San Diego County Arts Writer

Once again, San Diego's arts funding organization, COMBO, has come under fire from local arts activists. They don't like the idea that COMBO has been designated by the City Council as the city's official arts agency solely for the purpose of applying for a National Endowment for the Arts grant. Under the terms of the grant, the NEA will match every $2 of new local public funding with $1 of federal money, provided the city can raise a minimum of $300,000 in the three years beginning next January.

This is serious money, certainly, and worth going after, but there are those who feel that COMBO--a private entity that helps raise funds for member arts organizations--isn't the appropriate agency to disburse these new public funds to member and non-member groups. Yet COMBO is the only local agency eligible to apply for the grant (an eligible group must be nonprofit, in existence for at least three years and have a track record of arts support).

Local arts consultant Stanley Fried blames the city for "relinquishing any responsibility for cultural development and giving it to COMBO for the purposes of this grant." He also thinks it's premature to be applying for the grant, when the appropriate city agency, the recently formed Public Arts Advisory Board, has yet to be clearly designated or afforded any purse-string power. In other words, why designate COMBO (with its private administrative overhead) by default when a more proper city agency is already in place?

COMBO'S SIDE: The fear of COMBO misusing public funds has been simmering for years. But COMBO wants and needs to grow beyond its original role as a fund-raiser and distributor, since its fund-raising capacity has failed to keep pace with the spiraling budget growth of its member organizations. And if COMBO's desire to play a bigger part in the evolution of the city's master arts plan scares some, it also makes some sense.

"We have the organization, the structure and the know-how," said COMBO Executive Director Robert Arnhym. And COMBO ad hoc committee chairman Anita Morris has pledged to work closely not only with the Public Arts Advisory Board, but also with "a wide variety of artists . . . and arts organizations not previously funded by COMBO" in preparing the grant proposal. Since COMBO's designation as city arts agency is a fait accompli, the best way for artists to be included in the process is through the raft of public meetings scheduled.

Tonight at 7 o'clock, a meeting on the regranting and technical assistance aspects of the proposal will be held at the Educational Cultural Complex in Southeast San Diego. On Friday, a meeting on audience development will be held at University City's Standley Park Recreation Center, also at 7 p.m. On March 7, a meeting to report on the consensus of the three COMBO grant subcommittees will be held at COMBO's offices downtown at 7 p.m. And on March 14, a meeting on the final draft of the proposal is set for 7 p.m., location to be announced.

ARTBEATS: The San Diego Symphony Orchestra has several new board members--Valerie Scott, Linda Chester and, most prominently, former state Business, Transportation and Housing Secretary Lynn Schenk, who will be devoting her attention to the capital campaign for the orchestra's Fox Theatre project . . . Meanwhile, the San Diego Pops Orchestra has been granted a five-year partial use and occupancy agreement by the City Council for its concert site on Hospitality Point . . .

Because of production delays, the UC San Diego Theatre has postponed until further notice its production of "Shachiapang: A Work in Progress," which was to open next Thursday at the Mandell Weiss Center for the Performing Arts. "Frozen Assets," the comedy by Barrie Keefe, which was slated to run in repertory with "Shachiapang," will be performed as originally announced, previewing Wednesday.

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