THE ARTS FESTIVAL : The Successes of ’84 Have Spurred Plans for a Reprise Festival in ’87, and Perhaps More Through ’91

Times Staff Writer

The Olympic Arts Festival was barely half over, recalls Festival Director Robert J. Fitzpatrick, when conversation started on Los Angeles’ next arts festival.

Everything moved quickly. Maureen Kindel, chairman of the advisory committee for the festival, was on the phone to Peter Ueberroth the day after the Olympics ended. By September, the mayor had appointed a panel to study the matter.

Talk turned to action. Commitments totaling $3.5 million have already rolled in from the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee’s Amateur Athletic Foundation, which sought and received changes in its articles of incorporation, from the Community Redevelopment Agency, and from Times Mirror, major sponsor of the 1984 festival. Besides assembling a four-week reprise for September, 1987, organizers are already planning bi-annual festivals as far ahead as 1991.

“Everyone connected with the Games felt a great elation and a subsequent letdown that they were over,” recalls Kindel, president of the Board of Public Works and chairman of the newly formed Los Angeles Festival. “We all felt there should be something, a real tangible legacy to the city . . . What went on during the festival convinced me that it should continue to go on.”


Who wouldn’t want to repeat an event that the Boston Globe said “quite probably is the single most important cultural event in our country’s history?” By the time the 1,500 artists from 18 countries had packed up their makeup and sets, their ballet shoes and violas, nearly 1.3 million people had attended 424 performances and/or exhibitions at four dozen sites. From its controversial opening-night performance June 1 of West Germany’s Pina Bausch dancers on a stage covered with peat moss, the festival moved quickly through 70 days and nights of demon drumming, Shakespeare in Kabuki-style French, classical ballet and ceramic art. There were 34 world, American and Los Angeles premieres, among them London’s Royal Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Japan’s Sankaijuku dancers dangling head first--not to mention nearly naked--from the side of the Music Center.

In the world’s press and at the box office, what Fitzpatrick called the city’s “Arts Mitzvah” surpassed even its planners’ greatest expectations. There were 200 sold-out performances, and 81% of all available seats were filled.

“It’s one thing to say it can happen here,” says dancer Bella Lewitzky, organizer of the festival’s dance programs, “and it’s quite another to say it did happen here.”

While most of the festival has gone the way of the 500-pound cake and champagne offered the entire opening night audience, such landmarks remain as artist Robert Graham’s big, bronze Olympic Gateway in front of the Coliseum and the freeway murals that Fitzpatrick once called art “from the fast lane.” The County Museum of Art netted 20,000 new members, sold more posters and post cards than ever before, and sent the catalogue of its monumental “A Day in the Country” show of French Impressionist paintings through three printings.


Local and national entrepreneurs alike say that festival audience response let them know that they could take more risks, particularly when it came to foreign language theater. Such groups as Pina Bausch, Sankaijuku, Piccolo Teatro di Milano and the Royal Shakespeare Company all went on to New York appearances, some for the first time, and many of the troupes are planning repeat visits to either Los Angeles, New York, or both. Future festivals planned for everywhere from Baltimore next year to New York in 1988 can clearly trace impetus, if not roots, back to the success of the Olympic Arts Festival.

So can activities at the long-dormant Music Center Opera Assn. All 11 performances of the Royal Opera were virtually sold-out--at prices as high as $75 and $100--and “the lesson we learned then which is still part of our thinking process is that there is a large, enthusiastic audience for world-class opera in Los Angeles and it is ready to pay relatively high prices for that opera,” says Thomas Wachtell, Assn. president. “The festival accelerated our search for a new executive director and the entering into a new stage . . . of the Music Center doing its own opera productions, rather than just being a presenter.”

At the Los Angeles Theatre Center, Bill Bushnell, artistic/producing director, adds that the festival’s success “opened up a kind of consciousness in this town that works of art take time and money, and that there are amazing and interesting things out there to be seen that a lot of people never experienced before. It helped me to reaffirm that you could experiment in this town and people would accept those experimentations.”

International press reports put a stop to Los Angeles’ image as a cultural desert. The festival press office said that more than 1,350 press representatives came to cover the festival, and paid press agents couldn’t have written more glowing reports. The Village Voice referred to it as “the most impressive international arts gathering ever seen in the U.S, " while Newsweek commented that “whatever shreds of a cultural inferiority complex remain are being swept away by the huge Olympic Arts Festival.”

Observers say many in the audience were new to the arts--as evidenced in part by their applauding at the wrong times--and old audiences were willing to try new or less familiar auditoriums. Doris Stovall, Pasadena Civic Auditorium manager, says she simply doesn’t know if those new audiences ever came back, but at the Japan America Theatre downtown, general manager Cora Mirikitani is certain they have.

“Our first season subscription this year was virtually sold out,” she said, “and I know many of those people came for Olympic Arts Festival events and returned.”

The County Museum’s French Impressionist paintings show drew 460,000, the largest attendance since the museum’s King Tut show, and director Earl A. Powell III reports high membership renewal rates for last year’s record-breaking 20,000 new members. The museum is also discussing further collaborative projects with the Louvre and other European museums of that stature, Powell says.

Fitzpatrick says Ariane Mnouchkine reports “a constant influx” of Los Angeles visitors to Le Theatre du Soleil’s in Paris, and there have already been exchanges between those two cities. Georges Bigot, the Theatre du Soleil actor whose face graced festival brochures and posters, was back in Los Angeles leading a workshop for actors at Stages theater. And Los Angeles set designer Michael Devine will be “a working guest” at Mnouchkine’s theater this summer as a direct result of festival-inspired contacts.


Other legacies are less tangible. ‘What I remember so distinctly,” says Hope Tschopik, associate director of the festival, “is you would leave a performance and people were so stimulated that they literally couldn’t get in their cars to go home.”

Festival planners didn’t pull everything off, of course. Robert Wilson’s ambitious multi-national, multi-lingual opera, “the CIVIL warS: a tree is best measured when it is down,” never raised enough funds to debut at the festival--although the Los Angeles Philharmonic presented a concert version of the Rome segment at its American Music Weekend last November.

A world poetry festival fell through, and so did a proposed World Olympiad of Music to be assembled by Stevie Wonder at the Rose Bowl. Italian officials decided against loaning two 2,400-year-old Greek bronzes for the festival, and the Soviet Union’s Rustaveli Theatre and Moiseyev Dance Company both stayed home.

Some attendance was also disappointing. Fitzpatrick concedes the chamber music festival couldn’t hold up against glitzier competition, particularly given its placement so early in the festival. The Craft and Folk Art Museum’s annual Festival of Masks did not meet attendance expectations after moving to a larger site, a concession to Olympic Arts Festival planners that Patrick Ela, museum director, says contributed to a loss to the museum of nearly $70,000. Many theater executives also reported lower attendance after the festival, a situation that Gordon Davidson, artistic director at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum, suggests may have been due simply to “audience exhaustion.”

C. Bernard Jackson, executive director of the Inner City Cultural Center, feels that the festival’s negative impact came in “belittling everything that is happening and going on here.” But balancing that, he continues, is its pinpointing what can happen given increased money, press exposure and other community support.

Now comes a second chance in 1987. Amended Amateur Athletic Foundation articles of incorporation permitted a contribution of up to $2 million for an arts festival, and Kindel says one reason for going to the foundation for money was the hope of raising new monies rather than competing with existing arts organizations for already sparse arts funds. Kindel says she also “felt all along that the arts were overlooked when people drew up the policy regarding distribution of profits from the Games.”

The Community Redevelopment Agency provided a $1 million challenge grant, inspired largely by what CRA Administrator Edward Helfeld perceives as direct economic stimulation downtown from arts events. That grant may even increase, Helfeld notes, should a CRA staff proposal be enacted that would seek increased funds from downtown private developers, specifically for the festival.

The CRA grant is contingent on organizers raising $3 million, and despite Times Mirror’s $500,000 pledge, organizers remain $500,000 short. Kindel expects to announce commitments for the remaining money this fall and confides that she already has informal commitments for $350,000 of that money.


The 1984 festival reported expenses of $11.5 million, met primarily by $5 million from Times Mirror, $3 million from the LAOOC and $3 million from ticket sales, and the 1987 festival is currently budgeted at less than $9 million. Festival planners operate out of a trailer at the Cal Arts campus in Valencia--Fitzpatrick is that school’s president--but will later move downtown.

Some Los Angeles arts groups complained of second-class citizenship compared to international troupes, as well as of losing money on the festival, and many people hope that future festivals will lavish more attention and money on Los Angeles arts and artists. Fitzpatrick, in turn, refers to the large and very successful “fringe” programming at similar festivals in Avignon, France and Edinburgh, Scotland, saying his immediate plans include study of how to help such events transpire here.

What Fitzpatrick says he’s worried about now is people asking, “Can we possibly be that good, that original and (have) audiences so open a second time.” His answer: “Coraggio. Courage. Don’t retreat. Los Angeles is on the world map culturally like it has never been before.”