ARTS & CULTURE

L.A. Board of Supervisors adds $54 million to arts and culture budget

More than half of the supplemental funding will hasten upgrades to the Ford theaters

After taking a second look at Los Angeles County government's spending capacity for the 2014-15 fiscal year, the Board of Supervisors has added $54 million to the $84.7 million in arts and culture spending it had authorized in June when the board OK'd the main county budget.

The arts funding was part of a larger "supplemental budget" process that allocated hundreds of millions of dollars, including money that went unspent in the 2013-14 fiscal year that ended June 30, and revenues that weren't certain when the Board of Supervisors passed the primary budget in June.

The supplemental funding was approved Sept. 30, and more than half, $28.6 million, will hasten upgrades at the county-operated John Anson Ford Theatres in Hollywood.

A $500,000 allocation will allow the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County to take the first steps toward planning a renovation or expansion of the George C. Page Museum, which displays the bones of mammoths, saber-toothed cats, dire wolves and other creatures whose remains come from the adjacent La Brea Tar Pits. The Natural History Museum last year completed a $135-million renovation and makeover of exhibits at its other building, in Exposition Park.

The Natural History Museum's supplementary allocation totals about $1.7 million, added to the previously budgeted $18.1 million. The county funding covers maintenance, security and other overhead expenses. Donations and earnings from admissions and concessions cover its programming expenses.

The Music Center will get $6 million to begin a renovation of the Music Center Annex building across Temple Street from the Ahmanson Theatre, which houses Center Theatre Group's offices and rehearsal studios. The supplemental county allocation also includes $415,000 for additional programming in Grand Park, which is overseen by the Music Center.

La Plaza de Cultura y Artes, which houses exhibits and programs focused on the arts, history and culture of L.A.'s Mexican American community, will get $5 million on top of its previous $1.5 million county appropriation for 2014-15. Part of the money is for programming and part is to resume building a walkway intended to extend westward from Union Station to the Fort Moore Pioneer Monument, passing by La Plaza, Olvera Street and the El Pueblo de Los Angeles historic district.

The new funding for the John Anson Ford Theatres project will allow its operator, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, to finish a project to renovate the 1,196-seat outdoor theater and begin adding new facilities envisioned in a not-yet fully funded redevelopment plan for the 32-acre site that's estimated to cost more than $100 million.

The new allocation more than doubles the $27.2 million the supervisors previously had approved. A $7.5 million initial construction phase two years ago installed new seating and paid for some repairs, and the Arts Commission had announced a $19.7 million second phase of renovations that will begin soon and cancel the 2015 summer season at the Ford (performances will move to satellite venues around the county).

The newly OK'd $28.6 million will fund additional construction that can move forward quickly and won't prolong the time when the amphitheater is unavailable, Arts Commission spokeswoman Leticia Buckley said.

The money will pay for a new acoustical barrier to keep sound from the Ford from drifting to the nearby Hollywood Bowl, and vice versa, Buckley said. It also will allow for a new picnic terrace and kitchen outside the amphitheater, accommodating 200 picnickers and providing fresh-cooked food instead of trucked-in concession stand offerings. Ford operators will be able to earn money by renting out the terrace for private events and providing the catering. The new area also aims to make concert-going more pleasant.

"People have been sitting on stairs and any spot they can to picnic prior to the shows," Buckley said.

The Board of Supervisors approved an overall environmental impact report for future Ford improvements on Tuesday, giving its official approval to the Arts Commission's development plans. But there's no commitment to remaining components of the plan. They include two parking garages, a 299-seat indoor theater, a restaurant and a hiking trail.

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