Schwarzenegger Names Head of Beleaguered California Arts Council

Classic Arts News   Schwarzenegger Names Head of Beleaguered California Arts Council
Muriel Johnson, former chair of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors, has been named director of the California Arts Council, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Johnson was appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to fill the position, which has been vacant since last May, when Barry Hessenius resigned.

She arrives at a particularly difficult time for the council; with the state facing a fiscal crisis, its budget was cut from about $19 million in 2003 to $1.8 million in 2004. The council's allocation rises to $3.2 million in the budget proposed on Monday by the governor, but California still ranks last in state arts spending.

The council has cut its staff, according to the Times, from 45 positions to 19. The amount of money granted to artists and arts organizations has dropped to about $800,000, with most of it going to arts education.

Actress Annette Bening, who sits on the arts council, called the budget proposal "appalling and embarrassing."

California spends about 9 cents per capita on arts funding, according to the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies in Washington, D.C. The national average for arts spending is $1.17, the equivalent, in California, of a $40 million budget.

Johnson spent 12 years at her Board of Supervisors post, and it is expected that she will be an effective advocate for the arts. Michelle Walker, the head of the Sacramento Arts Council, noted that Johnson managed legislation that doubled developers' fees in order to pay for public art, as well as rallying support for the Sacramento Philharmonic in its nascent stages.

Walker doubted, however, that even as bold an advocate as Johnson will be able to increase the council's budget. "She's a smart and savvy woman," Walker told the Times, "and she's not going to march in there and demand something when everybody's having their budgets cut."

"She knows what it will take in the interim," Walker added, "to keep the doors open, keep the arts alive, and plan for that day when things turn around."

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