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Congressman Jim Costa

Representing the 16th District of California

Fresno Bee: David Mas Masumoto named to National Council on the Arts

Jun 21, 2012
In The News

David Mas Masumoto named to National Council on the Arts
By Michael Doyle - Bee Washington Bureau
Wednesday, Jun. 20, 2012

WASHINGTON -- The White House on Wednesday named Del Rey farmer and writer David Mas Masumoto to the National Council on the Arts, a prestigious position that combines high honors with some good, honest work.

Author of "Epitaph for a Peach," Masumoto will be joining other top authors, musicians and visual artists in advising the National Endowment for the Arts. Among other things, he'll have the ear of the agency that until now has only rarely focused on the San Joaquin Valley.

"I hope I can add a unique voice," Masumoto said Wednesday. "I'd like to put rural arts on the national map, so to speak."

A one-time sports editor of the Sanger Herald newspaper during the mid-1970s, Masumoto has since risen in the writerly ranks even as he has maintained a third-generation, 80-acre organic farm south of Fresno.

Masumoto, 58, grows peaches, nectarines, grapes and raisins. During the off-seasons, he has authored multiple books, written columns for The Bee and garnered awards from the likes of the Commonwealth Club and the University of California at Davis. He has also served as chair of the California Council for the Humanities.

"Our nation will be greatly served by the talent and expertise these individuals bring to their new roles," President Barack Obama said in a release Wednesday announcing multiple nominations.

Masumoto is currently finishing his latest work, which he described as the Masumoto Family Farm Peach Cookbook. It combines recipes with short essays, with Masumoto saying the "goal is to tell the real story behind our foods, from a family perspective."

Established in 1964, the National Council on the Arts has previously included among its members remarkable characters including jazz musician Duke Ellington, actor Gregory Peck and Nobel Prize-winning author John Steinbeck.

"It's terrific," Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, said of the nomination. "Anyone who wants to understand the rural nature of the San Joaquin Valley has to read him."

The council consists of up to 18 presidentially appointed members, who serve for staggered, six-year terms following Senate confirmation. The council also includes the head of the National Endowment for the Arts and six non-voting members of Congress.

The council members are supposed to be geographically diverse, and to have "records of distinguished service or achieved eminence in the arts."

In addition to advising the NEA on grants, policies and budgets, the council members recommend to the president potential recipients of the National Medal of the Arts. They typically meet three times a year in Washington, D.C., and they are not paid.

"It's like all my other professions, like farming and writing," Masumoto said with a laugh. "It's not monetary."

Masumoto said he didn't really know how he happened to come to the White House's attention, calling the initial news "a shock." It was also a secret, as he was directed not to talk about the pending nomination while FBI agents conducted a routine background check.

The council's heavy lifting comes in oversight of the NEA, which provided some $139 million in grants in 2010. Some of the federal money flows through state agencies, like the California Arts Council. Other NEA grants go directly to recipients, like Fresno's Radio Bilingüe.

Compared to Los Angeles and the Bay Area, though, the San Joaquin Valley typically has received little arts grant attention.

"One of my goals is to look at the common person, and at how the arts affect them," Masumoto said, suggesting "culinary arts" as one fresh possibility for federal support.

Still, Masumoto will not be the only arts council member with roots in rural California. Country singer Lee Greenwood, a holdover appointee of the Bush administration, was raised on a farm outside of Sacramento, although he now lives in Nashville.

Another creative soul with strong Valley ties, retired Fresno State professor Philip Levine, recently finished his year-long stint as U.S. Poet Laureate.