Sellars Outlines Goals of the 1990 Los Angeles Festival


Declaring flatly that there would be “no European works at all” at the 1990 Los Angeles Festival, Peter Sellars said Tuesday that he hoped the three-week September event would prove to traditional arts patrons that the kind of work “previously considered the margin was, in fact, the center.”

“I would like the festival to do for this city things that none of the (existing) institutions in this city can do,” he said. “Collective power is what I hope the L.A. Festival will be about.”

Nearly 400 members of the Los Angeles arts community attended a meeting in the Gallery Theatre of Barnsdall Park, where Sellars outlined tentative plans for the Pacific-oriented festival. Questions and suggestions from audience members composed more than half of the hour-and-40-minute meeting. (Audience members demanded overtime when Sellars tried to end it after about an hour.)


Sellars later said that he wanted to incorporate into the festival some of the ideas given to him by enthusiastic local artists. “Three or four (of the ideas presented) were really wonderful, and we will capitalize on them,” he said.

Sellars, a stage director whose “Nixon in China” will be presented at the Music Center during the festival, would not divulge which audience ideas festival planners intended to incorporate, but during the meeting he seemed especially interested in discussions of five subjects: providing performances for those in locations such as hospitals and prisons who could not get out to festival sites; selecting sites that would be easily accessible for the elderly and handicapped; incorporating readings of poetry and other works into the festival; including a large portion of Native American artists, and asking theater owners to provide free performance space for the festival.

“Everybody (attending the meeting) was very positive,” said Al Nodal, general manager of the city’s Cultural Affairs Department, who opened the meeting. “I expected a lot more challenges to what (Sellars) was doing--in terms of specifics on how (the local artists) would be involved. But they’re very loving to him, and understanding of what he’s trying to do.”

Although the festival was originally scheduled for 1989 and postponed at Sellars’ insistence, he acknowledged that the staff is now “about a year behind” where he would like to be in the planning of the “logistical nightmare.” He did not give any specifics on the size and scope of the festival, saying only that it would be “as large as we have money to make it.”

In fact, the evening’s only specifics came from the festival’s executive director, Judith Luther, who guaranteed that “a minimum of $600,000” would be granted in subsidies to Los Angeles artists whose work is chosen to appear in the festival.

(The festival currently has close to $2 million in confirmed pledges. Sellars said planners want to put off specifically defining the festival for “as long as we can” so more exact fund-raising totals will be available.)


Dressed casually in a black T-shirt, jeans and tennis shoes, Sellars told the group of artists of his plans to divide the festival into three equal parts--one made up of visiting groups from Pacific nations, one encompassing a program of American work from throughout the country, and one representing related work from local artists.

“Discounting travel money, the money will be spread evenly across those three sectors of the programming,” Sellars said. He said that guest performers would be from “anywhere touching the Pacific,” including Latin American nations, Canada, Siberia, New Guinea, Japan, Australia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Local artists included in the program will be those who come from ethnic backgrounds or disciplines similar to the visiting groups.

“Those (local artists) that we can subsidize wholly or almost completely will be selected (according to) how the work fits with the international part of the program,” Sellars said. “That stops us from saying whose work is better than (another’s), but just that it fits more with what’s being brought to town.”

Matching local and foreign performers would be seen in the same performance, or would perform within hours of each other on the same stage, Sellars said.

In addition to the program of subsidized local artists, Sellars said, there will be what he called an Open Festival, to be produced in part by the city’s Fringe Festival. The Open Festival would allow the participation of those whose works don’t fit in the Pacific theme, he said.

“We can’t pay for everything, but we want everybody in this city who’s working to participate,” Sellars said, adding that there may be “certain ways to slip money under the table,” or “steer artists towards somebody that can help” them with expenses. In addition to traditional arts festival elements the 1990 Festival will also incorporate a section of programming devoted to AIDS issues, Sellars said.

One of his main goals, he said, is to present 75% of the work in parks and other outdoor venues with no admission charge.

“We will tour the work around the city so each visits five neighborhoods,” he said.

In addition, Sellars said other events will be commissioned exclusively for radio and for public and cable television.

Sellars also mentioned other broad Festival plans, such as having a shuttle bus program which would run from site to site, setting up an educational component in which artists would visit Los Angeles area schools next spring, and housing many of the visiting artists in an Olympic-type village on the campus of Festival co-sponsor UCLA.