Times Staff Writer

At the end of the first month under Gov. George Deukmejian’s hard-line, no-frills budget for fiscal 1985-86, the California Arts Council finds itself in a crisis caused by its own success.

The council’s touring program--which brings quality California performers and groups to rural, suburban and inner-city areas, colleges and county fairs--is working too well. So well, in fact, that until last Friday’s regular Arts Council meeting at South Coast Repertory Theatre in Costa Mesa, an estimated $288,000 of support for statewide bookings was in jeopardy.

The problem apparently is too many bookings and not enough money.


Since fiscal 1982, the number of bookings has more than doubled, while fee support in the state budget has been split in half.

Several fiscal years ago, under former Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr., the performance roster was so slim that the council was returning money to the state treasury. The first Deukmejian budget took care of that by halving the fee support. In the current fiscal year, which began July 1, an estimated $600,000 in artist/presenter contracts has come in, while the amount available in the current budget for fee support is listed at $312,000.

The state’s fee support compensates the presenter for a percentage of the artist’s fee. Under various formula guidelines set by the council, the support ranges from about 10% to a maximum of 50%. Although the number of bookings for this year has risen from 141 to 221--and still counting--the budget support has not risen over last year’s.

Peter Pennekamp, co-chairman of the council’s touring advisory panel and director of CenterArts at Humboldt State University, traveled all the way from Arcata, which is closer to British Columbia than to Orange County, to plead with the council not to abandon the bulk of the touring program.

He said that in places like Crescent City on the Oregon border, where there is more than 25% unemployment, the performances bring much-needed comfort and are much appreciated. “This is an underserved, isolated community on the far side of a national park. And with a community that has 3,500 people, the performances get an average attendance of 482.”

Crescent City, whose economy is based almost solely on timber, last year saw such artists as the U-Zulu Dance Theatre of South Africa, a group of South African emigres.

Susan Loewenberg, producing director of L.A. Theatre Works in Venice, also appealed to the Arts Council on behalf of the state’s artists. “For us now, where we may be put in a position where we may not get paid . . . not to get reimbursed for what we have done leaves us in financial difficulty. Where do we find the money?”

L.A. Theatre Works is currently doing a monthlong engagement of “The Coyote Cycle,” Murray Mednick’s mystical seven-play series, which is being presented by Susan Dietz’s L.A. Stage Co., at the Paramount Ranch in Agoura. The artist fee is $40,000, of which the California Arts Council will pay $16,000, or 40% to the presenter.

Until the compromise arrangement was reached, the $16,000 would not have been issued. On a “first-come, first-served” basis, which had been set in advance, “The Coyote Cycle” happened to be the 161st booking contract received by the Arts Council staff. However, the state’s $312,000 in fee support would have run only through the first 78 contracts.

So a compromise had to be reached. In effect, the council was forced to rob Peter to pay Paul.

The compromise--voted 8-0--took $65,000 from the $3.3 million in grants for Artistic and Administrative Development, or organizations whose budgets are under $1 million a year; another $65,000 from the $2.8 million in grants for Support to Prominent Organizations, or organizations whose budgets are over $1 million, and $20,000 from the $1.7-million State/Local Partnership program, which aids city and county arts organizations.

Stephen Goldstine, chairman of the California Arts Council and president of the San Francisco Art Institute, said it was “sad” that in a time of state budget plenty, he had to be presiding over a meeting where he had to recommend taking from one arts program to pay for another.

Consuelo Santos-Killins of San Jose said she felt like “a mother with too many children to feed and not enough to go around.”

Democratic appointees pointed out that the touring program would have been more easily accommodated if Deukmejian had augmented his $12.6-million budget (which includes federal money) with a portion of the $4 million more urged by the state Legislature. The Democratic-controlled Legislature had recommended that the overall touring budget be raised from $470,000 to $982,000.

Harvey Stearn, vice chairman of the council, who is a vice president of the Mission Viejo Co. and a Deukmejian appointee, said it was no longer a question of the “relative need” of one program versus another, but that the council had to “honor its commitments; there are moral obligations.”

Patricia Geary Johnson of Rolling Hills, a Deukmejian appointee whose specialty on the council is the touring program, supported the governor’s budget numbers--except that she would have liked to see the $900,000-plus for touring. Johnson noted that the compromise solution was the best that could be had under the circumstances.

“We prevented anyone (artist or presenter) from going under,” she said.

To make the compromise work, the council also disbursed another $28,000 within the overall touring budget that otherwise might have gone for technical assistance to statewide presenters.

It voted that a maximum of $20,000 per booking be placed on fee support, thereby saving $44,750.

Thus the UCLA Center for the Arts will get $20,000 (instead of $40,000) for an October performance by the San Francisco Ballet; El Teatro Campesino will get $20,000 (instead of $24,750) for an October/November engagement by the Bilingual Foundation for the Arts in Lincoln Heights and the San Diego Arts Foundation will receive $20,000 (instead of $40,000) for performances in June, 1986, by the Joffrey Ballet.

In addition, the council adopted a measure whereby contracts involving artists who booked more than $20,000 worth of fee support would not be funded. Here another $37,435 was saved--including a fee support of $9,450 (out of a $21,000 fee) for performances by the Lewitzky Dance Company next January at UC Berkeley. Ironically, Lewitzky, who was on tour with her dance company, is one of 11 members of the Arts Council.

Moreover, the council arbitrarily decided that all contracts received after June 17 would not be funded--ordinarily, contracts might have been accepted until Sept. 15. “We have to cut it off somewhere,” Goldstine said.

With that, the California Arts Council managed to deal with support for the first 168 tour bookings.

“There were 19 (contracts) when we stopped counting July 1,” Rob Jaffe, touring program manager, said, “and I’d guess nearly twice that has come in since.”