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Drifting County Arts Alliance Agrees to Dissolve

Times Staff Writer

A year after it suspended operations to take a long, hard look at itself, the 14-year-old Orange County Arts Alliance has voted to dissolve at the end of the month, alliance officials have announced.

A study commissioned by the alliance a year ago and released last week recommended that the agency be replaced with a new one, with new leadership, direction and commitment. A new agency is needed, the study found, because the alliance itself has been overwhelmed by “image problems based upon perceptions of lack of direction and leadership.”

However, the study also found reason to doubt that sufficient funding for a new agency exists.

The County Board of Supervisors, which created the alliance, will meet next week to consider whether there should be a next step. Already there is disagreement whether funding should be private or public.

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The purpose of the alliance, which employs one part-time staffer, has been to provide support for and promote development among local arts groups. It had received a state grant annually, ranging from about $12,000 to $30,000, from the California Arts Council since 1980.

Among the alliance’s initial accomplishments were a series of technical workshops to assist artists and arts organizations with management skills, an annual State of the Arts conference and maintenance of a speakers bureau.

But over time, the study found, the agency failed to follow through on issues, suffered a debilitating number of changes in board membership and staffing and failed to clarify its purpose to the general community.

The agency had been under fire from the Arts Council recently for failing to provide aggressive support of community arts programs, including those involving ethnic-minority artists, and for failing to raise money from private and public sources.

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As a result of these problems, membership dropped from a high of 400 arts groups, corporate and educational organizations in 1986 to about 260. The agency shut down in January and formed a 20-member advisory panel, which in turn commissioned the study which led to the decision to dissolve.

The biggest problem in rectifying the situation, according to the study, is that “there are few immediate identifiable funds for a new local arts agency,” and “unless the funding is in place before the entity is established, it will shortly find itself with the same financial problems which have plagued” the alliance.

The study recommends “a minimum need of $100,000 per year for the first 2 years.”

Russ Barrios, executive assistant to County Supervisor Don R. Roth and a member of the alliance board of directors, feels any funding for a new agency should be raised privately. But James Dunning, another board member, believes that government funding is essential.

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Topics addressed in the study, conducted by the Los Angeles-based arts consulting firm of Kennedy & Lutz,C included arts education, advocacy and funding for the arts, needs of small and emerging arts organizations and municipal support of the arts.

Problems facing an arts agency in Orange County include:

-- The geographical decentralization of artists and arts organizations, which hamper their ability to work together and share resources.

-- Relatively few channels and outlets where artists can perform or show their work (as opposed to what is available in Los Angeles).

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-- The high cost of housing and the lack of affordable studio space.

The study did not address solutions to these problems.

In a separate action, county supervisors approved the establishment of a John Wayne Airport Arts Task Force “to develop and implement procedures for the introduction of art at John Wayne Airport.” This task force will report its recommendations to the Board of Supervisors within 6 months.

Barrios said last week that the new agency concept and the Airport Task Force “probably will be looked at together.”

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