This Iconic California License Plate Has A Very Creative History

The special license plate was created in 1994. (Photo by California Arts Council)

You know the license plate: palm trees and a giant sun lingering over a bright blue ocean. The image, officially titled "Coastline," was created by iconic California painter Wayne Thiebaud.

What you might not know: the plate actually helps fund arts around the state — $35 of each new plate, and $40 of each renewal, go to the California Arts Council.

According to the council's director of public affairs Caitlin Fitzwater, most of that money goes to fund arts education programs.

"The California Arts Council invests in grants for community arts programs to place teaching artists in schools for field trips and assemblies for students to receive their first exposure to arts education, training for teachers about how to implement arts and arts integration into their classroom," Fitzwater explained.

According to DMV stats provided by Fitzwater, arts plate sales and renewals have generated over $74 million dollars since the program's start in 1994.

While some of the registration and renewal fees go to the manufacturing of the plate itself, and to DMV administrative costs, Fitzwater says the Arts Council gets around $2.5 million each year.

One of the over 137,000 California arts plates that have been purchased belongs to Elizabeth Mathern in Vallejo. She got it about 10 years ago when her charter school was applying for arts council funding.

"I realized that, you know, if I was going to be asking California to give my school money, the least I could do was to support them," Mathern said.

Even now, Mathern says she still renews the plate.

"I don't have a lot of discretionary income to donate," Mathern said. "This is a small way for me to help, and it feels like I am doing something."

Fitzwater, with the California Arts Council, says the program is an important part of the organization's funding because it helps diversify their funding sources.

"We do receive a portion of our funding from the state general fund. And for many years, really, from 2003 to 2013, there was a very low level of funding coming from the state general fund," Fitzwater explained. "And it was actually the arts license plate that in some ways kept our doors open as a state arts agency."

This year, the arts plate brought the council $2.5 million of their over $27 million budget.


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