The Inland Empire gets snubbed when it comes to arts and culture

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An Op-Ed by San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford, Riverside County Supervisor Chuck Washington, and Jim Rawitsch, executive director of the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Craft

It’s not that our region doesn’t have an assortment of museums and cultural offerings. From two Smithsonian-affiliates (the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts in Rancho Cucamonga and the Museum of Riverside) to the interactive San Bernardino County Museum in Redlands and the historic Fox Theater in downtown Riverside, we have a plethora of high-quality arts. 

We are also home to many historical sites (the Mission Inn in Riverside, the Agua Mansa Cemetery in Colton, the John Rains house in Rancho Cucamonga, the Ramona Bowl Amphitheater in Hemet and long stretches of Route 66) as well as a trove of Native American history and culture.

No, the Inland Empire—for that matter most of inland California—gets snubbed on public funding to support these vital institutions and landmarks.

This should be the year to change that. The state budget gave arts funding a significant boost in the 2019-20 budget— from $18 million last year for California Arts Council to $27 million.

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Even so, California ranks 29th in the United States in per capita grant-making for the arts. Rhode Island, which ranks first, spends more than $10 per capita. In California, we spend about 66 cents per capita.

There isn’t a per-capita public arts spending estimate for the Inland Empire, but out of more than 1,300 grants awarded by the Arts Council last year, only 24 of them went to arts projects here. That means that although we have about 11% of the state’s population, the IE only received slightly more than one percent of its public art grants.

Unlike our costal neighbors, who draw support from affluent residents and private foundations, Inland Empire arts organizations rely on public funds and the more modest patronage of our region’s middle-class families. In most years, the majority of California’s public art funding goes to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego counties.

The Los Angeles area has many amazing museums, art galleries, and other cultural offerings, but Inland Empire residents shouldn’t have to drive an hour and a half or more to enjoy or be inspired by the arts.

Directing existing arts funding our way will do more than give our residents better access; it will also create opportunities to attract more visitors to our region and boost our local economy. And it reminds our younger generation that creativity and expression are critical parts of their well-being, as well as the thread that can bind our community together.

In addition to attracting tourism and helping cultivate artistic talent here, grants in support of public art programs help keep the arts within reach of everyone—not just those who live in wealthier enclaves.

Art experiences help enable lives of discovery and imagination, and we should ensure our residents—especially our youth—have the opportunity to have those experiences here.

To be fair, arts and culture organizations in our region don’t apply for as many grants as our coastal neighbors, often because they don’t have the required matching funds. We need to do a better job of uniting Inland Empire communities to build a strong and well-funded support network for the arts. We also need to make state arts funders aware of the disparity our region faces when it comes to public arts funding. So take a moment to send your State Assemblymember and Senator an email or a letter to thank them for the boost in funding for arts and culture in this year’s budget and letting them know how important it is that our region gets its fair share of those dollars. 

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