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Kinder, Gentler Funding for Arts World Is Sought

Will a kinder, gentler wind blow toward the arts under the aegis of President Bush?

Des McAnuff, artistic director of the La Jolla Playhouse, will be one of six authorities asked by the American Arts Alliance to testify that it should at the House Appropriations interior subcommittee hearing Wednesday. The six, who represent theater, dance, music and art, will be joined by a group of 15 that includes Harry Belafonte, Colleen Dewhurst and Kitty Carlisle Hart.

McAnuff won’t be the only San Diego voice in Washington. One of the nine representatives from the congressional side of the fence, weighing McAnuff’s arguments, will be Rep. Bill Lowery (R-San Diego), who is serving his third year on the committee.

And, back in San Diego, waiting for the decisions to be passed down before the fiscal year in October, will be the San Diego arts organizations who have received money from the NEA: 16 groups in 1986 for a total of $1.198 million (including $500,000 which kicked in from an earlier grant to the Old Globe Theatre); 19 in 1987 for $533,600; and 19 in 1988 for $593,500. In 1989, the awards have gone to the La Jolla Playhouse ($250,000), the San Diego Opera (a $400,000 challenge grant to be matched by $2.4 million over three years) and San Diego Civic Light Opera (Starlight) ($5,000 in a grant to be matched by an equal amount in privately raised funds).

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At issue in the hearings: 1990 National Endowment for the Arts funding and a controversial proposal for $1 million of the NEA budget to be set aside for arts education in the schools. Not to be discussed at the hearing, but also weighing on the American Arts Alliance, is concern about whom Bush will appoint as head of the NEA. The executive director of the American Arts Alliance, Ann G. Murphy, is hoping for someone who can work comfortably with Congress and the President. Some of those she would like to see in the position are Beverly Sills, Bill Moyers, former Undersecretary of State John Whitehead and Steven Muller, the retiring president of Johns Hopkins University

The American Arts Alliance, a lobbying organization founded in 1979 to support nonprofit arts institutions, has spent most of its lifetime battling the Reagan Administration’s proposed budget cuts for the NEA, Murphy said. They have won congressional support to prevent cuts, but they have not succeeded in winning cost-of-living increases. In 1981, the NEA budget was $158 million; now, despite 41% inflation, it is $168 million, which translates into 33% less buying power than the organization had in 1981.

The American Arts Alliance intends to ask for $223.9 million to restore 1981 buying power. And they don’t want $1 million taken away for arts education; they feel that money should come out of the Department of Education coffers. Although Murphy stressed her support of arts education, she described the proposal “as robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

“There is no one who doesn’t feel that arts education is not a very important issue. But the limited number of dollars going to the Arts Endowment is not meeting the needs the arts endowment needs to serve. It’s like feeding the new child when the other five are starving. We are still woefully underpaying our artists. Education is terribly important but so is the survival of our arts institutions.”

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But in a budget-deficit atmosphere, a holding pattern for these institutions may be the best they can hope for.

“The subcommittee members are unanimous in their support for the National Endowment of the Arts,” said Lowery’s chief-of-staff, Ben Haddad, in Washington. “Mr. Lowery has supported their funding for the three years he has been on the committee. But it’s hard to find budget increases for the NEA. They are competing for scarce federal dollars with drug programs, the savings and loan organizations and problems with the safety of the airways.”

The reviewers called it “a corpse” and “a mess . . . primped, powdered, propped up and ordered to live. To no avail.” “Up in Saratoga,” the long-awaited Broadway-bound collaboration between writer Terrence (“Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune”) McNally and director Jack O’Brien, artistic director of the Old Globe Theatre, who just triumphed Off-Broadway with his direction of A. R. Gurney’s “The Cocktail Hour,” was the most lavish bomb yet dropped on an unsuspecting opening night audience at the Old Globe in a season remarkable not only for its critical misses, but for following a season so packed with critical hits.

If McNally’s greatest fear, as he confessed in last month’s Playbill, was hearing someone in the men’s room call his play “a turkey,” male sources report that, if McNally used the rest room, he would have heard just that.

After all, the update of Bronson Howard’s “Saratoga,” a farce about a man who finds himself in love with four women in the course of an afternoon, had all the unsavory deja vu of the Steve Garvey story--without the humor.

Elizabeth McCann, the producer who paired McNally and O’Brien up for this project, fielded questions about the fate of “Up in Saratoga” tersely. She was there on opening night, but the reviews, she claimed by phone in her New York office, don’t discourage her.

“Streisand was almost replaced in Boston on ‘Funny Girl,’ ” McCann said. “ ‘Hello Dolly!’ almost closed in Detroit. There are a lot of good things in the play. Terrence is still working on it and Jack is still working on it. We don’t have a New York date yet. But then we never had a fixed plan beyond the Kennedy Center in October.”

What do you do when a new show is coming in and you’re not ready to end the old? The Gaslamp Quarter Theatre solution is to take a breather and get back to work. “I’m Not Rappaport,” Herb Gardner’s Tony-award winning play about two octogenarians on a Central Park bench, will shut March 25 for “Confessions of a Nightingale,” Ray Stricklyn’s one-man show about Tennessee Williams that plays March 29-April 2 at the Hahn Cosmopolitan Theatre. Then “I’m Not Rappaport"--which opened Jan. 12, making it the longest running show in the Gaslamp’s history--returns April 5-15 with David Downing replacing Lance Roberts as Midge. The season continues with Beth Henley’s “The Wake of Jamie Foster” May 31.

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The Old Globe Theatre has received a $1-million challenge grant from the Stephen and Mary Birch Foundation toward a $10-million capital campaign to expand its administrative facilities.


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