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California Arts Council’s Leader Resigns Unexpectedly


From left: Victor Payan, Rick Stein and Jonathan Moscone at Media Arts Santa Ana's TVGB space in Santa Ana last year. Photo courtesy of Victor Payan.
 

Jonathan Moscone, executive director of the California Arts Council, has announced he is leaving his post after less than two years. Moscone, 59, told the San Francisco Chronicle on Sunday that he wants to return to his creative roots.


“Over my tenure, I have come to realize that I need to answer a call to service that is different from the one I answered when Gov. Newsom first gave me this opportunity, which is creativity,” Moscone told the Chronicle. His last day on the job will be Dec. 15.


Moscone was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to director of the state agency in April 2022. Before that, Moscone led San Francisco’s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for seven years and served as artistic director of the California Shakespeare Theater for 15 years. Moscone is the youngest son of late San Francisco Mayor George Moscone.


“We were very disappointed to learn about Jonathan Moscone’s decision to step down from heading the CAC. Jon is a highly respected artist, administrator and civic leader,” said Richard Stein, president and CEO of Arts Orange County, the county’s nonprofit arts council. Stein has known Moscone for over 10 years. They met when Moscone served on the board of Californians for the Arts and Stein was its president.


Stein noted that Moscone and his predecessor, Anne Bown-Crawford, had made several improvements to the CAC, strengthening its relationship with other state and local organizations and fixing inherent structural weaknesses. And state funding to the CAC has increased dramatically in the last few years. The 2021-22 state budget included $128 million for the CAC, a dramatic increase for an organization that had often struggled with little funding (it had less than $1 million to grant in 2003-04).


But a series of confusing guideline changes this year had caused consternation in the arts community. Many arts groups complained that they applied for grants, a time-consuming process, only to discover they were disqualified after eligibility rules were unexpectedly altered. Moscone has not commented publicly on the changes.


More than two dozen local organizations received about $500,000 from the CAC this fiscal year, and 16 Orange County artists received a total of more than $250,000 from the CAC’s Individual Artists Fellowship program in 2023.


Victor Payan, founder of Media Arts Santa Ana (MASA), which produces the OC Film Fiesta, was a recipient of a 2023 Individual Artists Fellowship for his “Dreamocracy in America” project. He has also received a California Creative Corps grant and regular funding from the CAC for general operating support and impact projects for MASA and its North Main Street space, Tele Visions and Giga Bytes (TVGB).


Moscone visited TVGB last year, Payan said, and expressed interest in what the digital workspace was doing.


“I’m sad to see him go,” Payan said. “He was impressed with our use of technology. He said he thought there should be more spaces like that. He talked about the need to replicate these types of spaces throughout the state.


“He was engaged, interested, knowledgeable and excited about the potential of this kind of work. During his tenure at the CAC, they launched a lot of great initiatives, like Creative Corps, artists fellowships, serving smaller communities.


"We have a strong council, and the right leadership is critical. I hope who’s coming in next understands that and is equipped to serve and adapt to the needs of California’s arts community.”

 

Senior editor Richard Chang contributed to this report.


Richard Stein, quoted in this story, is member of the Advisory Board for Culture OC.


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