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Venturans’ Most Popular Cultural Event Was Elsewhere

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The most popular cultural event for Venturans in the last year, a city-hired consultant has concluded, wasn’t even in Ventura.

It was “Phantom of the Opera,” the long-running musical in Los Angeles, which drew 15 of the 300 Ventura-area residents surveyed in June by Hebert Research of Bellevue, Wash. Rock and pop musical performances at the Ventura Theatre placed a distant second in the poll, consultant Arthur Greenberg said, followed by theatrical and musical productions at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara.

Those findings are tucked in among more than 80 pages of observations collected by Hebert Research and ArtSoft Management Services of Emeryville, in an effort to assess the city’s cultural landscape and chart its future. The report is part of a $57,000 city contract to devise a cultural plan.

City parks and recreation officials say that many of the findings confirm what insiders already suspected--for instance, that Santa Barbara and Los Angeles lure away many of this area’s culture consumers. But those officials say other data, such as the finding that 46.5% of Venturans surveyed would support a city tax hike to build a cultural center, could hold important lessons for city officials and local arts leaders.

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“I thought there was a surprisingly high level of support for a cultural facility,” said Beth Cohen of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.

City officials and the Community Cultural Plan Steering Committee will discuss the consultant’s report at a public meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. today at Ventura City Hall. They will also lay plans for eight volunteer task forces that will study topics such as facilities and economic benefits of the arts.

“I think there’s going to be some pretty lively discussions in the arts and economics area,” Cohen said. “And there are going to be some lively discussions on the facilities task force, I’m sure.”

The committee, headed by City Councilman Todd Collart and Bank of A. Levy President Marshall A. Milligan, is expected to pass its suggestions on to the City Council early next year.

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The consultant’s survey also asked Venturans to rate their city’s leisure opportunities on a scale of 1 to 10. The answers averaged 7.3, with many of the most positive responses coming from older, longtime residents.

“Younger people are less satisfied with their options,” Greenberg said.

Asked about the need for a cultural center, 66% of those surveyed said they thought that the city of Ventura should have one, and 46.5% said they would support a tax increase to pay for one.

That figure is “on the upper end,” said Greenberg, comparing the results to data that he has seen in other cities. “The fact that it’s about 50-50, without any information at all, I think, indicates that people are willing.”

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Over the last 30 years, several community groups have unsuccessfully waged campaigns to build such facilities, with potential locations including Grant Park above downtown Ventura, the downtown Livery building, Saticoy and the Ventura County Fairgrounds.

The survey also offered some mixed results for local arts leaders who have long complained of minimal government backing and below-average private philanthropy.

A total of 38% of those surveyed said they thought that local government officials were doing enough to support the arts; 37.3% said they didn’t think so and 24.7% didn’t know.

In addition, 22.8% of those surveyed reported making donations to arts organizations. That figure places Ventura in “pretty healthy” company among other cities, said Greenberg, noting a recent study that yielded a 12.9% donor figure in the Seattle suburb of Kent, Wash.

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“It’s pretty rare to find more than 30% subscribing or donating,” Greenberg said.

He also noted one finding that surprised him.

In areas where professional sports franchises are within about an hour’s drive, Greenberg said, sports often outdraw the arts by a substantial margin. But among the Venturans surveyed, he said, “people are twice as likely to attend professional arts events (in Los Angeles) as they are to attend professional sports events. . . . It doesn’t appear that they’re driving there to see the Dodgers or the Angels or other pro sports.”

Greenberg and Cohen both noted the long cultural shadows cast by Los Angeles and Santa Barbara. But Cohen pointed to responses indicating that local culture consumers would avoid long drives if they had a strong local alternative.

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“More and more people want something here in Ventura County. They don’t want to go to Los Angeles,” Cohen said.

“There’s tremendous room for growth,” Greenberg said.

IN SEARCH OF CULTURE

Hebert Research of Bellevue, Wash., in June conducted a telephone survey of 300 people living in or near the city of Ventura. Among the responses:

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* Performing Arts: Some 64% said they had attended a performing arts event between June, 1990, and June, 1991.

* Most Popular Venue: The Oxnard Civic Auditorium was the most frequently attended venue.

* Art Enthusiasts: Some 58% said they had attended at least one exhibition of art or artifacts.

* Museum Hot Spots: Most-attended museums were the Ventura County Museum of History & Art, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and the J. Paul Getty Museum.

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* Who Paid: Of the 300 people surveyed, 22.8% reported making donations to arts organizations.


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