The impact of CETA community based organizations

Posted by Leslie Ito, Jun 14, 2010 3 comments

I have been giving much thought to the sustainability of small and midsize community-based, culturally specific arts organizations over the years, both as a former executive director of one such organization and also as a funder. Recently, I’ve been thinking that much of what we can learn about how to serve these kinds of organization lies in their past. The history of many of these organizations go back to the days of CETA. While I have heard here and there the impact CETA had on community based organizations, I wonder if some folks out there might be able to share with us the impact that CETA had on your organization and then most importantly what we can learn from the program and how it applies to community-based organizations today.

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say: The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (or CETA, Pub.L. 93-203) is a United States federal law enacted in 1973 to train workers and provide them with jobs in the public service.

The program offered work to those with low incomes and the long term unemployed as well as summer jobs to low income high school students. Full time jobs were provided for a period of 12 to 24 months in public agencies or private not for profit organizations. The intent was to impart a marketable skill that would allow participants to move to an unsubsidized job. It was an extension of the Works Progress Administration program from the 1930s. The Act was intended to decentralize control of federally controlled job training programs, giving more power to the individual state governments. Nine years later, it was replaced by the Job Training Partnership Act.

3 responses for The impact of CETA community based organizations


Tomas Benitez says
June 17, 2010 at 3:54 am

The CETA Program was a great opportunity for arts organizations, but remember, CETA was not at all initially designed to include the arts; we were allowed to participate as an after thought and that took some time getting it all worked out. I think the program actually provided excellent training for numerous arts groups to develop skills and competencies to contend with public agencies, contracts, departments and their bureaucrats, in addition to providing training and employment opportunities.

I was hired through the CETA program at Inner City Cultural Center by C. Bernard "Jack" Jackson, put in charge of a an arts training program akin to "FAME" or arts academy training. We had a regimen of daily classes that included core language skills, job training skills, survival skills, (what some would nowadays call financial literacy), and of course classes in various disciplines. Each student, regardless of performance preference, took dance, music, theatre, tech, and voice. Then they broke into their discipline for advanced work. We had some remarkable students, including Luis Alfaro, Shashawnee Hall, Bruce Beatty, Syreeta, and others, as well as working artists who were trained and employed as instructors that included George C. Wolfe, Ilka Tanya Payan, Rose Portillo, Lady Helena Walker, Jack Jackson, and Ron Milner. The program had a component of eligibility that was standard; residence, age and income, in addition to an arts audition process. This was the program that operated six days a week on top of all the other things that were going on at the center. At times it was chaotic, noisy, crazy, but never boring, always exciting and a climate of creative energy that can only be captured in memory of the time and place. Jack was a proponent of multi-culturalism and his philosophy was reflected in the student population as well as the staff, artists/ instructors, and values of the center.

We were not loved by the City of LA monitors whatsoever, and they delighted in throwing layer after layer of paperwork and after-thought restrictions at us at each turn, and at times we were all but overwhelmed in struggling to keep up with the requirements of administration. Any new program has to take into consideration that arts also employ people and are not an aberration to their mindset of what a jobs program need to look like. The sponsoring public agency needs to be more attuned to the value of arts training; the antagonism with "dopwntown" was something all the city wide arts groups talked about, dished, when we got a chance to gather, and in light of the recent series of stupid moves by city officials to once again undermine arts services in out city, it disheartens me how little has changed. Some of our most valuable objects of public art and national patrimony came out of the WPA, some of our most productive and creative artists working today benefitted from CETA, which means they were successes the program can claim. So let us come up with something devoid of antagonism, where the arts community is a viable and respected partner, mutuality and collaboration are seen as assets. There is a history of successful partnerships between the arts community and public sources, from the NEA to CAC to the LACAC, so there is no reason this can't succeed again. Tb

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June 15, 2010 at 10:41 am

Great topic, Leslie. CETA had a huge impact on the San Francisco Art Commission's Neighborhood Arts Program, and on the establishment of the city's cultural center. In the 70s the NAP, and later SOMArts Cultural Center, began a Technical Services Program that helped support the establishment of many neighborhood and culturally-specific parades and festivals that still thrive today.

SOMArts became an independent nonprofit under the guidance of past CETA artist Bernice Bing, but when the CETA program dissolved, the organization lost 75% of its staff.

Present day, many cultural and neighborhood-based organizations in San Francisco have been able to expand staff over the past year using the city's Jobs Now program, which uses stimulus funds to hire local residents who are low-income and/or unemployed and have a child. It does not seem like many arts groups are participating, and I wonder what the reason is?

Jobs Now requires an employee match and only covers base salary--the employer must cover benefits and payroll taxes. Perhaps even this is investment is too much for small organizations who are in crisis mode.

Jobs Now is also designed for local residents who have a child, and what we've heard from emerging leaders is that in the arts sector it's hard to compete for entry level jobs and find work/life balance in organizations where 60+ hr workweeks are normal.

SOMArts added one position with Jobs Now and has benefited tremendously--we are hoping that the city is successful in its efforts to extend the program.

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Don Funk says
June 20, 2011 at 5:08 pm

I'll never, ever forget experiencing Jack Jackson and the Inner City Cultural Center in the 60s and 70s. One of the original pieces of its beginnings was the NEA/LA School System funded program which delivered six live performances to every 10th grader in Los Angeles for, I believe, two years. The students studied the plays with their teachers, then were bussed to the ICCC location at Washington & Vermont for a daytime performance.

Performing actors auditioned before Jack and Staff under a strict open policy without regard to race.

The cast also performed in the evening for the community.

The pieces ranged from "Glass Menagerie" to "West Side Story" to Greek tragedy.

I attended five of the daytime performances with the students. The student receptions ranged from magical stillness to rousing appreciation to occasional boredom. I asked a performer(from NYC) about the experience of working in front of young students----inexperienced theater-goers. Her reply was "The most difficult and honest work I've ever done." Why? "Because the audience reaction is pure and honest. If I deliver what's supposed to be a funny line, they laugh. If It's funny, that is. If not, I die with their silence. And if my work is boring.....I start to hear the whispering and paper crackles."

The purpose of this experiment was to introduce students to theater arts, and under a strict open casting policy. The art and the rainbow were there in front of them. The previosly unknown and un-experienced. The magic.

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