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CalArts Library Will Go on Buying Spree With $1-Million Getty Grant

Times Staff Writer

Robert J. Fitzpatrick, president of California Institute of the Arts, got a million-dollar surprise in the mail last week--a succinct note telling him that the J. Paul Getty Trust had selected the contemporary arts college in Valencia for an unsolicited grant of $1 million to spend any way he wanted.

The smile is still on Fitzpatrick’s face.

“Indeed it is,” he said Friday, “especially since the first check for $500,000 has just arrived. One of the things I love about the Getty is that they send you a two-paragraph letter saying you’ve been selected, and the next day they send you a check for $500,000.”

CalArts was one of four Los Angeles institutions selected last week for grants ranging from $500,000 to $1.5 million by the foundation endowed by the late billionaire J. Paul Getty.

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No Applications

The Los Angeles-based foundation, thought to be the richest of its kind in the world, with an estimated $2.3 billion in holdings, did not take applications for the four grants but instead went looking for worthy recipients.

Harold M. Williams, president of the trust, said CalArts was selected because of its “significant contributions to the cultural vitality of the Los Angeles community through its program in the visual arts and humanities.”

The money came with no strings.

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Fitzpatrick said he has already decided what to spend it on:

Art books, art books and more art books.

“The library is the heart of CalArts,” Fitzpatrick said.

Art students and faculty use the library as a working resource to keep aware of what the world’s artists have done and are doing.

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‘Necessary Luxuries’

Yet, the library’s needs are often the first to get shuffled aside during difficult times, Fitzpatrick said.

“They sometimes get classified as necessary luxuries,” he said, “things one could do without if one was desperate but which, if you do do without them, you lose something that is pretty important--that extra level of depth and range that can really enrich an artist.”

So, without hesitation, Fitzpatrick decided to put the entire grant into an endowment fund for the library. Based on a conservative estimate of an 8% yield, head librarian Jim Elrod will have $26,667 to spend right away.

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Elrod didn’t have to fuss any more than Fitzpatrick about what to do with the money.

He already has a list.

“So many art books have passed through our hands, we have a long list of them we have maintained over the years,” Elrod said.

The library has an annual budget of $87,000 with which to maintain a basic collection of library books and classical art books as well as “an ongoing documentation of contemporary art, which is our real business here,” Elrod said.

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Hundreds Not Purchased

“Each year we have to pass by hundreds of art books that we haven’t been able to acquire because they’re so expensive,” he said. “As a result, not only have the students and faculty suffered, but we have suffered from our guilty consciences.”

The list of overdue purchases includes exhibition catalogues, books on design and photography, art slides, video art, art periodicals and artists books. Elrod said artists books represent a new genre of contemporary art in which the book itself is the work of art.

Although Elrod’s list is heavy on contemporary works, it also includes some classical art and 20th Century artists whose works are already considered classics.

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One of the books that is high on the list is called “Jazz,” containing illustrations by the painter Henri Matisse. It contains prints of works which, Elrod said, illustrate “his notion of what jazz was in visual terms.”

It was published last year and sold for about $100.

Budget to Nearly Double

“It’s a beautiful book,” he said. “It was one of those things which we had to pass over because we couldn’t really justify adding a book at the expense of several other books on the same subject.”

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The $26,667 now in hand will put “Jazz” and quite a few other $100 books on the library’s shelves.

When the second $500,000 arrives sometime next year, revenues from the endowment will climb to about $80,000 a year, almost double the library’s current budget.

Fitzpatrick said he doesn’t know exactly when the second installment is coming. But he knows what to look for.

“Knowing the Getty,” he said, “I would expect it to come in a simple white envelope with a short note that says, “Here is the other $500,000. Good luck.’ ”

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