L.A. County, city arts budget proposals include cuts for many programs

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

The difference between a budget problem and a budget crisis is illuminated in the separate arts-funding plans proposed this week for the city and county of Los Angeles.

City officials say they have a crisis on their hands, and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is proposing a crisis-mode arts budget. While his $6.73-billion proposed budget for 2010-11 represents a 2.2% reduction in overall city spending, it requires a 24.8% slashing of city government’s commitment to the arts.

Arts budgets: An article in the April 24 Calendar section about arts-related budget proposals by the city and county of Los Angeles said that Laura Zucker of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission planned to ask supervisors to restore a 10.6% cut to her department’s spending that’s called for in the county chief executive’s proposed budget. Zucker says she does not contest the reduction, which is consistent with proposed cuts to other departments, but plans to discuss where the cuts should be made. —

How much that would hurt in practical terms depends partly on the outcome of the mayor’s bid to eliminate 15 jobs and save $1.2 million by outsourcing seven more of the city’s 25 neighborhood arts centers and theaters to private, nonprofit operators, as is already the case at 10 others.

Conceivably, the outcome could be more efficiently run, better-programmed facilities — or shuttered ones, if new operators either stumble or fail to surface.

Under Villaraigosa’s plan, spending for the Department of Cultural Affairs and related maintenance, utility and employee benefits included in separate budget categories would drop from $14.5 million to $10.9 million. Staffing would fall from 70 authorized positions to 41, Cultural Affairs officials said Wednesday, including 10 from encouraged early retirements.

Olga Garay, the department’s executive director, said the mayor’s budget, which is subject to changes by the City Council, includes $365,000 to keep the community centers that are pegged for privatization running temporarily after July 1, while contracts with new operators are negotiated.

Meanwhile, in an unusual and potentially controversial move that Garay hopes the mayor will reconsider, Villaraigosa has proposed taking $415,000 from arts grants to fund four earmarks of his own that have not been subjected to the usual competitive application process in which expert peer review panels score and rank proposals.

The reason, a spokeswoman for the mayor said Thursday, is that “due to budgetary constraints, we are leveraging resources” to fund grants expected to affect more people.

For Los Angeles County, Chief Executive William T Fujioka has proposed $70.7 million in government arts spending, a 1.7% increase that contrasts with his call for an overall 3.7% reduction in county spending, to $22.7 billion.

The bulk of county arts spending goes to three large cultural institutions that long have operated under the sort of public-private partnership Villaraigosa intends for neighborhood arts facilities. The big difference: while city support would be sparse under the mayor’s plan, county government funding is a fiscal cornerstone for the Music Center, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. County funding for the three big cultural institutions is set by long-term, inflation-adjusted operating agreements struck during the mid-1990s to partly protect them from changing economic tides.

Fujioka’s budget allocates $27.9 million for LACMA, including the last of three annual $2-million bonuses OK’d to help the art museum absorb increased operating costs from its ongoing expansion. The Natural History Museum would get $14.2 million. The Music Center asked for $23.4 million, but Fujioka is proposing $21.2 million, rejecting $2.2 million for deferred maintenance and proposed administrative changes.

On top of its county funding, LACMA expects to take in $60 million during the fiscal year that ends June 30 and match that sum in 2010-11. The Natural History Museum also foresees its non-county revenues staying flat next year, at $21.2 million. The Music Center’s budget summary does not project what it expects to generate on its own.

Unlike the big institutions, the county’s arts grant-making agency, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, has no locked-in funding agreement, and Fujioka is proposing a 10.6% budget cut, on top of this year’s 10.3% reduction. If approved, annual funding will fall from $8.3 million in 2008-09 to $6.6 million in 2010-11.

Laura Zucker, the arts commission’s executive director, said she plans to make a case to the supervisors for an unchanged budget of $7.4 million. She doesn’t anticipate layoffs, even with the cuts; Fujioka proposes reducing grants, free community concerts and spending for the annual December holiday show and telecast.

Garay, the city’s cultural chief, also has some lobbying between now and June, when budgets are due to be adopted. One piece missing from the mayor’s arts spending plan, she said, is $150,000 needed for conserving the Watts Towers. Garay said Wednesday that the Getty Conservation Institute and the California African American Museum were joining discussions with LACMA toward establishing a new team approach to conserving, promoting and raising money for the chronically underfunded towers. But LACMA leaders say that, while the museum wants to contribute expertise and connections to donors, it would still be up to the city to pay for conservation.

Garay also said she will try to talk the mayor out of his plan to divert $415,000 from already-approved arts grants. Villaraigosa wants to spend $250,000 for public access television Channel 36 (a city operation he proposed shutting down in 2008), $45,000 each for the Pan African Film Festival and the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, and $75,000 for El Grito, a Mexican independence celebration. Garay said those expenditures would veer from a longstanding requirement that arts grants be made through a competitive application process, with peer review.

To fund them, the mayor would cut $7,000 to $17,000 from such leading L.A. cultural institutions as California Institute of the Arts (where his top deputy mayor for economic policy, Austin Beutner, is chairman of the board), Los Angeles Philharmonic, East West Players, the Latino Theatre Company and the Autry National Center. Two grant categories, traditional folk arts and literature, would be erased, saving $111,000.

Garay said the mayor’s proposed cuts are based on outdated information; her alternative plan calls for spreading the pain widely among 271 recipients, with 35 getting nothing and others cut 7% to 15%. The bottom line would be the same: about $2.3 million for competitive, peer-reviewed grants rather than the $2.7 million Garay hopes will prevail. Of the four groups Villaraigosa wants to fund, she said, only the Pan African festival has ever applied for a city cultural grant. It had been approved for $19,500 in the coming year.