L.A. Artists Jockey for City Grants

Eager to share in a $25-million windfall of city funds for the arts, a number of artists and arts groups across Los Angeles are gathering forces to make sure they have a say in how the cash gets spent.

The bundle of money is the Los Angeles Endowment for the Arts, a new $20-million program approved last November that increases municipal arts support from $4.9 million to about $25 million.

None of the funds will be handed out before July, when a new city budget becomes law. And, around that time, City Council members could whittle the amount down.

However, city officials say that's unlikely and that they will soon begin developing an endowment spending plan. As a result, many in the local arts community are maneuvering to be part of that process.

Three meetings, scheduled for the next few weeks, have been organized by three groups of artists and arts institution officials who want to know more about the endowment, to spread the word and to express their concerns about who gets how much, how the pie is sliced and why.

Al Nodal, general manager of the city's Cultural Affairs Department, is chief administrator of the endowment and has accepted invitations to the three meeting.

"Come and show the City Council and the Cultural Affairs Department that Los Angeles' whole art world is watching how this money is spent," states a meeting announcement sent to artists. " . . . Do you want the same big arts organizations to continue to receive the lion's share? Remember, if you don't ask, the answer is always No!"

Nodal, who has repeatedly stressed the need for artists' input during development of the endowment, said he is glad to see the sessions sprouting up.

Some meeting organizers have been "emotional and intense" in recent discussions about the distribution of endowment funds, he said. But he does not believe that the meetings signal divisiveness within the arts community.

"This is a very big city with very diverse communities--geographically, ethnically, artistically--and no single group could represent all the particular needs and criteria. We want to make sure everyone in this city gets heard."

Other artists have said that any effort to organize--even into separate groups--is healthy for the arts community, an "anarchistic" world typically composed of "renegades."

A strong, unified show of support will particularly be needed around June, Nodal said, when the City Council votes on the endowment again.

As initially approved, about $10 million of the endowment's budget will be generated from a 1% fee on non-residential private development projects of more than $500,000. About $5 million more will come from a 1% fee on all city capital improvements, and another $5 million (the only portion expected to be available as early as July) from the city's general fund.

The initial vote to draw money from the city's coffers is irreversible, Nodal said. But only preliminary ordinances require the 1% fees on private development and on capital improvements to city proprietary departments, such as the Department of Water and Power.

City Councilman Joel Wachs, who conceived of the endowment and has been its chief proponent, said that a vote reversal on the private development fee could drain $10 million from the endowment. He could not predict how much could be lost from a reversal on the proprietary departments fee, though he estimated it would be much less. Nevertheless, Wachs said he is confident that, while conceivable, it is unlikely that the City Council will reverse either vote.

The most highly organized effort to involve artists in the endowment's development has come from a diverse group of artists who have created the ad hoc Los Angeles Arts Congress. Its first meeting, to which the mayor and City Council have been invited, will be held at 7 p.m. Monday at the Gallery Theatre in Hollywood's Barnsdall Park.

The congress is open to artists and arts institution officials of all ethnic types, working in all disciplines throughout the city, said coordinating member Susan Franklin Tanner.

"Artists as a whole have a common need, and if we can gather together and fight for it, it'll be better for all of us," said Tanner, director of the TheatreWorker's Project, a local theater organization.

"The real guts of the first congress meeting will be an open mike for the arts community to speak" about such issues as how smaller, emerging arts groups and lesser-known individuals will fare as endowment funds go out, she said.

Members of the black arts community have organized a single meeting (though not a named organization like the Los Angeles Congress) scheduled for 7 p.m., March 9 at Kinsey Auditorium at the Museum of Science and Industry in Exposition Park, said actor Richard Elkins.

"The African-American cultural community is unanimous in the belief that they are the only ones who can speak for their community," said Elkins, who is helping to coordinate the event.

C. Bernard Jackson, artistic director of the Inner City Cultural Center, plans to attend and said he is concerned that poorer communities will get less money. Funds from the endowment's private development and city improvement fees must be spent where those developments occur.

"Obviously, there is very little new development taking place in South Central or East L.A.," Jackson said.

(Nodal has said that endowment money from the city's general fund will probably be used as an "equalizer" and spent in areas of less private development.)

Future meetings may be held after the black arts community's first session, Elkins said.

Barbara Frost, a homeless writer living on Skid Row and an organizer of the homeless, wants the voice of that community heard and has organized a meeting too.

"There is a tremendous amount of artistic talent down here, which should be taken seriously," she said, adding that more meetings may take place in the future.

A missionary in Central America for 17 years, Frost has visionary plans for helping the homeless that include a multidisciplinary cultural center offering classes, performances and exhibitions.

She has planned the meeting for March 15 at 2:30 p.m. at a public meeting room at 846 E. 6th St. to talk with "people from this area, the cultural community, concerned citizens and homeless service providers" about establishing the center. Discussion of how the endowment can help will be on the agenda, she said.

Further information on the endowment meetings may be obtained from the Cultural Affairs Department, (213) 485-2433.

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