The major source of state arts funding? You won’t believe it

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arts-photosCalifornia ranks near the bottom of state-funded per-capita arts spending in the nation–44th, to be exact.

What’s the unusual source for the lion’s share of state-funded arts education? Turns out, it’s the sale of specialty license plates.

You may have seen the so-called “ArtsPlate” by artist Wayne Thiebaud, since it’s been in use on the roads for 20 years. But you probably didn’t know that $35 of the initial $50 fee motorists pay for the plate goes to stoke the coffers of the California Arts Council, founded in 1975. (The entire cost of renewals goes towards the program.)

The Council underwrites such educational programs like placing artists in schools, and Jump Starts, which offers arts programs to at-risk youth and juvenile offenders.

Bill Turner of William Turner Gallery at Bergamot Station is finishing up an 8-year term on the all-volunteer board of the council. He joined us at KCRW to talk about why California has to turn to license plates to fund the arts; how we know the money goes where the state says it will, given past incidents of the state raiding specialty plate funds to balance the budget; and a new program, just in time for the holidays, that allows you to gift the Artsplate by using a voucher. (For the record, here are other specialty plates you can buy to support other issues, like the environment or pets.)

One of about a dozen celebrities who’ve signed on to endorse the plate