A Flap Over L.A. County Arts Funds Surfaces : Policy: A commission is wrestling with proposals that would reapportion a $366,000 grant fund, with the L.A. Philharmonic bearing the brunt of the redistribution.


At a time when arts groups increasingly find themselves pitted against one another in battles for scarce public dollars, the little-known Los Angeles County Music and Performing Arts Commission is suddenly caught in a tug-of-war between establishment organizations and smaller community-oriented groups.

In a commission meeting Monday, President Carlos C. Barron noted that they had never even had an audience at a meeting before. But to the dozen or so representatives from various arts organizations seated in a boardroom at the Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, there was plenty of cause for concern.

New guidelines that would have radically changed the way the commission allocates its organizational grants were on the table, proposing a redistribution of funds that in the past largely have gone to the Music Center’s triumvirate: the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Music Center Opera and the Center Theatre Group. The proposal was voted down and replaced by a new “compromise” proposal, which also calls for a redistribution of funds.

At stake is a total of just $366,000. Last year more than 53% of that amount went to the three icons of the L.A. performing arts, with the remainder divided among 25 organizations, among them Long Beach Opera, L.A. Theatre Works, Odyssey Theatre Foundation and Southeast Symphony Assn. (The Music Center also receives a separate appropriation of $7,658,000 from the county for operation and maintenance.)


Established in 1947, the commission is composed of three appointed commissioners from each of the five supervisorial districts; money for its organizational grants comes from the county’s general fund. The guidelines for commission grants have remained virtually the same for at least a decade, according to commission executive director Laura Zucker.

At Monday’s meeting, Barron and four other commissioners supported a motion--authored by an executive committee of Aurelia Brooks, Judith Luther-Wilder and Regina Cordova--that would have drastically reduced funding to the three majors, turning that money over to smaller arts groups. Key to the plan was a series of caps on the amounts individual organizations could receive.

Had this proposal passed, the L.A. Philharmonic’s allocation--the largest by far--would have dropped from $124,805 in 1993-94 to $26,700 for 1994-95; the Opera’s from $41,300 to $24,300 and the Center Theatre Group’s from $31,258 to $27,600. Meanwhile, organizations such as American Youth Symphony, which got $4,000 last year, would have gotten nearly double that amount.

While the Philharmonic’s allocation is just a small portion of its $36.4-million annual operating budget, a Philharmonic official argued Monday that the loss would hurt: “It’s a significant portion of our education and community programs budget, our low- and no-cost outreach work in underserved communities,” said Philharmonic public affairs director Leni Boorstein. “The perception that it doesn’t hurt is mistaken.”


But some commissioners argued that the old guidelines are outdated. “I know the city has changed,” said Commissioner Adrienne A. Hall, an appointee of Supervisor Gloria Molina who spoke in favor of the executive committee proposal. “No one is here to do the Music Center any harm. We’re only here to create a level playing field.”

Nevertheless the proposal--which some commissioners said they felt was being railroaded--was voted down. In its place Commissioner Marjorie S. Lyte put forth a new plan that would redistribute funds without caps.

Lyte is an appointee of Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich and a past president of the commission. Her proposal would still take more than $40,000 out of the Philharmonic grant, from $124,805 in 1993-94 to a recommended $80,000. The Opera and Center Theatre Group would receive essentially the same amounts as last year.

Lyte’s motion, and the grants for the 1994-95 fiscal year that depend on it, will likely come up for a vote at the commission’s next meeting, on a date to-be-determined, probably in mid-September. The arts organizations are left without funds until a decision is made.