Soviet Arts Festival Wins Council Vote After Heated Debate

San Diego County Arts Writer

After more than three hours of often heated debate, the San Diego City Council voted late Monday to spend as much as $3 million to pay for Mayor Maureen O'Connor's Soviet arts festival.

The council's 6-2 vote will allocate up to $800,000 this fiscal year and up to $2.2 million next year for the proposed "Treasures of the Soviet Union" festival. The approval came after 60 people spoke at a highly emotional hearing.

The three-week festival was the keynote of O'Connor's State of the City Address in January, in which she declared 1988 the Year of the Arts. The festival is tentatively scheduled to begin Oct. 21, 1989.

O'Connor has vowed that the city funds, which come from tourist-paid hotel and motel taxes, will be matched dollar-for-dollar by private and corporate money. Philanthropist Joan Kroc has already contributed $1 million to the festival.

O'Connor said in defending her proposal: "Of the 10 major cities, the city of San Diego is the only one other than Houston that does not have a major arts festival"

The debate Monday echoed that of recent weeks, with criticism both of O'Connor's handling of festival planning and of the appropriateness of a Soviets arts festival. Her actions have divided the city's arts community.

"I do think there should be a healing in the city," City Councilwoman Abbe Wolfsheimer said. Wolfsheimer, who attended performances at Sushi performance gallery and the Old Globe Theatre last weekend, said she was repeatedly approached by artists who feared that their city funding would be cut if they criticized the festival.

"Those people were walking around with a gray cloud over their heads," Wolfsheimer said.

Saying that only $800,000 of the $3 million in city funds would go to local arts organizations, Wolfsheimer voted against the festival, as did Councilwoman Judy McCarty.

Councilman Wes Pratt said he was troubled by the lack of involvement by local arts institutions in the festival and called for "a specific plan" of involving those groups.

"A lot of people are misinformed," Pratt said. "We've got to initiate a public education effort."

San Diego Opera General Director Ian Campbell, whose company will kick off the festival with a joint Soviet-San Diego production of the opera "Boris Godunov," said the controversial festival marks an artistic coming of age for the city.

'Stimulates the City'

"It has created controversy," Campbell said. "Festivals do, and so they should. A boring festival achieves nothing. A festival that provokes, makes people think, makes them look at their own arts and other artists' and other peoples' art is the kind of festival that stimulates the city and leads to long-term benefits."

In addition to the opera, other major events will include a combined exhibition of 23 Faberge eggs from the Malcolm Forbes collection and the Moscow Armory, and an exhibit of religious icons from a museum in Tbilisi, Georgia.

The festival will also feature folk dance and music performances, classical musical performances, crafts exhibits and demonstrations, and possibly theatrical and classical ballet performances.

O'Connor was the target of some particularly vitriolic criticism by Cuban, Afghan and Czechoslovak emigres, who called the festival a "slap in the face to thousands of San Diegans."

In response to these and other criticisms over lack of local arts groups' involvement in the festival, the City Council voted to allocate $30,000--or 1% of the amount allocated to the festival--for a simultaneous alternative festival. The determination of the exact nature of that festival was referred to the city's Commission for Arts and Culture.

But, in supporting the festival, former San Diego City Councilman Fred Schnaubelt said it will help people unlock the riddle of Russia. Schnaubelt, who was a member of the Libertarian Party and later married a Russian woman, spoke of visiting the Soviet Union and watching Russians line up for six hours to see the the private art collection of U. S. industrialist Armand Hammer.

"For Americans to be able to see Russian art makes them no more pro-communist than the Russian government was pro-capitalist in allowing American art to go to the Soviet Union," Schnaubelt said. He chastised those opposing the festival on political grounds, saying they are just like a communist dictatorship in not wanting to allow Soviet artists to express themselves.

"I would ask that you all support this, and I think that you're going to help bridge the gap or the gulf that is between the Soviet people and the American people. And the Soviet people are not the same as the Soviet government."

George Gildred, representing the city's business community, said San Diego is "not perceived as a cosmopolitan urban center" and urged the council to approve funding for the festival because it would help develop San Diego's appeal as a site for new business investment and relocation.

The next step will be for the city attorney to establish a nonprofit corporation to oversee the arts festivals, which will be scheduled triennially. The festival already has an administrative coordinator, Bruce Herring, who after Monday's vote, said his first order of business is "to get in touch with the arts community at large . . . to get their input on the planning."

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