L.A. scales back privatization plan

City officials who had hoped to save more than $1 million a year by outsourcing nine neighborhood arts facilities to private, nonprofit operators have bowed to community objections and decided to privatize only four. Now they have to find public dollars to keep the arts centers open for the rest of this fiscal year and into the future.

Four of the sites share Hollywood’s Barnsdall Park with its most famous attraction, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Hollyhock House. With the unanimous vote last week, the coun-cil sacrificed $400,000 to $500,000 in projected annual savings there. The William Grant Still Art Center in West Adams also will remain city-run.

Still in line for outsourcing are the Madrid Theater in Canoga Park; the Warner Grand Theater in San Pedro; the Vision Theater in Leimert Park, which is closed for renovations; and the just-opened Lincoln Heights Youth Art Center. There’s also uncertainty at six of the eight neighborhood arts facilities already operated by private nonprofit groups: Because they don’t have leases, said Olga Garay, executive director of the Department of Cultural Affairs, the city attorney’s office has ruled that the city must seek new operating proposals from all comers for those sites as well. The theater companies that run the Los Angeles Theatre Center and the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center have leases and won’t be affected.

Leaders of L.A.'s Museum of Contemporary Art had toured the Municipal Art Gallery in Barnsdall Park last summer with an eye toward possibly making a satellite venue out of the 10,000-square-foot space. That prompted the gallery’s private support group, Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery Associates, to go public with a demand that its emphasis on lesser-known Southern California artists and its inclusion of “populist genres” not on MOCA’s agenda remain unchanged.


In late January, City Council President Eric Garcetti, whose district includes Barnsdall Park, proposed taking the Barnsdall facilities off the privatization list; he questioned whether private operators could offer the “unique combination” of services, including community festivals, that the city has provided. The council voted Feb. 15 to keep control and seek advice from City Administrative Officer Miguel Santana on long-range funding options.

In December, the council took the William Grant Still Art Center off the privatization list at the behest of member Herb Wesson Jr., who said residents were concerned that a private operator might change the programming and increase fees.

The plan now, said Garay, is to seek private operating proposals this spring for the remaining sites, to take effect in January under five-year renewable agreements.

It remains to be decided how much the city can offer to help cover maintenance and utilities costs in what would remain city-owned buildings.

Looking toward next year, Garay said, the prospects don’t seem much better than for 2010-11, when budget deliberations were tumultuous for city-funded arts, and arts advocates had to fight to persuade council members not to rescind a law that guarantees about 7% of hotel tax revenues for the arts.

“I think it’s going to be just as difficult” as last year, when the cultural department’s core operating budget was cut from $9.1 million to $7.7 million, Garay said. But hotel tax collections have risen, Garay said, and “that brings a little sunshine and hope into what is a very difficult situation.”