Subsidizing the arts became a hot political issue for the Garden Grove City Council in the summer as debate raged over the city’s support of the Grove Theatre Company and the Garden Grove Symphony.
With November elections approaching, candidates for city office are again pushing their views about the role the city should play in supporting the arts.
The Grove Theatre has received most of the attention because of the flap over its annual Shakespeare Festival, but the Garden Grove Symphony also depends on the city for part of its budget.
The orchestra, which opens its fourth season Saturday, is expected to receive $36,000 from the city this year, according to marketing director Yaakov Dvir-Djerassi. The orchestra’s budget for the year is about $225,000. The city’s municipal budget is $47.7 million.
“There are certain factions” on the City Council who believe that subsidizing the arts “is unimportant,” says Barbara Sulzbach, a 32-year resident of the city who, in seeking a council seat, is campaigning for public office for the first time.
“This came as a surprise to many of us who feel it’s a vital part of our community life,” she says.
Sulzbach believes that city funds directed to arts groups “are dollars well spent.”
“They buy more than PR dollars do,” she says about public relations, “and they accomplish more. There are people in Canada and Mexico who know that the Shakespeare festival is in Garden Grove, Calif. So from a practical, business point of view, I think it is a wise thing to do--in addition to all the good feelings it brings. I think it is great for Garden Grove.”
Sulzbach also cites “the education factor of this for our youth,” noting that high school students have benefited from attending Shakespeare plays and orchestra rehearsals. “I think this is a marvelous exposure,” she says.
“My belief is that there should always be visible evidence of city support for cultural groups because they will necessarily have to go outside for funding to foundations and/or corporations. It is vitally important that those people know there is strong city support” for the groups, Sulzbach says.
As a founder of the Garden Grove Symphony, Sulzbach says her support is not merely theoretical: “I put my money where my mouth is.”
Mayor pro Tem Robert F. Dinsen, a candidate for mayor, strongly opposes government subsidy of the arts.
“Basically, I think they are trying to live too high off the hog,” Dinsen says. “The patrons, the people who come to watch the symphony productions, aren’t willing to pay what it costs to put on the productions. So they have to get subsidies from any place they can. . . . My question is, why should my next-door neighbor help pay for the entertainment of somebody else?”
Dinsen concedes that “all of the arts, apparently, need some kind of subsidizing.” But he believes that “we’ve got to take care of our (city) priorities first.”
That would include, he says, “basic services such as adequate police . . . road maintenance . . . (and) more lanes to try to ease the traffic.
“I think that some of the things like subsidizing other people’s entertainment is where we can cut expenses, without adding taxes.”
Dinsen says he is not a regular concert-goer.
“I have, I think, attended one symphony concert,” he says. “I’m not really overly enthused with that sort of thing. But it wasn’t exceptionally great or exceptionally poor. It was good enough to get people to hear it.”
Still, Dinsen is aware that even if elected he may not get his way: “It all boils down to, unless I can get two council members to agree with me, I can’t do anything.”
Councilman W. .E. (Walt) Donovan, who is also running for mayor, counters: “Maybe the arts are a basic service. I happen to believe that the city should support the arts. It’s good advertising for the city, and hopefully (arts groups) can become self-sustaining in time. There aren’t many that do across the country.”
Donovan believes that redevelopment and upgrading of shopping centers and sales taxes can raise enough money for city services, without adding taxes or cutting on subsidies to the arts.
He cites one shopping center that is estimated to generate more than $500,000 more revenue in 1988 than in 1987. The city’s tax share of the increase “would pay for a few (more) police,” Donovan says. “And the difference of $500,000 is just from one center.
“Personally, I don’t go to the symphony,” he says. “I do hold a season ticket to the Gem Theatre.”
But he sees no problem in supporting activities that he doesn’t attend personally.
“People have diverse interests,” he says. “We support the Little Leagues of the Recreation Department and the parks. I don’t go to the park that often. But I think the people who like to go to the park should have a park to go to.”
When it comes to the arts, he says, “it’s sort of the same thing, the way I look at it. People don’t have the same interests.”
However, Donovan says Garden Grove residents are more concerned with “upgrading Garden Grove” in general than in debating subsidy of the arts.
“The most calls I get (from residents) are that we aren’t enforcing code enforcement enough,” Donovan says. “Cars parked on the lawns, that sort of thing.”