State budget cuts take hefty toll on Jewish arts groups

Traveling Jewish Theatre is among the Jewish arts organizations feeling the pinch as a result of the new, and leaner, state budget.

In 2000-01, the California Arts Council, which has helped fund the S.F.-based theater ensemble, received $32 million. This year, the arts council will get a token $1 million, meaning organizations like TJT and the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival will most likely receive nothing in the coming year.

Last year, TJT received a $5,000 grant, which it used to create programming for children in economically disadvantaged communities.

"Without this year's projected money, it will be much more difficult to offer our work to these communities," said Eric Rhys Miller, director of TJT's educational touring and outreach program.

The film festival, too, is slated to lose the $5,000 grant that it received from the arts council this past year, said its executive director, Don Adams.

That is not surprising to Adams, especially since in 2001 and 2002, the film festival received more than $15,000 each year from the California Arts Council.

"When you consider that, it's a substantial contribution," he said, "and comparable to that from a private foundation."

Adams noted that as a well-established organization, the film festival would feel the cuts less than smaller arts organizations. Nevertheless, with arts funding dwindling ever since Proposition 13 was passed, Adams warned that the cuts were a harbinger of worse things to come.

"The entire public sector is under duress, particularly vis-a-vis arts funding," he said.

Before becoming film festival director in January, Adams and a partner did a study for the Rockefeller Foundation about arts funding and found that it has shrunk from all sources, not only the public sector.

"In the past, other sectors have remained resilient when public funding for the arts was cut, but now we're seeing it across the board, making it more difficult. It's definitely a serious situation."

Adams concluded, "We're blessed by the ability to absorb a certain level of cutbacks. But for the younger, smaller organizations, there will be a more profound effect."

Adams could be speaking about Judith-Kate Friedman. Since 1997, the California Arts Council artist-in-residence at the Jewish Home in San Francisco has been leading residents in musical workshops.

In addition to her songwriting workshop, and another Ladino one, Friedman began a new project this year called "Psalms and Stories." In it, residents study a psalm with Rabbi Sheldon Marder, write their reflections about it and then turn those into a song.

But all of those workshops — serving some 200 residents a year — will stop, unless Friedman can secure funding from other sources. Since 1997, she has received $11,000 of her $16,000 salary from the state arts budget.

Friedman is in discussion about ways to keep working at the Home without this money, but her future there at the moment is unclear.

"The board of directors and staff of the Home have been extremely positive about the benefits of program and no one would like to see it cut," she said. "However, in tough times it's a perfect example of what the California Arts Council provides to institutions who couldn't have afforded it otherwise."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."