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Partnership Plan Opens Door for Cultural Affairs Changes : Arts: Manager Al Nodal’s program, in which a cluster of community groups will handle the programming of five community arts centers, is the first step in a major reorganization.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a move that makes possible the first step in a plan to massively restructure the city’s Cultural Affairs department, the City Council recently approved department manager Al Nodal’s Partnership Program, a new arrangement in which a roster of community organizations will take over the programming of five community arts centers previously under the aegis of Cultural Affairs.

While Nodal believes the plan will save the foundering centers, some participants believe the program is not financially viable.

Cutbacks during the past few years have left Cultural Affairs unable to program the venues--the majority of which have been operating at greatly reduced capacity for more than a year. At the height of their activity, in 1990-91, classes offered at the centers served as many as 1,000 students annually. In the wake of the cutbacks--which reduced Cultural Affairs’ community arts division by 15 full-time staffers, from 42 to 27--students numbered only 500 to 600 per year, according to Dr. Earl Sherburn, the department’s community arts director.

Other programming at the centers has included exhibitions, festivals and special events tailored to suit community needs. But the level of activity hasn’t been what Nodal would like. “We’re nowhere in terms of where we need to be at these centers,” he says. “This is a marriage of our need to have more happen and (the organizations) need to have the space. So we took the plunge.”

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The 17 nonprofit organizations will work in teams of two to five groups per site, with one in each cluster serving as the “lead” organization.

The five lead groups and their respective venues are: Art in the Park for Arroyo Seco Art in the Park; the Valley Arts Council of Los Angeles for the Encino Photography Center; The Road Theatre Company for the Lankershim Arts Center; Friends of McGroarty Arts Center for the McGroarty Arts Center in Sunland-Tujunga, and Urban Pride Inc. for the William Reagh Los Angeles Photography Center, near McArthur Park.

The groups were selected by a panel of community leaders and Cultural Affairs staffers from a pool of 46 nonprofit organizations that applied. They will receive some funding from Cultural Affairs and will need to raise funds themselves.

“They all are very expert at community art programming,” says Nodal of the groups. “They range in terms of ability to raise dollars. That’s why we’re in there, to help with that.”

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Cultural Affairs will allocate a total of $233,000 for all five venues.

“That boils down to two kinds of money: our staff, which ends up being about $133,000, and about $100,000 cash,” says Nodal, referring to the salaries of two staffers who will serve as liaisons between Cultural Affairs and the Partnership Program participants. “That’s about $10,000 more than (Cultural Affairs spent on programming at these venues) last year. Plus we’re working with the centers to help raise other funds.”

But some participants worry that they won’t be able to make the program financially viable with Cultural Affairs and the City Council looking over their shoulder. There have already been disagreements, for example, over the proper pricing of children’s art classes.

"(Council members) were balking at (our proposal to charge) $4 per hour,” says Matthew Cruz, executive director of the Valley Arts Council of Los Angeles. “The city couldn’t do it for that, so why would they expect us to be able to? The challenge for the city is to re-evaluate their expectations. They shouldn’t put on so many constraints that they guarantee failure for us too.”

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Nodal said that’s not going to happen. “We agree with the council. I promised the council that we’re going to maintain the same level of fees.”

But Cruz, who is generally enthusiastic about the new arrangement, says a free rein is essential. “The community is going to have more of a direct input, and the city is going to have a group of organizations doing programming and yet be able to monitor it,” he says.

But like many in the arts community, he longs for more help from the city.

“Now, if the city would just give us the support they had been giving to these centers, it would be incredible. They would get three times the programming.”

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Meanwhile, Nodal says objections to this potentially controversial reorganization scheme are to be expected. “There’re a lot of fears and concerns about this, but everybody feels good that we’re taking a chance to try and make more happen in these centers,” he says. “All of us are doing this to provide better service to the arts community and to the neighborhoods.”


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