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L.A. Artists Pack 1st Meeting on City’s $20-Million Endowment

In an unusually strong show of local art world activism, a standing-room-only crowd of artists packed a theater in Hollywood Monday night to voice concerns over how the new $20-million Los Angeles Endowment for the Arts is spent.

Clapping and cheering, about 350 artists and arts administrators--sitting in the aisles and leaning against the walls--gathered at Barnsdall Park’s Gallery Theatre for the first “town meeting” of the Los Angeles Arts Congress.

The congress is an ad hoc organization formed by local artists to involve the arts community in shaping the endowment, a $20-million city arts program slated to be fully operational in about a year. City officials are now developing endowment guidelines through various studies and by attending such meetings as Monday’s.

“I haven’t (ever) seen this many people for an event like this,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Joel Wachs, who conceived of the endowment, designed to benefit all disciplines, cultures, large and small groups and independent artists citywide. “I guess that’s what happens when you have $20 million to give out.”

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Monday’s multi-ethnic crowd, even bigger than the one that jammed City Council chambers last November for the endowment’s passage, was clearly grass roots, composed mostly of independent artists and administrators from small arts groups.

Lining up to speak at an “open mike,” 52 people urged Wachs, Al Nodal (general manager of the city’s Cultural Affairs Department and chief endowment administrator) and other officials to use endowment funds for everything from inner-city youth arts programs to affordable dance, music and theater venues, to psychiatric counseling for artists.

“I’d like to see some of this money used to set up theater programs all around the inner city for young people,” said actor Orlando Bonner. He and others said the traditionally “undersupported” black arts community should receive more funds.

“We want to make sure that the endowment guidelines are set up to include women and make sure they are fairly represented,” said Jean Towgood, president of the Southern California Women’s Caucus for Art.

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“The Wallenboyd Theatre and Variety Arts Center have gone under,” said Brent Morris of the Rough Theater, echoing numerous concerns about affordable performance and exhibition venues. “The city needs to take a lead in keeping organizations like these in operation.”

“So many of the poets in L.A. publish their own collections,” said Carrie Etter, one of several poets who spoke up for support for poetry publishing houses and publications.

Bemoaning what a colleague called the “virus of isolation endemic to Los Angeles,” performance artist Tim Miller urged support for programs that encourage an “intercultural” community that fuses the city’s diverse cultures and communities.

“It’s not enough to fund black theater, Latino theater and gay and lesbian programs” separately while “keeping us in our own little fiefdoms,” Miller said.

And decrying a lack of comprehensive medical insurance coverage for artists, born of a national “lack of respect” for art, actress Veronica Redd said to some laughter and loud applause: “I need counseling and I think every artist in this country needs counseling, but (my) insurance will not cover counseling.”

Nodal and other city officials have repeated publicly that the endowment is designed to support many of the projects and areas of concern addressed at the three-hour meeting. But Nodal, who took notes during the session, said he is “committed to working with groups like this on an ongoing basis.” At least two other meetings to discuss the endowment, organized separately from the Los Angeles Arts Congress, have been scheduled during March.

A planning session to arrange the next general meeting of the arts congress has been scheduled for 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 5, at Gorky’s Cafe, 536 E. 8th St., downtown Los Angeles. It is open to anyone but an R.S.V.P. is necessary: (213) 221-4094.


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