California Arts Council

State of California

The California Arts License Plate: the iconic image that means arts for California communities and children

Published: 02-20-2012

Arts License PlateThe California Arts License Plate, designed by California artist Wayne Thiebaud, first hit the roadways in 1994. Since then sales and renewals of the plate have provided over $20 million for the arts in California -- in addition to creating an iconic California image that has become famous worldwide. Thousands of Californians have Arts Plates on their cars, letting others know they support arts programs for children and communities.

The California Arts License Plate was the first specialty-plate program in the U.S. designed solely to benefit the arts. Fees for sales and renewals of the Arts Plate go directly into the Arts Plate Fund, minus the Department of Motor Vehicles' cost to fabricate and administer the plate. These funds represent approximately 60% of the California Arts Council budget -- funds that are, by law, slated to be provided for the California Arts Council and its programs.

Californians can go to to order plates from the DMV, and the purchase and renewal fees may be considered charitable contributions to the California Arts Council for tax purposes. Sequential plates (randomly assigned numbers) cost $50 ($40 annual renewal), and personalized plates (selected letters/numbers) cost $98 ($78 annual renewal). Sequential Arts Plates are sent by mail about three weeks after ordering, while personalized Arts Plates require the purchaser to pick up the plates at a DMV office and take approximately 10 week due for the specialized fabrication.

About Wayne Thiebaud

This Pop artist contemporary of Andy Warhol is famous for his still life images of food, especially sweets, painted in bright pastels with thick strokes.  A 2001 issue of Time dedicated to the Western states called Thiebaud "The Poet of Pastry," saying that "Wayne Thiebaud offers deep pleasures in the everyday, from pies and cakes to slices of landscapes."

Wayne ThiebaudOriginally from Arizona, Thiebaud moved to California at a young age and is often considered California's artistic native son. He started as a commercial artist after attending Long Beach Polytechnic High School, working briefly at Walt Disney Studios, studying commercial art at the Frank Wiggins School in Los Angeles, and working as a cartoonist in Long Beach in the 1930s. After World War II he attended San Jose State College and Cal State Sacramento for an advanced degree in art, and then gained national recognition in the 1960s with his still-life images of food. He has taught in numerous California institutions, especially a long stint at University of California at Davis where he is currently a professor emeritus.

return to from the vault