Arts Commission Passes Off Its Fund-Raising Duties

The Ventura County Arts Commission last week ceded one of its primary functions, fund raising, to a private foundation in the wake of criticism that it had been ineffective.

Since October, administrators of art programs and facilities in Ventura County have complained that the commission, a 6-year-old county agency, had failed to raise adequate funds for matching state and private arts grants.

The California Arts Council, a state agency that coordinates local arts programs, also had criticized the Ventura County effort for dragging its feet in raising funds. Only $500--all contributions from members of the commission's board--had been raised since 1981.

Sandra Sanders, the commission's sole staff member, acknowledged that "there has not been real heavy fund-raising activity," and said there was a need for a "more aggressive" fund-raising unit.

The commission last week voted 9 to 4 that the new Ventura County Community Foundation take over as local fund-raising partner with the California Arts Council. The action must be approved by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors.

Critics of the commission praised the proposal.

New Pocket of Donors

"This is a big step for the community, a positive step," said Karine Beesley, executive director of the Ventura County Symphony. "What they (the foundation members) are going to be able to do is generate a whole new pocket of money and a base of donors for arts in our communities. The possibilities are endless."

The Ventura County Community Foundation is an umbrella organization that accepts donations to finance programs, not only in the arts, but also in education, science, environment and public affairs. The local foundation is a spinoff of the California Community Foundation, a 72-year-old nonprofit organization that donates about $6 million a year to Southland charities but says it can no longer provide adequate support to fast-growing Ventura County.

Donations will be solicited from corporations and individuals in the form of stocks, bonds, property and real estate that will help finance a wide range of community programs, said foundation President Alan Teague, a Santa Paula citrus rancher and four-time president of Ventura County's United Way chapter.

"We're looking for assets that actually earn income," Teague said. "We've already received one gift, an educational scholarship. So we're in business."

Over a few years' span, the foundation hopes to raise a $10-million endowment and begin to donate $1 million yearly to local nonprofit groups, Teague said.

Sanders said the foundation's board of directors should provide fund-raising clout that the commission does not have.

"Prestige plays an important part in fund raising. I think that corporate donors . . . could be very interested in providing funding through the foundation. People like being associated with a winner."

Sanders said the commission still will play an important role in art issues, acting as an advocate for artists in areas such as public spending for the arts.

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