Viewing budgets' impact on arts

Los Angeles County's three biggest government-supported cultural institutions figure to reap $60 million in taxpayer funding for the coming 2009-10 fiscal year, their subsidies holding up well despite falling property values and other recession-spurred declines in tax receipts that are draining public coffers.

Public libraries and county and municipal arts agencies didn't fare as well in the county budget proposal released Monday, or in the city of Los Angeles spending plan just issued by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The county Arts Commission and the city's Cultural Affairs Department face cuts of 7.2% and 8.3%, respectively, with consequences for their primarily grass-roots constituencies.

"We tried to spread the pain" and avoid closing any community arts centers, said Olga Garay, general manager of the Cultural Affairs Department.

The pain looks worse for library users: The separate county and city public library systems each would take hits of about 10% to core operations under proposed budgets submitted by Villaraigosa and the county's chief executive, William T. Fujioka.

The big three -- the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Music Center and the county Museum of Natural History -- may struggle like everyone else to land private-donation money in this economy, but so far their public funding is holding up.

The $22.8-billion county spending plan, subject to revisions by the Board of Supervisors, sets aside $20.7 million, up from $20.5 million, for the Music Center to provide maintenance, security and ushers for its cluster of downtown venues. LACMA would get $25.4 million, up from $23.4 million, due to supervisors' decision in more flush times to funnel an extra $6 million over three years to offset increased operating costs from the museum's expansion. The natural history museum is in line for $13.9 million, which would mean paring two vacant positions.

The three institutions' county funding is determined by inflation-adjusted formulas adopted in 1994 to avoid repeating the severe, recession-driven cutbacks that hit them in the early '90s.

Library funding lacks such a hedge.

"I'd have to hold the world's biggest book sale to get the kind of money we're losing because of [declines in] the property tax," said Margaret Donnellan Todd, the county librarian. Her department's proposed $131-million budget is down $13 million and eliminates 51 of the county system's 1,054 jobs. Library hours won't be cut, but lines will grow.

City libraries face a reduction from $79 million to $71.4 million and a loss of about 115 positions. Hours won't decrease, said spokesman Peter Persic, but there will be $1.6 million less for new books and materials, a 19% decrease.

The county Arts Commission will be able to maintain its $4.5 million-a-year grant program despite a proposed budget reduction from $10 million to $9.3 million, executive director Laura Zucker said. But unless she can persuade supervisors to restore them, she'll lose six positions, depleting the staff of the county-run John Anson Ford theaters.

Villaraigosa's $7-billion city budget would cut arts spending from $10 million to $9.1 million, eliminating eight positions in the Cultural Affairs Department.


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