Critic’s Notebook: L.A. City Council is poised to slash arts funds


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Times are tough. They have been for a long while, and they will continue to be for longer still. And when times are tough, art’s importance increases.

Among other explanations, that’s one reason Sunday’s performance-heavy Grammy telecast saw a huge spike in viewership -- 35% over last year. People hungry for full immersion in the solace of some sort of artistic bath will put up with tacky commercialism and self-congratulatory preening to get it, especially at the low cost of turning on the TV.


Heck, I even tuned in, and I never watch the Grammys.

Now, will someone please tell that to the brain trust over at L.A. City Hall? In the face of very real city budget woes, which amount to an immediate shortfall of $199 million for the current fiscal year (ending in June), draconian measures have been proposed for the arts. The cuts will continue into the future -- and once gone, getting them restored will be a herculean task.

What’s proposed? Cut the Cultural Affairs Department almost in half, laying off 48% of staff. (Of 1,003 planned citywide job cuts, 30 would come from this one tiny agency.) [Correction: The proposal would cut the department’s staff of 63 employees by 43%, 16 by layoffs and 11 by early retirement.] The move would do inevitable, serious damage to venues all over the city, such as the Municipal Art Gallery and the Watts Towers Art Center.

What else? Terminate existing contracts for arts grants that have already been awarded but whose projects have not yet begun. Suspend the grant program for 2010-11. That’s right: Zero it out.

And more. According to Arts for L.A., a nonprofit arts advocacy organization that is rallying opposition, the 1% Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT), the only dedicated funding source for the Cultural Affairs Department, is on the chopping block. (You can find city budget information here.)

City Administrative Officer Miguel A. Santana has emphasized the need for ‘shared sacrifice’ to deal with the budget crisis. He’s right. But here, apparently, that means other city departments get together and share in the effort to throw the arts overboard.

Public testimony on the proposal to disproportionally slash arts funding will be taken at Wednesday’s Los Angeles City Council meeting. Judging from the volume of Twitter tweets and Facebook postings I’ve seen, expect a crowd.


-- Christopher Knight


Budget shortfall puts L.A. arts agency funding on the chopping block

Follow Times art critic Christopher Knight at KnightLAT on Twitter.