California Arts Council

State of California

Press Release Detail

July 07, 2011Mary Beth Barber

Craig Watson Appointed Director of the California Arts Council

Arts leader and former telecommunications executive chosen to lead the state's arts agency

Sacramento -

Malissa Feruzzi Shriver, Chair, California Arts Council, today announced the appointment of Craig Watson as the new Director for the state agency. Watson's appointment represents the first time in the nearly 30-year history of the state agency that the Director has been hired directly by the Council rather than by appointment of the Governor. Watson is currently the Executive Director of the Arts Council for Long Beach, and will start with the California Arts Council on August 15, 2011.

"We are ecstatic to find an individual of Craig Watson's caliber to fill this critical position who will work with the members of the Council, staff and elected officials to advance the work of the agency on behalf of the arts throughout all of California," said Feruzzi Shriver. "Craig brings a unique blend of arts, business and community service experience to this key leadership position."

Watson has an extensive background in the private, public and non-profit sectors. Prior to his current position with the Arts Council for Long Beach and other recent work in the arts, he held senior executive positions in the telecommunications field in Rhode Island, New York and California. His earlier career in the arts included positions with the Sonoma County Arts Council and Rural Arts Services in Northern California, as well as a fellowship at the National Endowment for the Arts, participation in the Coro Foundation's Arts Management program, and a co-directing position at Santa Barbara Arts Services.

Local experts praise Watson's work at the Arts Council for Long Beach. "Craig inspired the entire City of Long Beach with his broad and inclusive vision for the arts," said Alex Slato, Executive Director of LA Artcore and former Senior Vice President of the Museum of Latin American Art. "From activating empty city lots with hip hop, poetry and new media to his creation of GLOBAL -- the nation's largest celebration of Arts and Humanities Month -- Craig has developed the respect of local artists, community activists, elected officials, business leaders and the arts community alike."

Watson also has arts experience outside large metropolitan areas, notes Libby Maynard, co-founder of Eureka's Ink People Center for the Arts and the former board chair of Rural Arts Services. "Craig's experience with organizations such as Rural Arts Services bodes well for his leadership of the California Arts Council and for those of us in the field who represent smaller, culturally rich communities in rural California."

Watson expects to have a strong and productive relationship with state elected officials. He is a veteran of the advocacy process in the state Capitol, where he spent considerable time with legislators during his career in the telecommunications business.

"Craig brings a powerful set of advocacy skills to this new role," said Dennis Mangers, former Board chairman of the California Confederation of the Arts, state legislator and lobbyist. "He understands the political process as the 'art of the possible' and will be a highly effective spokesman and champion for the arts."

Watson has experience as a visual artist in addition to his experience in the business sector and as an arts administrator. He studied fine arts at Occidental College, trained as a sculptor and worked with renowned artists such as Christo. "I have a strong, working knowledge of the challenges and opportunities for artists and I expect to bring that experience to the work of the Arts Council," said Watson.

He also feels his experience in both the arts and business world have given him insight into how the arts can play a role in California. "I have seen first-hand the power of the arts to revitalize economically and culturally challenged communities," he said. "Recent studies are compelling -- access to the arts and arts education pay huge dividends; educationally, culturally and economically."

The new Director agrees with the governing Council that access to the arts for all Californians is vital for the state. "My goal is to help the Arts Council fulfill its mission in making the arts and arts education available to all Californians. If we succeed, we will help our citizens reach their highest creative potential, in whatever fields they choose, while advancing our 'creative economy' that has been such a hallmark of California's unique standing in the world."

Watson joins the California Arts Council at a time when several U.S. state legislatures and governors have questioned their ability to invest in the arts during the economic downturn and budgets have been slashed. The California Arts Council has a unique funding structure, where more than 60 percent of its current funding comes from the purchase of the "Arts License Plate" by California motorists.

"One of my key responsibilities will be to grow this source of funding, the Arts License Plate program, for the arts in California," said Watson. "The Council and staff expect the 'Million Plates' campaign to raise $40 million for the arts and arts education in California."

Other non-General Fund sources will also play a role in the agency's future budget such as the "Tax Check-Off for the Arts," where California taxpayers can support the California Arts Council through the "Contributions" section on their individual state tax returns. "Californians donated approximately $150,000 in the first year the Arts Council was included in the 'Contributions section,' and the Arts Council, staff and I will do all we can to ensure that the funds from this source keep growing," said Watson.

The Western States Art Federation (WESTAF) greatly assisted in the Council's search efforts, hiring an executive search firm to assist in the process. Council members Wylie Aitken and Michael Alexander led the director search process for the agency, and the Council reviewed an exceptional, nationwide pool of interested candidates before deciding on Watson.

More comments from California's arts experts:

Laura Zucker, Executive Director, Los Angeles County Arts Commission and Director of Arts Management Program, Claremont Graduate University:
"Craig Watson has done a terrific job leading the Arts Council for Long Beach and will no doubt do the same for the California Arts Council; he combines political and business savvy with a deep understanding of how the arts can lead a robust economy based on the creative industries."

Scott Ward, Executive Director, Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena:
"As founding board Chair, Craig was instrumental in our early development and an exemplary arts leader. As both a business executive and arts advocate, he was exactly the right person to lead us in transition from the previous Pasadena Art Workshops organization into our new home at the Armory, allowing for an explosion in programming and influence as a catalyst for community arts, arts education, and arts presentation."

Anthony Radich, Executive Director, Western States Arts Federation:
"With the hiring of Craig Watson, the California Arts Council enters a new period of dynamic leadership.  In the next several years, we expect great things to emerge from California."

Marc Nathanson, Chairman of Mapleton Investments, former Chairman and CEO of Falcon Communications, and arts patron:
"When I hired a young arts activist into the telecommunications industry several years ago, I knew I was getting someone special, with strong creative talents. To see Craig Watson now head the state's arts agency is thrilling. Californians will be well served."

About the California Arts Council

The California Arts Council is the state agency with the mission to advance Californians through the arts and creativity, with a key focus on arts education and arts in local communities. The agency is governed by an 11-member policy-setting Council appointed by the Governor and state Legislature.

Watson, various members of the Council, and other arts experts are available for press interviews by request. Members of the press may contact Mary Beth Barber at 916-322-6588 or More information about the Million Plates Campaign may be found at, and details about "Tax Check-Off for the Arts" may be found from the California Arts Council's main website at


Craig Watson Craig Watson

PHOTO CREDIT: courtesy of Thomas McConville, Long Beach Business Journal. Print size versions of photos are available -- please contact Mary Beth Barber (916-322-6588 or for electronic copies.

# # #

The mission of the California Arts Council, a state agency, is to advance California through the Arts and Creativity. Members of the California Arts Council include: Chair Malissa Feruzzi Shriver, Vice Chair William Turner, Wylie Aitken, Michael Alexander, Andrew Green, Adam Hubbard, Charmaine Jefferson, Terry Lenihan, and Susan Steinhauser.

return to press releases