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Private Groups to Run 5 City Arts Centers : Budgets: In an attempt to keep its community spaces open, council turns management over to private consortiums.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a move designed to keep city-owned community arts centers open in spite of budget cuts, the Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved the selection of several private arts groups to operate the centers.

Under the proposal approved by the council, each of the city’s five community arts centers, including the three in the San Fernando Valley, will be operated by a different consortium of private arts groups.

“All of our centers are run at 60%" of operating capacity, said Al Nodal, general manager of the city’s Cultural Affairs Department. “This is an effort to bring in a new group of organizations to help increase the energy and the programs at the centers.”

The centers in the Valley are the Lankershim Arts Center in North Hollywood, the McGroarty Arts Center in Tujunga and the Encino Photo Center.

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Many members of the Valley’s arts community welcomed the opportunity to help keep the centers open and expand their programs.

“We were faced with the alternative of having them close--which no one wants to see happen,” said Laura Selwyn, executive director of Everywoman’s Village. “We’re all looking to make it work as best we can. We believe in the importance of arts in our lives, especially for our children.”

Everywoman’s Village in Van Nuys is part of two consortiums, one will operate the McGroarty Arts Center and the other will run the Encino Photo Center.

Jerry Domine, president of the San Fernando Valley Arts Council, which will run the Encino Photo Center, said he was confident that the consortium idea would work at the photo center, but was uncertain about the impact of the plan on larger arts centers.

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“I’m not convinced that volunteers can do the same quantity and quality of work.” he said. “I’m optimistic about these new groups but I’m realistic about what volunteers can do without outside resources.”

City employees said the change will actually increase the number of workers at the centers, which have been understaffed over the last few years because of budget cuts.

“We’re just really down to bare bones,” said Earl Sherburn, community arts director for the Cultural Affairs Department.

“We have the equivalent of two full-time staff positions spread among all five centers.”

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Some of the centers will be run by arts groups representing a variety of disciplines. At the Lankershim Arts Center, for example, the consortium includes two theater groups, a dance company and a printmaking group.

Members of this consortium, which calls itself the Community Arts Coalition, acknowledge that having four groups operate out of one space will require some give and take and much communication between members of the group.

“We were very concerned about that particular part of the plan,” said Taylor Gilbert, spokeswoman for the coalition. “The space is relatively small to accommodate four groups, but we are very different groups.”

Coalition members have been meeting since April to address these concerns. Gilbert said they are dedicated to making the plan work so that the community will have access to even more arts programs.

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Although it will be a challenge, some artists feel the coming together of various disciplines in one space has proved beneficial.

“We become so isolated, sometimes, as individual arts groups,” Gilbert said. “This has been an opportunity for us to become much more aware of other arts groups . . . It’s like making new friends.”

Carol Cetrone, a member of the William Reagh Los Angeles Photography Center, a city-owned center, is less optimistic about the idea of sharing space with other groups.

“To say that it may be a bit overcrowded is an understatement,” she said, speaking before the council Wednesday. “Imagine Ringling Brothers in a space the size of this room.”

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Cetrone also expressed concern that the city-owned facilities were being privatized and that the community would wind up the loser.

“The main thing we object to is the loss of control of the community’s space,” she said in an interview.

David Greenberg of U.P., one of the arts organizations that will run the photo center, said the center will continue to serve photographers but will have the advantage of being able to offer the community many other forms of art.

“This is a great experiment,” Greenberg said. “The city should have done this a long time ago.”

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During the council meeting, councilwoman Rita Walters expressed concern that the new operators of the centers may raise the fees for workshops and other programs.

If that happens in some areas of the city, “part of the public is going to be locked out,” she said.

The three-year contracts between the city and the arts groups will stipulate that the existing fees for programs at the center be kept at the same level. The contract will also include a fee schedule for new programs created by the arts consortiums.

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The consortiums will receive free space and utilities except telephone use, assistance from city staff with some programs and workshops, $20,000 annually and guaranteed proceeds from fund raising, Sherburn said.


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