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The Digital Demand

Tammy Glenn reports on California Governor Pete Wilson's proposal for a scholarship initiative to feed the industry's appetite for talent.

California Governor Pete Wilson.

A shortage of digital artists in Hollywood has led California Governor Pete Wilson to propose a new pilot Cal Grant scholarship program. A CalGrant is a government-funded scholarship granted to economically disadvantaged students who exhibit great potential. Wilson's proposed pilot would provide $1.2 million in grants to as many as 500 students who show promise in the field of digital animation. This proposal comes in response to the current outcry by entertainment and multimedia executives who are going outside of the United States to fill local jobs.According to Rosalie Zalis, senior policy advisor for Governor Wilson, current estimates indicate that about 60 percent of entertainment industry digital animators are being recruited from outside of the United States. This number translates into several thousand jobs and has a noticeable impact on the California tax base. Predictions also indicate that the demand for digital artists will grow by 20 percent every year for the next five years.

"This is the field for students to be in," enthuses Mary Jo Maxwell, president of the Rowland Unified School Board. "If they have the skills and the training, they can basically write their own contract." Rowland Heights High School has had an animation training program in place for the past 18 years and Maxwell said animation is a seller's market for people who have the correct skills.

A New Deal

All the more reason for the Governor's pilot program to vie for approval in the state legislature. However, once the program is in place, it will take approximately two to four years before students are prepared to enter the job market. "The way this program works, they'll not only be equipped with education to last them for the next six months, they'll have such a well-grounded education, they will be able to adapt themselves to the industry as it changes in the future," Zalis explained. "The need today may not be the need in two years."

California State University, Northridge career counselor, John Arany's greatest concern is whether or not the demand will sustain itself. Artists with the right skills and training are seeing "sizzling, skyrocketing salaries" for digital animation careers. Audiences can be fickle, however, and Arany points out that what's hot today may not be tomorrow. Therefore, it is important for programs put into place to address the needs of the future as well. "That's not true for a lot of government training programs," Arany said. "When students come out of school, a lot of times the market is saturated."

Kerry Mazzoni

Beefing Up the Arts

Assemblywoman Kerry Mazzoni (Democrat, San Rafael, California), chair of the State Assembly Education Committee. Statewide, believes that statewide arts programs have tended to go on the chopping block when it comes time to appropriate resources. Since the arts have been cut at the K-12 level, it's forced many schools to rely on outside agencies to provide art education.

"As far as I'm concerned, arts are part of the core curriculum," states Mazzoni. "I've been concerned for a number of years that we haven't had the quality of arts programs that we've needed." Mazzoni realizes the potential of the Cal Grants initiative to impact positively all educational levels - from university all the way to elementary level. She is a proponent of the governor's proposal and has voiced her opinion at recent hearings regarding the issue. She emphasized that this Cal Grant program promises to open up numerous opportunities to students, especially students who may not be academically inclined.

Industry Involvement

"It's a win-win-win for everybody. This is a scholarship opportunity that will open the door to the economically disadvantaged," Zalis states. The proposed Cal Grant program is unusual in that it is based on artistic promise and problem-solving ability, not solely GPA. The awards will also rely on industry professionals and academic experts to determine which students will be awarded the grant monies.

Also unique to the program is that it calls for matching grants from the multimedia and entertainment industry in the amount of $1 million. Sony was the first to step forward with $150,000. in matching funds. DreamWorks SKG, Disney and 20th Century Fox have also announced matching grants. This dramatic response is part of the reason why Assemblywoman Mazzoni supports the program. "I think it's appropriate for the state to encourage industry," Mazzoni said. In fact, Mazzoni claims that many of her region's multimedia jobs are filled by Pacific Rim and Canadian citizens that have been secured to meet our demand. In light of this Mazzoni thinks that the governor's proposal "is another way to involve industry in education. This program is based on matching grants. It's not the kind of hand-out schools have been known to ask for. We're looking at tangible returns that will come back to industry." The Small Print Before being fully approved, this initiative has to go through several hearings, including a full budget committee hearing, where $200,000. in administrative costs must be endorsed. Because the initiative requires an expenditure of state funds, it is part of the state budget which must be approved by the state legislature. The state fiscal year ends and begins on July 1st. However, the state budget is often not approved by this date. According to Zalis, this particular Cal Grant initiative has bi-partisan support and shouldn't have too much trouble negotiating the administrative process but will not go into action until the state budget is approved. Students receiving grant monies would be eligible for up to four years based on financial need and satisfactory academic progress. The amount available per student ranges from $530. at a community college up to $7,164. at private institutions, and can be used to cover tuition as well as fees and living expenses. By the academic year 2000/2001, the program aims to be funding about $6 million in grants to students annually. Another plus for California educators is that the Digital Arts and Multimedia Initiative will be based on new monies to fund the scholarships and will not take away from existing Cal Grant reserves. Applications for the 1997 Fall term are already being accepted through the California Student Aid Commission, pending approval of the 1997/1998 budget.

Furthermore, grants are only eligible for use in Californian schools, which should create a demand for larger, more enhanced programs. Students do want to be prepared for their careers, and if the state can help, in conjunction with industry, then California is paving a path for the arts to drive the future. What a change it will be when the arts are showcased as an active ingredient to a thriving economy. Tammy I. Glenn is the creative director of Glenn Productions Children's Books & Music and a freelance writer based out of the Los Angeles area.