Buried inside the $86.7-million arts and culture budget the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved this week for the coming 2014-15 fiscal year is a $1-million start-up fund that could have a far-reaching effect on the future of the county's newest cultural property, Grand Park.
Supervisor Gloria Molina provided the funding for a new nonprofit group, the Grand Park Foundation, from her share of the "discretionary funds" that each board member can spend on pet projects. She said she hopes that the foundation will eventually develop the managerial and fund-raising capacity to operate Grand Park independently. Currently, the Music Center manages the sloping, three-block-long Grand Park and books its events.
FOR THE RECORD:
Holiday telecast: A June 25 Calendar section article on the arts and culture budget approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors made reference to the Los Angeles Arts Commission's annual holiday celebration televised from Walt Disney Concert Hall. The celebration is televised from the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
"We never want the Music Center to think Grand Park is its backyard. We hope [the new foundation] will be its free-standing, independent organization," Molina said. "I hope the foundation will ultimately be the mechanism for how Grand Park will function for the next decades."
The idea, Molina said, is to put Grand Park on the same organizational footing as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and the Music Center itself — all of which are operated by independent nonprofit organizations that get county funding for building maintenance, security, utilities and some other needs but are expected to raise or earn the money needed to put on performances, exhibitions and other events that draw the public.
The Grand Park Foundation will have at least three years to develop fund-raising and managerial muscles because the supervisors also voted this week to extend the Music Center's contract to operate Grand Park from three years to five, through mid-2017. The Music Center will also receive $3.8 million from the county for park operations in 2014-15 and is expected to earn an additional $800,000 in rents and fees charged to concessionaires and others.
In a written recommendation of the extension, William T Fujioka, the county's chief executive, told the supervisors that the new foundation "will work collaboratively with the Music Center to ensure the success of the park," raising money for programming that the Music Center otherwise might not be able to provide.
The foundation's board chair, Jonathan Weedman, said its aim "is not to diminish the [Music Center's] role. I consider it an adjunct at this point. The goal of the supervisors was for the park to be a stand-alone nonprofit organization."
Still, it's possible that Music Center stewardship could turn out to be the best approach, he added: "We'll see how [the foundation] rolls out and ... develops."
The Music Center issued a statement Tuesday when asked to comment on the implications of the new foundation and how the two entities would work together. "We are aware of the foundation's goals and are waiting for direction from the county." The statement also said the Music Center is "proud of the work we are doing in operating and programming Grand Park. The success of the park is exactly what we had imagined for downtown Los Angeles."
Weedman, who is a Wells Fargo vice president in charge of the bank's charitable foundation and also serves on boards of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Natural History Museum, said that others joining him on the Grand Park Foundation's board include Molina, Music Center President Stephen Rountree, developer Nelson Rising of Related Cos. (which paid for Grand Park's creation under the terms of a development deal for government-owned properties along Grand Avenue) and two former Los Angeles City Council members — Roz Wyman, who also is on the Music Center's board, and Michael Woo, now dean of Cal Poly Pomona's College of Environmental Design.
The foundation board has yet to decide how to spend its startup funding. "I think the money will augment and support programming" that the Music Center oversees, Weedman said. "I don't know that we're going to go out and hire an executive director. We need to build our board, get more voices in the room."
The foundation's immediate aim, Weedman said, is to provide more money for free events in the park. Giving the Music Center money for programs requiring an admission charge "would be the exception without question," he said. "The point of Grand Park is it doesn't cost any money to go there."
The county budget approved this week is the last that Molina and fellow supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky voted on after long tenures as supervisors. Both will step down after Nov. 30 because of term limits. Yaroslavsky, well-known as a music lover, used his $1-million discretionary account for Los Angeles Opera.
"I don't think it's any secret the opera has been financially tested," Yaroslavsky said. "They've made significant cutbacks. It's important we keep the opera functioning at a high level of quantity and quality of performances" because, he added, it plays a key role as the primary tenant at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. "We wanted to give them a financial shot in the arm."
L.A. Opera spokesman Gary Murphy couldn't provide specifics on how the company will use the money but said its priorities include increasing programs that give more people access to opera — including discount seating and programs in schools and other settings — and making technological improvements to enhance its productions.
In addition to funding for regular arts operations, the supervisors approved $8 million for renovations at the Hollywood Bowl. Earlier this year the board approved $10.8 million for renovations at the John Anson Ford Theatres and $5 million for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to continue its proposed plans to tear down the structures on the east end of its campus for a single museum building by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, who just this week revealed new design changes. The combined operating support and capital expenditures total $110.5 million in arts and culture spending approved by the supervisors this year.
The supervisors also fund the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, which oversees $4.9 million in competitive grants to county arts organizations, runs the Ford Theatres, coordinates efforts to improve and increase arts education in public schools and puts on the annual holiday celebration that's televised from Walt Disney Concert Hall.