Little national arts funding trickles into San Joaquin Valley

WASHINGTON — The National Endowment for the Arts on Tuesday bestowed millions of dollars on assorted artists, musicians and storytellers, but left little for the San Joaquin Valley.

With the new funding, the federal arts agency now has delivered 192 grants to California this year. Only two recipients reside in the area between Stockton and Bakersfield.

"I do think the Valley gets shortchanged on NEA grants, as well as on many other things," Lynn Dickerson, chief executive officer for Modesto's Gallo Center for the Arts, said Tuesday. "As we all know, Southern California and the Bay Area get most of the state and federal resources."

But perhaps, Dickerson added, federal arts administrators will "pay more attention to the good work being done in the Valley going forward." Next week, by happenstance, NEA chairman Rocco Landesman will be visiting Modesto, Merced and Fresno.

Further details of Landesman's San Joaquin Valley trip have not yet been divulged. The former Broadway producer and one-time Yale drama professor will be arriving in a region where, until now, his agency has made only a passing impression.

This year, the NEA has provided some $116 million in grants nationwide. These include $88 million announced Tuesday.

All told, California arts and cultural groups have received $7 million of the fiscal 2011 total. The grants have ranged from the unique, like $10,000 for San Francisco's Queer Cultural Center, to the more traditional, like the $20,000 for the Sacramento Philharmonic Orchestra.

"Investing in the arts is an investment in the creativity and innovation of our community," Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento, said Tuesday in announcing the Sacramento grants.

From Stockton south, though, this year's San Joaquin Valley tally adds up to $125,000, or a little less than 2 percent of the state's total. The region's recipients this year are confined to two Fresno-based organizations: Radio Bilingue and the Alliance for California Traditional Arts.

This year, Radio Bilingue has received a $25,000 grant to produce shows on Colombian music at this summer's Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Previous grants have helped Radio Bilingue with Fresno's annual Mariachi Festival and with earlier Smithsonian festivals.

"Writing grants has been an art," Radio Bilingue's news director Samuel Orozco said Tuesday, "and not every organization does that."

Orozco added that while "we do have a well-established grant-writing department," other, smaller organizations may be deterred from seeking federal grants because of a matching funds requirement.

Founded in 1997, the Alliance for California Traditional Arts maintains offices in both Fresno and San Francisco. It helps support regional folk artists, whose work includes cowboy boot-making and Indian basketry.

One $45,000 grant this year is helping to support an arts apprenticeship program. A separate $55,000 grant is helping pay salaries, enabling the organization to assist other arts organizations statewide.

The California Arts Council has also received $1.1 million to distribute within the state, some of which may trickle into the San Joaquin Valley.

Mostly, though, the federal funds are concentrated in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. Many of the grants support specific events, such as the $40,000 that the University of California at Davis's Mondavi Center will use for performances including one by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.