Arts group facing change

CITY HALL — The city’s future role in promoting the arts arrives at a crossroad on Tuesday, when the City Council is scheduled to tackle what many of even the city’s most ardent arts supporters concede has been a stalled attempt at implementing a citywide strategy.

In the 10 years since the City Council adopted the “Strategic Plan for the Arts in Glendale” — a broad, comprehensive blueprint on how to advance arts and culture citywide — progress has been slow.

The Arts & Culture Commission, which was created in 2000 to help drive the strategic plan, has always been hampered to some degree by inadequate resources and, over time, become more consumed with planning community events than implementing policy.

When the commission’s city staffer left for another job in April, progress on reviving an strategic plan update and other ventures essentially ground to a halt.

And since then, attention paid to the arts commission by the City Council has been superseded with budget cuts, campaign finance reforms, a smoking ordinance and other high-profile issues.

In that time, frustration has grown among some arts commissioners, who say they lack clear direction, adequate funding and dedicated staff resources from the city to effectively carry out the commission’s mission.

City officials had been preparing a report on possibly realigning the Arts & Culture Commission under the library department instead of the Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department, where it has been since its inception.

But two weeks ago, Mayor John Drayman called for wider discussion to be incorporated into that report, due Tuesday, on how the duties and mission of the arts commission might be more effectively addressed through an independent, city-subsidized nonprofit board, not unlike the Glendale Regional Arts Council of the 1970s and ’80s.

While many of the current arts commissioners could be tapped to serve on, or facilitate that board’s creation, moving in that direction would surely spell the end of the government arts commission — a change that received unanimous support from commissioners last week.

“This is a group that really can’t do anything because there’s no money there,” Drayman said.

Of the roughly $157,221 spent on Arts & Culture Commission, just $20,820 is available for arts programming and events. The rest is taken up by staffing costs, according to a city report.

Drayman said the city would be wise to spend half the total amount in the form of a subsidy to a nonprofit regional arts council that would then use the funds to produce and draw in arts programming for students, seniors and the general public.

A larger talent pool of artisans and industry professionals could also lend their managerial and fundraising expertise to grow the nonprofit’s reach, he added.

The council would work with, not against Glendale Arts, the recent reincarnation of the Alex Regional Theatre ART Board. Glendale Arts, Drayman said, is more of an umbrella organization for other art groups who need administrative and marketing help.

Barry McComb, executive director and chief executive for the theater and Glendale Arts, welcomed any new direction from the City Council on how to the grow the arts citywide, and said his organization was ready to meet the challenge.

“We’re here and willing and ready to take on any role that the city feels is appropriate for us,” he said.

What role that takes remains to be seen.

Even with Drayman’s position is well-known, the report to the City Council on Tuesday comes with no staff recommendation and other council members have been less vocal on the topic.

Councilman Bob Yousefian has for months held off on his two nominations to the arts commission pending a clear consensus on what the city’s role in the strategic arts plan will be.

Razmik Grigorian, chairman of the Arts & Culture Commission, said on Friday that while renewed attention and focus would be a welcome development, no major progress would be made until the city plunks down the resources for a separate city department for the arts — a position that has been advocated by Drayman.

Grigorian pointed to the 10-year snail’s pace of implementing the strategic arts plan as justification alone.

“Come on, 10 years is a long time for a city,” he said.

Any effort to promote the arts before a dedicated city department is established might as well be cosmetic, he argued.

“I can’t really imagine a vibrant cosmopolitan, multicultural city like Glendale not having an arts and culture department,” Grigorian said.

But tight budgets and lack of institutional knowledge in city government won’t allow it, at least now, Drayman said.

“My goal is to one day see an art and culture department, but we’re not there yet — we’re not ready yet,” he said.

The City Council will discuss the issue at its regular meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday in council chambers, City Hall, 613 E. Broadway.


 JASON WELLS covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at jason.wells@latimes.com.

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