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Long Beach Museum of Art faces $400,000 cut in city funding

September 15, 2009 |  4:03 pm

Long Beach Museum of Art The Long Beach City Council is expected to pass a budget tonight cutting the funding of the  Long Beach Museum of Art -- and the museum isn't expecting a last-minute reversal of fortune.

Instead of the $569,000 it received in the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30, the museum has been tentatively penciled in for $169,000, based on a recommendation last week by the council's budget oversight committee, and adopted by a 6-3 vote of the full council.

That's more generous than the elimination of all funding that Mayor Bob Foster had proposed as payback for the museum's failure to pay the $3.06 million that the city had to fork over this month to retire expiring construction bonds for the museum's 2000 renovation and expansion. Whether the museum can sustain a $400,000 cut without having to lay off employees and close a second day a week could depend on whether donors are able to ramp up their gifts to offset the loss, Ronald Nelson, the museum's executive director, said today.

Nelson said he is "quite certain" that the  proposed funding cut -- which he calls "punitive and rather short-sighted" -- will stand after the final budget vote, as elected officials scramble to balance the $2.9 billion city budget at a time of faltering revenue. And although he hasn't gotten any official word yet, Nelson believes City Hall aims to keep the $400,000 reduction in force for years to come, anteing up a smaller contribution to the private, nonprofit museum until the bond principal is paid back.

The museum's trustees, Nelson says, are committed to sticking to a position that has brought the ire of RonNelson city officials: that the 1999 bond agreement between the museum and the city made it the city's sole responsibility to pay off the bonds if the museum's own fund-raising fell short.

"We've been compared to a deadbeat by some City Council people, but it's the opposite," Nelson said. "We're trying to be as responsible as we can to every donor and to the letter of the law. People have made the argument that we have this moral obligation and need to fulfill it," but he says museum trustees agree that funneling funds to the city for a bond debt the museum doesn't legally owe would be a violation of their obligation to shepherd the museum's resources for its mission of displaying art.

The wrangling is sure to continue beyond passage of a city budget. Under its operating agreement with the city, Nelson said, any cut in municipal funding triggers a 90-day negotiating period for the two sides to try to bridge their differences. If there's still no agreement, the museum foundation can walk away from a lease that extends to 2025, taking with it the 1,600 art objects it owns out of the 3,000-piece collection. Then the city would have to figure out what to do with the buildings and grounds and the rest of the art. Another possible scenario could find the museum suing over whether the city government has a right to slash annual payments to compensate for having shelled out $3 million on the bonds.

Nelson said he doesn't want to take the matter to court, and can't see pulling the plug on the operating agreement: "We're committed to continue to be here and be who we are."

Meanwhile, museum leaders have to figure out where to cut their planned $3.2 million budget, which Nelson and his staff had drawn up under the assumption that city funding would be pared back $250,000 to $319,000, which he says is the minimum payment called for under the operating agreement. Attracting more diners to the museum's restaurant, and more weddings and corporate events to its scenic oceanfront buildings and grounds could help. The museum has about $419,000 in reserves it can draw on -- donated funds that previously had been held back to cover bond-related interest and fees that the museum did manage to pay entirely from its own coffers.

But the failure to pay off the $3 million bond principal leaves the art museum with a big public relations problem, acknowledges Nelson, whose watch as museum director began in 2006 after the fund-raising campaign already had run aground under his no-relation predecessor, Harold Nelson.

"I don't think we're the bad guys in this, but we've been made out to be the bad guys," Ronald Nelson said. "I certainly hear more of that than I thought I would. I'm surprised."

-- Mike Boehm

Related stories

Long Beach Museum of Art battles city government over $3 million

Faced with bond debt, Long Beach threatens art museum with sale of artwork

Long Beach, meet Josef Stalin

Photo: Long Beach Museum of Art. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Photo: Ronald Nelson. Credit: Christine Cotter / Los Angeles Times

Comments () | Archives (4)

You are the out of touch, irrelevant, incompetent guys. Resign.
Your top salaries should be the first thing to go. You have a beautiful venue, provide for by the city, and wasted it on hyper sensitive artsy fartsy nonsense.
the "art" is weak and interesting only when arts and crafts, but never gets out of your rich grandmas Society club.
No heart, no sweat, not passion, no pulse.

art collegia delenda est

Under Ronald Nelson's directorship, the Long Beach Museum of Art has made important changes for the positive in administering the business of the Museum. There is no "fluff" in the budget. There is tremendous support from the artists who have contributed, for example, 170 works of art to this weekend's Art Auction. Generations of Long Beach citizens have supported and continue to enjoy the exhibitions, the beautiful setting, and the cultural programs provided by the LBMA. This seemingly punitive shortfall in funding from the city will obviously affect the Museum. However, the board of trustees, and the excellent staff have every intention of sustaining the vital programs, exhibits, and educational offerings that are part of an exciting and vibrant community.
The donated art for the Auction is on exhibit now, and the viewing is free. What better example of artists contibuting to their community?

It is worthless "art" and so the museum cannot and does not raise revenue for more than its social club patrons. Its about them, not us. No one outside Long Beach goes to it, and neither does anyone but the neighborhood it is in and society ladies.

It is not creative art, they have fine art for the amusement and over refinement of those with too much time and money on their hands. It is not about us, nature and god, but the glorified individual and the needs of the spoiled wealthy.

There are real needs to be attended to, kids, schools healthcare, streets, safety. This artsy stuff does not address the needs of humanity, and so as there is a real need for the monies stolen the white collar way from the city, we need to get it back for the people's true needs.

art collegia delenda est

I bike past it each day as I go to and from work.
I "bike" because that's what is coming for much of America (its just too clueless to realize what's soon to happen to an overextended lifestyle).

Do I want MY tax money to go to a museum I've never gone to despite living within one mile of it for the last ten years. HELL NO!


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