Santa Monica Lookout
The California Arts Council Says Goodbye to Santa Monica's Malissa Shriver
By Melonie Magruder
February 14, 2013 -- Santa Monica resident Malissa Feruzzi Shriver stepped down this week after serving eight years with the California Arts Council, four of those years as chair.
Feruzzi Shriver leaves behind some pretty large shoes to fill, after bringing the CAC -- which helps fund art programs in public schools and prisons -- back from a financial crisis that had crippled the organization.
When she arrived in office, Shriver found the agency almost entirely de-funded after a legislative spat and manned by a completely demoralized skeletal staff.
“Governor Brown helped create the CAC back in 1975 and it had built up into a model arts program,” said Feruzzi Shriver, the wife former Santa Monica mayor and City Council member Bobby Shriver.
“The CAC developed rehabilitative arts programs for prisons; it helped fund school arts programs and supported developing artists. When it lost all its funding, arts councils closed right and left,” she said.
Feruzzi Shriver had been asked to chair the agency by her sister-in-law and then-California first lady, Maria Shriver, and she said that she was afraid she had no qualifications.
“I grew up going to public schools and knew nothing about this kind of position,” Feruzzi Shriver said. “It turns out, that was my best asset. I could go around the state, talking to different agencies and school districts and I spoke their language. I was determined to bring arts education back to California public schools again.”
The CAC is a state agency designed to encourage public participation in the arts and promote awareness of the value of the arts, particularly arts education in public schools. It is funded partially from federal National Endowment for the Arts grants and partially from sales of Arts License Plates (the image on the plate, titled “Coastline,” was created by California artist Wayne Thiebaud).
As Feruzzi Shriver explained in a speech to the Pacific Regional Women’s Caucus for Art, California has seen a rise in high school dropout rates in direct correlation to a rise in the state prison population, at the same time that public school arts programs have been slashed.
“Arts education reduces dropout rates and increases literacy rates,” she said. “In schools for low income, English as a second language students, arts education programs have proven to raise average SAT scores by 100 points.”
These are significant numbers to Feruzzi Shriver, and she set about re-energizing the California Art Plates program, roping in people like Robert Redford, Quincy Jones and Eli Broad to help spread the word about California arts funding.
“They were doing no marketing of the program at all,” she said.
She worked with the superintendent of the California Department of Education, Tom Torlakson, developing an arts program task force, and pushed for a blueprint for creative schools curricula. Schools now designated as a “California Distinguished School” have an arts component in the criteria.
She has traveled the state speaking to legislative and school district groups about the market-based wisdom of generously funding arts programs in schools.
“People always say they love arts programs, but there’s just not enough money for them, or that they are not important during times of fiscal crisis,” Feruzzi Shriver said. “But look at the number of parents who put their children in private schools because of arts programs available there. Studies have shown that for every dollar invested in arts education, it yields a seven dollar return. That is the market speaking!”
California spends about $8,400 per public school student per year, yet we dedicate fewer tax dollars per capita to supporting the arts than any other state in the nation, despite employing more people in arts-related fields than any other state. This is reflected in public school arts program funding.
Feruzzi Shriver’s answer to the yawning gap is a new entity called CREATE – Core Reform Engaging Arts to Educate. She launched it last year as a joint venture with dozens of agencies across the state, including the Department of Education and the California Alliance for Arts Education. Even though she has left the chairwomanship of CAC, she’s taking the project with her.
“Malissa has been a dedicated partner and did an extraordinary job while facing many challenges,” Torlakson said. “She played an instrumental role in launching the Create California campaign and creating a Blueprint for Creative Schools. Her ongoing support for the arts is a testament to her support for our children, our schools, and all Californians - all of whom reap untold benefits from an education, and life, rich in the arts.”
He is especially looking forward to working with her on the Create California campaign.
“These programs are about creating a renaissance in arts education,” Torlakson said. “There’s more to this than the joy of being exposed to a beautiful painting or a striking piece of music -- it’s about providing an opportunity for our children to exercise a part of their minds that will serve them well in a 21st century society and economy through creative thinking, problem solving, and discovering their strengths and dreams and building upon them.”
But Feruzzi Shriver will be taking a little breather before she plunges into more arts education work.
“I’d like to spend some time with my children,” she said. “And now that Bobby is off the City Council, we’ll make up some quality time.”
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