified that one-third of California’s arts sector was displaced from work – more than 450,000 jobs that account for an estimated cumulative economic loss of $45 billion. Baker is executive director of two sister statewide organizations, Californians for the Arts (CFTA) and California Arts Advocates (CAA).

Baker said CFTA/CAA gathered its own data and drew upon research conducted by Americans for the Arts and Beacon Economics to determine the levels of financial assistance written into the legislation. The data, she said, showed “a disproportionate impact to the field and the economic impact of healthy arts industries for every community in California.” She said CFTA/CAA worked in conjunction with the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA) California and the state’s Association of Museums to lobby for sizable investment in the arts.

“Until we get through the pandemic,” Baker said, “we won’t really know the overall damage it has caused. With audiences still wary to gather and the Delta variant raging, arts are not fully back even without restrictions.”

State Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, spearheaded the efforts of a sizable coalition of leaders from throughout Orange County’s arts community to facilitate legislation that has resulted in historic levels of state funding for the arts. Credit: Photo courtesy of Jeff Walters, Democratic Communications and Outreach

Beginning in May of 2020, when the long-term damage of COVID-19 and responses to it became apparent, state Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, D-Fullerton, helped spearhead a coalition of arts advocates that included Baker, Stein and countless others committed to allowing the voices of the arts community to be heard.

Of all 50 states, Quirk-Silva said California “was hit hardest in terms of absolute losses for creative industries and occupations” (with New York right behind it), citing figures from an Otis Parsons analysis of the creative industries that showed losses of 2.7 million jobs and $150 billion in the sales of goods and services. Nearly half the jobs and one-quarter of the sales, the study showed, have been in the disciplines of the fine arts and performing arts.

In October 2020, Quirk-Silva was appointed chair of the state Assembly committee that represents not just arts and entertainment, but the related fields of sports, tourism and internet media. In that capacity, she was able to gather information to establish the specific needs of the arts.

On Feb. 2, 2021, in one of her first acts as chair, Quirk-Silva convened an informational hearing on “Restarting the Arts: Best Practices for Safely Re-Opening.” Representatives of the arts, entertainment, sport, tourism and internet media testified on the impact COVID has had within their respective industries.

Quirk-Silva said “museums, galleries and performance venues shared their experiences with the pandemic – especially the impact of the stay-at-home orders on their businesses and staffs as well as the artists themselves.”

How and Where New Arts Funding Will Be Used

The assemblywoman led her committee’s efforts to advance legislation and support requests for increased arts funding within the state budget. The collective efforts of Quirk-Silva, Baker, Stein and many others have resulted in significant allocations aimed at giving the arts in California a much-needed shot in the arm – what Quirk-Silva calls “a bold and momentous investment in the arts, culture and creative economy,” including:

  • $50 million to GO-Biz (the California Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development) for grants to small nonprofit performing arts organizations to help with workforce development, with grants of up to $75,000 based on the size of each organization’s budget;
  • $150 million to GO-Biz and CalOSBA (Office of Small Business Advocate) for live events venues and businesses, including nonprofits and minor league sports;
  • $237.7 million for arts and culture investments in local communities throughout the state, earmarked for specific organizations and programs in areas such as symphonies, dance academies, small businesses and community investment funds;
  • $128 million to California Arts Council.

Quirk-Silva notes that the California Arts Council spending is expected to have the most widespread impact upon the arts statewide. The budgeted sum includes $60 million for the agency to implement a California Creative Corps Pilot Program, $40 million for the agency’s Creative Youth Development program, and $28 million for local assistance programs and staffing.

The increase must be regarded as a huge boon to the agency, which as recently as the 2003-04 fiscal year had less than $1 million at its disposal to distribute statewide. In fact, during the course of a phone interview, Quirk-Silva repeatedly used the term “historic” in referring to the steps taken by the state’s governor and legislators in the steps taken to invest in the arts.

Stein said ArtsOC “played an active role in vigorously advocating for these funds, reaching out to all members of the O.C. state legislative delegation as well as the Congressional delegation for federal funding.” His work stretching back to May of last year yielded a COVID Response Report that has been continuously revised and reissued, most recently on July 15.

The organization’s newsletter, Stein said, provides a reliable means through which arts organizations throughout Orange County can receive the most up-to-date information and keep up with ongoing developments on a variety of fronts.

A highlight of the report is a breakdown of how and where the total of $7,752,123 million in relief funds to the Orange County arts community has been allocated. That sum is depicted in terms of two broad categories: $5,531,959 in funds advocated for by ArtsOC and granted by others, and $2,220,164 in funds advocated for and granted by ArtsOC.

Among the notable figures being reported: More than 138 arts organizations and businesses in 27 cities were awarded funding and more than 175 individual artists have received direct financial assistance.

The largest allocation is $5 million in arts relief funds under the American Rescue Plan Act – $1 million to each of Orange County’s five districts, brought about by ArtsOC’s advocacy among the Orange County Board of Supervisors. ArtsOC is managing the District 2 program, and Districts 1, 3, 4 and 5 are being managed by other organizations. Last year, ArtsOC also managed $500,000 of COVID-19 Arts Relief (the “CARES” Act) funds for District 3 and the same amount for the city of Santa Ana.

ArtsOC’s Stein pointed out that “specifics of the various new state funding programs … are in progress” and therefore “have largely not yet been crafted,” meaning that details connected with some of the funding aren’t yet available for those such as potential applicants who might be seeking additional information.

Complete details for all fiscal year 2021-22 California Arts Council general fund allocations can be found at this link:

Orange County Arts Leaders Weigh In

Late August saw the approval of $285,000 in California Arts Council grants to mostly smaller arts nonprofits in Orange County, including Media Arts Santa Ana (MASA) and the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA).

“My Mr. Wife” was one of dozens of entries into the 2019 edition of Viet Film Fest, presented by VAALA, which is now gearing up for its 2021 festival as a virtual event (Oct. 15-30). VAALA president Yvonne Tran said the organization will use funding it has slated to receive from the California Arts Council “primarily to hire and support our staff and artists who are essential in carrying out” programs such as the film festival. Credit: Photo courtesy of VAALA

Yvonne Tran, president of VAALA, said “increased funding for the arts by the state is crucial to the survival of VAALA. We used to receive a bulk of our funding from corporate, small business and individual donors, but all of these donors took a large hit during the pandemic. Many have either shifted their funding priorities towards health/basic needs or have no money in the budget for philanthropy because they are struggling to survive themselves. Thus, we are relying on federal, state and local grants to get us through the year and to hopefully build the foundation for our future.”

Tran said any state funding VAALA receives would be used “primarily to hire and support our staff and artists who are essential in carrying out our programs.” Portions of it “would also be invested in the technological infrastructure that would allow us to grow and sustain our organization.”

Victor Payan, MASA’s founder and director, said new funding “will provide critical resources to continue our work, to provide expanded programming and to reach more people” and that it would be used “to expand our programming and invest in infrastructure for greater digital delivery of classes, screenings, workshops, guest presenters.”

Media Arts Santa Ana (MASA) produces the annual OC Film Fiesta as one of its core programs, which will receive assistance in the form of recently legislated state funding — in this case from California Arts Council. Seen here are staffers from 2016’s event. MASA bills its festival as “the premier cinematic celebration of the nation’s diversity and multicultural heritage”; this year’s edition is scheduled for Oct. 12-24. Credit: Photo courtesy of Media Arts Santa Ana

Payan expressed praise of and gratitude for the state and the California Arts Council for recognizing “the value and importance of the arts to the people as well as to the economy,” defining the assistance MASA will receive as “a game changer in that it represents a critical investment at a critical time that will help strengthen California’s arts organizations for the long haul.”

Positive news for the county’s arts scene arrived with the August 24 announcement that $78 million in Shuttered Venue Operator Grants had been secured by Orange County arts and entertainment nonprofits and businesses.

Jerry Mandel, president of Irvine Barclay Theatre’s board, said state funds of roughly $60,000 which came in during the pandemic were helpful and appreciated, but PPP and SVOG funds had a lot more impact, helping IBT to install MERV 13 air filters to help filter out the virus; install state-of-the-art ticket scanners and to facilitate touchless ticketing; invest in electronic program books; and train staff to prepare them for new COVID protocols.

Mandel said additional funds from the new windfall “would help us get through a very difficult year. We are not certain how patrons will feel about buying tickets and attending our shows. These funds could help us if there is a shortfall of earned income, which we expect to happen (and) could help us keep the doors open.”

Arts Relief Funding Available via Orange County’s Five Districts

District 1: has not yet announced its program

District 2: program is now closed to applications.

District 3: currently accepting applications 

District 4: currently accepting applications 

District 5: currently accepting applications  

Laguna Playhouse is one of the 23 Orange County nonprofit arts organizations slated to receive a portion of these SVOG funds. Ellen Richard, its executive director, said the playhouse staff is “grateful for the once-in-a-century extraordinary funding of the arts field. In addition to helping us cover normal expenses, this funding is allowing us to improve our HVAC systems to comply with best COVID protocols.”

Muckenthaler Cultural Center’s CEO, Farrell Hirsch, expressed gratitude “to those colleagues who campaigned and lobbied for this. They’ve accomplished the improbable.” He said use of funds can’t be determined “until the parameters of the grants are outlined. Ideally we would put (funding) towards a capital campaign, or into our endowment.”

Casey Long, managing director of Chance Theater, said the influx of state funding “would be instrumental to Chance Theater surviving the additional financial obligations that come with the new AB5 employment law (the California Assembly Bill that extends employee classification status to some gig workers), not to mention the unknown total impact of COVID-19 for the near future.”

“Even after dramatic cuts in rehearsal hours and cast sizes,” Long said, “it’s a serious challenge for our intimate venue to pay the additional costs associated with hiring artists in compliance with AB5. The level of support we receive from the state and other sources will directly impact the number of opportunities and the scale of productions we will be able to offer to our community and will help to save our artistic and outreach programs that have served our community for the past 22 years.”

Funding Alone May Not be Enough

Will increased funding alone be enough to bring the arts all or most of the way back?

“The short answer is no,” Quirk-Silva said. “Funding is a big part, but the return to arts and entertainment will also be on those leading the way in the industry.”

CFTA/CAA’s Baker also answered this question with a no. “We need to create systems to better support arts workers to have a living wage and affordable housing and health care. We need to continue to develop legislation for workforce development, and utilizing arts in other social impact ways such as healthcare, mental health, recidivism, transportation and so on.”

The Muckenthaler’s Hirsch said “it’s not a game changer unless there’s a sustained long-term funding level for the arts. May this be the start.”

And what if the arts are still hurting two or three years from now? Will future funding boosts be needed?

Hard to say. Quirk-Silva said “being pragmatic about the return back to business in California, we certainly have to be aware” that the need for additional future funding “is highly possible.”

Baker concurs, saying lobbying for funding is an ongoing process: “We never stop because even with these historic funds, the need is greater than current funding can support.”

Eric Marchese is a contributing writer for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. He can be reached at

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