The California Arts Council has awarded $500,000 in its first grants specifically earmarked for state's ethnic arts community, and announced Wednesday that 20 Los Angeles County arts groups have won nearly a third of the funds.

Locally, 17 emerging ethnic arts groups, including Black Photographers of California, the Armenian Radio Hour and Echoes (an Asian-American literary journal) will receive "entry" grants of $2,000 for three successive fiscal years beginning in July, said Arts Council Director Robert H. Reid at a downtown Los Angeles news conference. Three larger, more established groups, East/West Players, Visual Communications and Self-Help Graphics, will receive $40,000 in "advancement" grants for two successive years, he said.

The total amount awarded in Los Angeles County was $154,000.

Faced with continual pressure from the state's ethnic arts community, legislators and others, the council has focused much of its attention since 1984 in creating the new ethnic grant program it calls its multicultural program.

In 1985, the National Endowment for the Arts deferred for six months the council's state operating grant (providing about $900,000 of the council's $13.5-million budget) citing, among other considerations, a deficiency in the council's ethnic programming.

"The multicultural community and the whole (arts) field in California has lobbied very strongly for this program," said Reid in an interview before the conference. "It's a significant step forward, and I hope some of the legislative supporters of the program are listening."

While Reid called the $40,000 awards to larger groups a "reasonably significant grant," he conceded that $2,000 to smaller groups, though given for three successive years was "not a great deal of money."

"But it gives the same seal of approval as would a $150,000 grant," he said, "and when these groups find out they've gotten the grants, they react like it's the greatest thing since sliced bread."

One entry grant award may help a certain recipient realize a long-held vision.

"My dream has been to build a workers theater in L.A., and I think this is the first step," said Susan Tanner, director of the Theatreworker's Project. The ethnically diverse 10-member group of unemployed steelworkers from Southeast Los Angeles presents plays about the lives and experiences of its members in the industrial belt near the communities of Huntington Park and Vernon.

Tanner, who created Theatreworker's Project through an Arts Council artist-in-residency grant, said the recognition and financial assistance of the new grant elevates the troupe "from merely an artist-in-residence project to a legitimate, emerging theater company." She said she is preparing a new work celebrating the history and culture of Southeast Los Angeles and that the money will enable her troupe to incorporate video, live music and slides into the piece.

Among other entry grant recipients, Daria Chaikovsky, director of the Ukrainian Art Center, Inc. on Melrose Avenue, said the funds will help her organization to preserve Ukrainian folk and fine art forms, such as "old embroidery stitches that are in danger of being lost."

Rhythms of the Village, a six-member Nigerian music and dance troupe that also received a state entry grant, plans to produce a dance/drama based on an African concept of children "that are born to die," are reincarnated and return to their parents repeatedly, said the group's choreographer Bimbola Chukwurah.

The work is called "Nonyelum," meaning stay with me. "It's a mother's pleas for the child to stay with her," Chukwurah explained.

Janet Matsui, administrator of the East/West Players, said the $40,000, two-year advancement grant awarded the 22-year-old Asian theater troupe will ultimately help improve its overall programming.

"We're going to hire a development associate and marketing consultant," with the grant monies, Matsui said. "That will help us develop both our contributed and earned income. And with a better income, we'll have better programming."

Other Los Angeles County entry grant recipients are: All That Dance Company, Anjani's Kathak Dance of India, Beikoku Kitakai (multi-discipline), Co-Real Artists (multi-discipline), East Los Streetscapers (visual arts), Huayucaltia (music), Khmer Woman Weavers, Los Angeles Poverty Department (multi-discipline), Cambridge Players Inc. (theater), the Concordia Orchestra and Viji Prakash and the Bharata Natyam Ensemble of India (dance).

All entry grants are non-matching grants in their first year, but require a 4-to-1 match the second year, and a 2-to-1 match in the third year. Advancement grants do not require a match in either year. Both types of grants were given to Asian, Black, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander (Hawaiian or Micronesian) or other ethnic groups.

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