An artist is a terrible thing to waste

root - Posted on 31 December 1969

Legislation is introduced by Mark Leno that could save public arts programs in schools and in the community

by tiny/PNN

" Y’all gonna come back next year?" the voice was small and muffled by an oversized hoodie drooping over huge dark chocolate eyes . It took me a full minute to realize that it was in fact the painfully quiet, rare to ever speak, 14 year old African Descendent young man named William who along with 17 other students was a student in a workshop taught by POOR Magazine in a Oakland high school that could easily be labeled one of the "drop-out factories" written about in last weeks San Francisco Bayview Newspaper, with its low test scores, high drop-out rates, high rates of poverty, hidden rates of homelessness and meager school budget.

"I am gonna try, but we lost our funding and so I might have to get another job, which means it will be really hard"

"Oh" His oh and my sad excuse for why I wouldn’t be coming back to his school to teach literary art and media resistance ranks among one of the saddest conversations I have had in my life.

In POOR’s fat years of 2000-002 we had among other things, a California Arts Council grant to teach creative writing, poetry, prose, spoken word.. with more than a little, poverty studies taught by people who were themselves struggling with poverty, media justice and media literacy thrown in. Every kid in our classes was engaged and excited, kids who were having literacy problems started writing articles and what POOR calls poetryjournalism, kids who would otherwise spend the entire day capping on other kids and disrupting the class started to care about listening and participating and learning and caring, but the most tragic and the most amazing were kids like William who literally never spoke, rarely looked up from his desk and out of his hoodie and NEVER, ever wrote anything, but by the end of our 12 week workshop penned an entire story on his life and in the process revealed that he and his mom were homeless.

In Williams case like a lot of the kids we taught, our discussion of poverty and its consequences was life changing, enabling him to not feel shame for his families’ poverty for the first time in his life. In 2003 California was robbed by Enron and their big business buddies. The state surplus that fed the California Arts Council disappeared and all of the Williams just became another statistic to be used, abused and intentionally misunderstood by all the legislator/haters, corporate welfare frauders and Schwarzeneggers

"The arts program at Alvarado began several years ago with an artist, ruth asawa who brought artists in to work along side teachers. Recently arts education has undergone serious cuts, the arts are no longer prevalent in public schools." As I listened to the voice of David Weiner principal at Alvarado elementary school in Noe valley speak at a press conference to introduce State Assemblyman Mark Leno who is introducing a piece of legislation that has a chance of saving/resurrecting the California Arts Council to at least some semblance of its former self I was brought back to the sorrow of that last day in that classroom.

"Today in California we rank 50 out of 52 states for arts funding behind Missisipippi and Alabama – presently we are at about .3 per capita – currently New York is approx 3.00 per capita in arts funding" Mark Leno began his presentation with a breakdown of how sad California’s state of the state of the arts compares to other parts of this country, California became the lowest-ranking state in the nation in per capita arts spending in fiscal year 2003-04, when the California Arts Council suffered a 94 percent budget cut, a drop from $18 million to $1.1 million in annual funding.

"Schwarzenegger says we have to starve the beast of state government," Leno went on to relay the frightening words that the Govenator uses to describe our basic services while of course never going after the aforementioned energy corporations because of course he owns stock in many of them, "This is the beast that provides our elders with health care, educates our children, and takes care of our roads and infrastructure- this is the beast that he says we have to starve"

He continued after a rousing boo from the crowd of over 100 children, artists and educators gathered to listen and support this bill on the asphalt playground of Alavarado school with the beautiful millennium mural as a backdrop created with the kids of Alvarado and a CAC funded artist in residence "Clearly we have to find some new and dedicated way to fund the arts in California so we have come up with an idea that we think is quite workable, quite feasable – and quite reasonable and that will raise somewhere in the range of 25 to 30 million dollars annually for the CAC programs"

Leno went on to break down the innovative concept of the bill AB 655 which proposes a 1% fee on all artistic entertainment events and venues for which admission is charged.
Breaking down to a mere nine cents to a nine dollar movie ticket and .50 cents to a 50 dollar theatre ticket.

"Now when I floated this idea to the governor he said he would be willing to keep an open mind to this idea – as long as it didn’t include a tax on sports events – at which point I thought maybe we should do a 2% tax because I am just as concerned about physical education so 1% could go to the arts and 1% could go to Physical education"

Leno concluded by reminding folks that children who study music and arts do better in reading and math and have lower rates of dropping out and higher test scores" to which my discouraged mind became reminded again of my belief that much of this robbery of our public education system is orchestrated by the "powers that always be’s" agenda to dumb down our poor children so they continue to destroy each other and their communities rather than focus on the real….

"are you gonna keep writing William?"

"I dunno,….. I mean if y’all aren’t here whose gonna care"

POOR is still in contact with William who did in fact drop out of school soon after that last workshop, but just recently his family finally got permanent housing and we are encouraging him to return to school and above all he is still writing, with the goal of being a journalist someday, citing our workshop as his most important inspiration. To support this very important bill please contact your local legislator as this bill goes before the first round of committees on Tuesday and at this point there is little if no support for any arts funding in Sacramento.


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