The Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department is in for a “big political battle” if it tries to implement many of the recommendations contained in a recently released five-year blueprint for the arts, according to City Councilman Michael Woo. Woo was referring to the long-awaited Los Angeles Cultural Masterplan, a $295,000 study that culminates five years of community meetings and smaller studies held to guide the expenditure of city arts funds.
“Some parts of it are going to have to go through the council because the recommendations potentially cost some money,” Woo said, referring to 33 specific recommendations that would be implemented over the next five years. “For instance, there is a recommendation to hire an arts advocate that will have to be considered at a time when we have a freeze on hiring police officers. . . . It will be hard to ask for these extra monies for the arts when (Cultural Affairs) will already be spending its energies fighting a defensive battle against cutbacks and that natural tendency for the arts to be the first thing cut.”
Woo said he expected the City Council as a whole to be “supportive of the general direction of the plan,” but noted that the money required to implement it was “scarce” at a time when the city is facing a projected $120-million deficit by the end of next year. However, he said, the massive amount of data contained in the 10-part, 626-page report “gives a good overall argument for rearranging some of the overall priorities and giving the arts more (funding).”
The main goals of the master plan, which was released Nov. 27 but distributed to 200 members of the arts community for the first time late last week, are to increase multicultural arts programming and support for individual artists while expanding arts audiences. The report contains specific but non-binding plans for the arts--divided into short-term, mid-range and long-term goals--with estimated price tags attached to each.
While many of the immediate recommendations call only for changes within the Cultural Affairs Department and would require no additional funds, others ask the city to reallocate many existing arts dollars and spend an additional $2.7 million for the arts over the next three years. The much pricier long-term goals, which include upping annual city support of the arts to $30 million and beginning a $40-million construction project for four new regional arts centers, would require a substantial increase from the city’s current 1990-91 arts budget of $10.5 million.
That budget, administered by Cultural Affairs General Manager Adolfo V. Nodal, includes$5.8 million from the Los Angeles Endowment for the Arts, an arts funding package approved by the City Council in 1988.
Perhaps the main issue in the master plan is increasing and validating multicultural arts programing, which would be done through several recommendations, including one to provide guaranteed, multiyear funding for at least eight already established arts organizations in underserved ethnic communities.
That funding, Nodal said, would “institutionalize” those smaller, underfunded organizations and elevate them to “major organizations.” According to Nodal’s current plan, that funding would begin in 1992-93, with 25% of the city arts grant money (currently a total of $3 million per year) going to those eight multicultural groups. Of the organizations competing for the remainder of the grants pool, only major institutions would be guaranteed of maintaining their current level of funding.
While generally praising the master plan, Michael Alexander, artistic director at the downtown Cal Plaza and the city’s former performing arts coordinator, said that such recommendations merely “talked around the problem.” “More has to be done . . . to address some of the awesome funding inequities in Los Angeles” between the city’s heavily funded major organizations and the “underfunded and unstable” multicultural organizations, he said.
But theater producer Theresa Chavez, who was a facilitator for the multicultural committee that worked on getting its concerns into the master plan, said she felt the plan “looks good in terms of fulfilling the needs the (multicultural) arts community is talking about.” She said her concern with the plan, however, was “the issue of accountability and responsibility” and whether the recommendations would actually be carried out.
Nodal admitted that the 33 recommendations contained in the master plan may not all be possible within its five-year range, but said that most of the goals are based on current plans and projections for the L.A. Endowment, which could potentially grow to $20 million through new funds from private and municipal development.
Still, he said: “The next battle’s going to be the funds battle. We need to really show that the arts are really making an integral contribution to the city . . . and that the funds are justified.
“The time-line (for implementing the master plan) will change every year based on budget realities and input from the community. It may be more like a seven-year plan than a five-year plan because of budget restraints . . . but we’re going to continue to advocate major support for the arts and continue to move ahead until we get slowed down.”
Nodal said he is hopeful that most of the plan’s 26 short-term goals--which have a combined price tag of $2.2 million and include requirements such as including artists on design teams for all public construction projects--could be met within the 1991-92 budget.
City Councilman Joel Wachs, who originally proposed the L.A. Endowment for the Arts, also said the master plan recommendations would be “economy dependent,” and that “obviously, you do better in better years.”
“The (arts funding) projects already on the books will amount to substantial amounts of money, but what the master plan envisions is additional resources from the (city’s) General Fund. Of course that’s dependent on the resources, but we’re looking beyond one year. We’re looking to the future, and this plan gives us a direction, channels the resources properly and proves that, particularly when resources are good, we will be able to add amounts from the General Fund.
“This plan really shows that there’s a broader application for the arts that deals with all the other things we’re doing in the city. I don’t really think that there’s a city program or physical project that couldn’t be enhanced by an arts component, and as we begin to integrate that view, each of them will start to generate their own sources of funding.”
Wachs said the master plan was “exactly what I envisioned when I first proposed (the endowment)--a real long-range plan that puts Los Angeles in the forefront as an arts center.”
Wachs and several other arts leaders had heavy praise for the master plan. Some artists, however, have cautioned that the study still fails to address important arts issues such as AIDS, homelessness and arts funding.
“I am appalled that in 167 pages we do not see the word AIDS ,” said actor and performance artist Michael Kearns, referring to the main section of the report. “How can anyone discuss art in 1990 and not look at the issue of AIDS? It’s shocking to me that it doesn’t appear on any page, when it should be a whole chapter in this thing. The master plan clearly does not address the role AIDS has played in the artistic nature of the community.”
Kearns, who represents the group Artists Confronting AIDS, viewed the master plan as a step backwards for the city’s Cultural Affairs Department, which has previously listed AIDS-related work and work dealing with homelessness among its highest priorities. Neither issue is addressed in the master plan recommendations, he said.
Work toward the master plan began in 1986 with the formation of the 50-member Los Angeles Task Force on the Arts, which was established after Wachs’ original 1985 proposal for the endowment. The 1988 task-force report called for the development of a cultural master plan to guide the expenditure of endowment funds.