Red Ink Fails to Discolor Views of Fringe Festival Artists

Though the majority of artists and arts organizations that took part in this fall's Fringe Festival of the arts were left in the red, Fringe director Aaron Paley says most would risk it again.

Three-quarters of Fringe participants--some 500 groups of actors, dancers, musicians and others, all of whom had to fund their own presentations--lost money on the Sept. 4-Oct. 4 venture, Paley said. He drew the conclusion from a survey he conducted of the festival's participants, about half of whom returned their questionnaires.

Collectively, Fringe participants made $225,000 and spent $360,000, Paley said, and at least 13 groups lost more than $3,000. However, he said that 90% of survey respondents said they would take part in another Fringe Festival.

"Even groups that said they had less attendance than usual said they would be in the next festival," said Paley, who intends to stage a second Fringe in 1989. "To me, that's because there was this overriding feeling that people were excited about being part of this larger event going on."

Paley, who has reported his findings to the Fringe Festival board of directors, said participants' financial losses did not reflect negatively on the Fringe but were typical of the difficulties facing local smaller nonprofit arts organizations and independent artists.

"I'm not discouraged" by the losses, he said. "This is just the reality. This is what everybody knows about working (as an artist) in Los Angeles. You go and you spend your own money and you lose it. Everybody knows this but they do it anyway."

Paley also said he was encouraged that 61% of the Fringe participants held their own or greatly increased average attendance rates. The percentage was especially significant, he said, because many artists had feared losing audiences either to one another or to the Los Angeles Festival, which brought to the city, at the same time as the 450-event Fringe, 37 productions by prominent arts groups from around the world.

Of those Fringe participants that did make money--18% of the total, while another 8% broke even--most succeeded because they didn't spend much to put on a show, Paley said.

Indeed, the cast and crew of "I Haven't Got a Clue," a play that netted a top Fringe profit of $4,000 for Theatre Palisades in Pacific Palisades, worked for free, said Lois Bader, who wrote the comedy/mystery. "That helps!"

Still, Paley noted that losing money on productions is par for the course at the 35-year-old Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland, after which the local event was modeled.

Other findings showed that a total of 10,000 artists were involved in the festival and 2,000 performances were presented, Paley said.

The survey also addressed more qualitative issues. One suggestion made by nearly every Fringe participant was for a day-by-day listing of events for future Fringe Festivals.

Paley said he also intends to report his survey findings--and his conclusion that the Fringe financial picture illuminates an ongoing lack of local arts support, particularly for smaller arts groups and independent artists--to every City Council member. He criticizes the city for the limited support.

The city, through its Cultural Affairs Department, gave a total of about $673,400, or 21 cents per capita, in grants to the arts for fiscal 1987-88, Paley said. A spokesman for the department confirmed the figures.

Compare that, Paley suggested, with $5.8 million--or $7.25 per capita--given to the arts by the City of San Francisco, through a tax charged to hotel patrons. New York City, he said, gave about $1 per capita.

"The City of Los Angeles hasn't caught up to its role as an arts center," Paley said. "Everyone is patting themselves on the back as an arts center, but the vibrant community of smaller arts groups largely responsible for this (growing reputation) isn't getting the support it needs. It's the old adage that these people are supporting themselves to do their art and that's not a situation that can last indefinitely.

"I'd like the Fringe Festival to be not an argument to support these groups every two years, but to support them all year round," added Paley, who also wants to bring his survey findings before the Los Angeles Task Force on the Arts, a committee appointed by Mayor Bradley to increase arts support.

The fate of a 1989 Fringe depends largely on the decisions of organizers of the Los Angeles Festival, which gave the first Fringe $25,000 of its $118-million budget plus publicity and technical support. That issue won't be discussed at least until January, when Peter Sellars, newly appointed Los Angeles Festival director, begins his job.

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