Category: Business

Bonds to rescue L.A. Opera offer a nice return, but you can't invest

December 9, 2009 |  6:11 pm

Rheingold Given Tuesday’s news that Los Angeles County will issue $14 million in bonds as a loan to the cash-starved Los Angeles Opera,   some L.A. Opera fans might be wondering whether this could be an opportunity to do well by doing good.

Invest in a bond that helps tide the opera over while it solidifies its finances and pays down about $20 million in debt, and bank some attractive interest as your reward. At an interest rate of almost 5%, that’s a heck of a lot better than you can get from a certificate of deposit or a U.S. Treasury bond. 

If that sounds too good to be true, well, it is. The bonds are a “private placement,” and the deal will work like this: On Friday, the Los Angeles County Public Works Financing Authority will issue the bonds. Banc of America Leasing & Capital LLC, will buy them all for $14 million, and the county will pass the bank’s cash along to the opera on the same day.

Twice a year for the bonds’ three-year term, the opera will fork over interest at a pre-arranged rate of 4.7%, and the county will pass it along to Banc of America. The interest will total a tad less than $2 million. The principal will be paid in a single lump sum at the beginning of 2013.

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Heirs of George and Ira Gershwin at odds over foreign song royalties

October 31, 2009 |  8:30 am

Gershwins OK, everybody, let's all sing along!

I like potato and you like potahto,
I like tomato and you like tomahto,
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto --
Let's call the whole thing off!

It's lettuce, actually, that's at stake, and plenty of it, in two Los Angeles courtrooms where the heirs of George and Ira Gershwin are in marked disharmony over who should get what from the overseas royalties generated by the brothers' huge, estimable and highly remunerative songbook.

In fact, "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" is the refrain Ira's side is singing to Warner/Chappell Music, the prominent song publisher that has handled the Gershwins' catalog for more than 60 years. The Ira side's suit in Superior Court alleges that Warner/Chappell has been favoring the interests of the George side of the family. The publisher, in turn, has asked a federal judge to sort out an alleged impasse between the two Gershwin factions so that everybody can get back to dancing cheek to cheek (as one of the brothers' few peers, Irving Berlin, put it) while reaping their respective cuts of a catalog that appears to generate $8 million a year in royalties.

In their working life together, biographers say, composer George, who died at 38 in 1937, and older brother Ira, who wrote the lyrics and lived to be 86, struck nary a sour note with each other, getting on swimmingly both in and out of the music studio.

Click here for our story on the posthumous dissonance that has broken out over the mellifluous fruits of the greatest brother act in songwriting history.

-- Mike Boehm

Photo: George Gershwin, left, and Ira Gerdshwin, right, signed this photo for DuBose Heyward, center, their collaborator on "Porgy and Bess," before the opera's arrival on Broadway in 1935. Credit: PBS

All work and no play -- but plenty of pay -- for Carnegie Hall's backstage toilers

October 21, 2009 |  9:47 am

Carnegiehall Go East, young man -- if your ambitions run toward making a bundle overseeing behind-the-scenes setups for the performing arts, and you don't mind not having a life outside of work.

As noted Monday by Bloomberg News, the top five stagehands at Carnegie Hall earned an average of $431,000 in salary and benefits during the 2007-08 fiscal year -- which ended 2 1/2 months before a bucket of economic ice water awakened many in the arts and elsewhere to a new reality.

Some 3,000 miles west, at our own Music Center, those well-paid New Yorkers' top five peers -- two head carpenters, two heads of props and a head electrician -- averaged $221,000, according to the downtown performance center's 2007-08 tax return posted at

The Carnegie crew put in 80-hour average work weeks for their loot, according to the venerable hall's tax return. All that overtime translates into $103 an hour in wages and benefits.


Going by the Music Center's tax statement, you'd think the old stereotype of driven New Yorkers versus laid back Angelenos still applied: It says its top stagehands averaged 35-hour workweeks, which would give them a pay-and-benefits package that, on a per-hour basis, is even better than their Carnegie Hall peers.'

However, a person familiar with the New York and L.A. stagehands' labor contracts said L.A.'s five department heads pull long hours too, far more than a 35-hour average week.

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Free and cheap concerts coming, thanks to CD price-fixing settlement

October 15, 2009 |  4:40 pm

TowerRecords Remember record stores?

Well, Californians in 40 counties can tap a toe or hum a bar in their memory, to the tune of $549,000 that's been allocated for free and discounted live-music performances up and down the state starting Nov. 1.

The grants, announced today by the California Arts Council and Atty. Gen. Edmund G. Brown Jr., will drain what's left of a $6-million cash kitty that five big CD distributors and three retail chains anted up in 2004 to settle the Golden State's share of nationwide price-fixing allegations.

Under the original settlement, California public schools, libraries and colleges got 665,000 free CDs valued at $9 million for their collections, while individual CD buyers who filed claims received $13.86 each. What's left of the fund for cash claims will pay the piper -- guitar picker, violinist, what-have-you -- for the upcoming performances.

Keep reading to see what Southern California spots will do with the money.

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Monster Mash: LACMA talks revamped film program; 'Spider-Man' musical could resume production; Jeremy Piven explains fish defense on TV

September 2, 2009 |  8:21 am


-- Talking big: LACMA's Michael Govan lays out specifics on a re-envisioned film program, but movie fans aren't buying all of it.

-- Action-hero rebound: Broadway's "Spider-Man" musical is rumored to be back on again despite lingering money problems.

-- Contemporary classic: Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" will receive its first New York revival off-Broadway in 2010.

-- Auteurs chime in: Filmmakers James Gray, John Landis, Roger Corman, Paul Schrader and more recall LACMA's venerated film program.

-- Facing the law: James von Brunn, who is charged with killing a security guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. earlier this year, appears in federal court today.

-- Sounds fishy: Jeremy Piven went on TV to discuss his early withdrawal from the Broadway revival of "Speed-the-Plow" last season.

-- Another screen-to-stage production: La Jolla Playhouse will stage a musical adaptation of the popular 1997 documentary "Hands on a Hard Body."

-- Award winner: Painter Ed Ruscha is one of this year's honorees recognized by Americans for the Arts.

-- Public remembrance: Angela Lansbury will host a memorial for her late "Mame" costar Bea Arthur in New York on Sept. 14.

-- Stage mishap: Cate Blanchett was injured during a Sydney performance of "A Streetcar Named Desire" when a prop landed on her head.

-- Coda: Conductor Erich Kunzel, who led the Cincinnati Pops Orchestra, had died at age 74. 

-- David Ng

Photo: A scene from "Citizen Kane," which has screened at LACMA's film program. Credit: Warner Home Video

Monster Mash: Supervisor wants Wagner out of Ring Festival; big advances for Jackman-Craig play; art dealer re-arrested

July 15, 2009 |  8:22 am

Mike Antonovich --Guess they'd have to change the name too:  L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich wants L.A.'s planned Ring Festival to drop "Nazi composer" Wagner and instead replace his with works by other composers.

--We'd pay to hear them read a phone book: Advance sales of Broadway play "A Steady Rain," starring Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig, hit $3 million. 

--Coveted architecture prize: Beijing's "birds' nest" Olympic Stadium, designed by Herzog and de Meuron, wins the Lubetkin Prize.

--Questioning conflicts of interest: Journalists voted out of the voting for Tony Awards.

--Columnist Steve Lopez reports: Former Doors member John Densmore drums up support for community arts. 

--Worth the price of admission: British patron wins lawsuit against theater over musical that didn't feature live music.

--Celebrity connection to alleged fraud: New charges brought against New York art dealer who sold works by Robert DeNiro's late father without the actor's permission, and his assistant.

--Loveless in L.A.: Composer-lyricist Leslie Bricusse parts ways with "Sleepless in Seattle" musical.

--There's still some money left: Federal economic stimulus funds make their way to to local arts groups.

--Longtime representative is charged: Manhattan lawyer charged with stealing funds from union that represents American Ballet Theatre dancers and stagehands.

--Forced to take drastic measures: Facing $4-million deficit, North Carolina Symphony cuts salaries of musicians and conductor.

--Lisa Fung

Follow us on Twitter: @culturemonster

Photo: Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Arts economic stimulus money trickles down from feds to locals

July 14, 2009 |  5:30 pm

ShovelReady Local nonprofit arts organizations that think they've got their shovels ready -- as the new buzz phrase puts it -- can apply for what remains of the federal economic stimulus money earmarked for funding jobs in the arts. 

The National Endowment for the Arts has already picked recipients for nearly $30 million of the $50 million set aside as the arts' share of the $787-billion federal economic stimulus package (that's a wee bit more than one-sixteen-thousandth for the arts). California nonprofit groups got $4.45 million.

But preserving a state and local prerogative, the NEA held back $250,000 each for L.A.'s two biggest government arts grant-making agencies: the city's Department of Cultural Affairs and the Los Angeles County Arts Commission. They get to re-gift the money to some of their cash-hungry constituencies.

Also, the California Arts Council -- famous for ranking last since 2003 among the nation's state government arts agencies in per capita spending and grantmaking power -- has an additional $502,400 to distribute. That's our share of the nearly $20 million in stimulus funds that the NEA set aside for state and regional governments' art agencies to divvy up.

Read on for how it will be done.

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Art fraud lawsuit against Louis Vuitton over Murakami prints to go forward [updated]

June 18, 2009 |  6:24 pm

ClintarthurLV Clint Arthur will get his day in court after all, in a class action claim that Louis Vuitton defrauded him and hundreds of others by repurposing leftover handbag material and selling it as fine art prints by pop artist Takashi Murakami.
U.S. District Court Judge A. Howard Matz on Wednesday denied Louis Vuitton’s motion to have Arthur’s suit dismissed, and set a pretrial conference for Aug. 24. The decision contradicted one reached in April by William Highberger, a judge in Los Angeles Superior Court, who threw out a similar but separate suit that Arthur had brought against L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Arthur’s attorneys have estimated that the luxury goods purveyor took in as much as $4 million selling prints at a special boutique it had set up at MOCA’s Geffen Contemporary building, in the middle of a 2007-08 exhibition of Murakami’s work. With treble damages provided by law, millions more could be at stake.

“I’m thrilled,” Arthur, a Los Angeles art collector and manufacturer of gourmet butter, said Friday when reached at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, where he was viewing interior furnishings by Frank Lloyd Wright. “I always knew that we would prevail in this, and I’m very gratified that the judge sees it our way.”

Louis Vuitton issued a statement saying it is "surprised and disappointed" by the ruling. "We intend to vigorously defend ourselves against this baseless litigation."

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UCLA archaelogy expert exposes 'ancient' fakes on EBay

May 28, 2009 |  3:38 pm

CharlesStanish Charles "Chip" Stanish, director of UCLA's Cotsen Institute of Archaeology, studies the economic life of ancient Peruvian civilizations, but for fun he likes to browse that thoroughly modern marketplace, EBay.

Like most archaelogy experts, Stanish deplores the antiquities trade. It goes back, he says, to his first trip to Peru in 1982, when he came upon a promising site -- what looked to be an intact thousand-year-old home -- only to find it had been looted, trampled and rendered useless as a window on how its inhabitants had lived. A few years later, he says, a diplomat from a Central American nation offered him $50,000 if he'd help illegally spirit an ancient find out of the country.

When EBay came along in 1995, Stanish and his colleagues were alarmed that electronic commerce would cause a boom market for looted objects, meaning more artifacts lost to private collections and more archaeological sites ruined. What he didn't foresee was potential looters instead becoming craftspeople, creating fake antiquities and selling them cheaply, or sometimes expensively, over EBay.

In a recent article for Archaeology magazine, titled "Forging Ahead or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love eBay," Stanish reports that the online auctioneer's ancient artifacts aisles have become a flea market of near-total fakery.

In this story in Calendar, we go browsing online with the professor who now laughs at the buying and selling he once feared.

--Mike Boehm

Photo: Charles Stanish has a laugh while browsing for antiquities on EBay. Credit: Christina House / For The Times.

OC Performing Arts Center settles suit over concert hall construction cost overruns*

May 9, 2009 |  6:00 am


After tangling in court over nearly $40 million in cost overruns on the Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, the Orange County Performing Arts Center has reached an undisclosed settlement with the project's architects and builders.

Orange County Superior Court Judge David C. Velasquez approved the mediated settlement and on Thursday dismissed the case that the Costa Mesa center filed in August 2007, against Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects and the construction giant, Fluor Corp.

With the terms undisclosed, it was uncertain whether the outcome eases or exacerbates the $52-million fundraising burden that the hall still represents for OCPAC. *Reached Monday, Terrence Dwyer, the center's president, said he couldn't comment on the case's implications for OCPAC's finances and fundraising challenges: "The terms of the settlement are confidential, and I do need to stick to that."

 The center, which has been forced to cut staff and make an emergency fundraising appeal to try to balance this year's recession-wracked operating budget, has raised $188 million in a decade-long capital campaign that's still far short of its $240 million goal.

After OCPAC had fired the first legal salvo in the construction case, the Irving, Texas-based Fluor counter-sued, saying the center had withheld $37.7 million owed to it and 10 subcontractors. Fluor sought interest penalties of 2% monthly for payments it alleged had been "wrongfully withheld."

In its suit, the center had said it was the designers' and builders' fault that costs ballooned from $200 million to $240 million. Consequently, the suit contended, the hall, which opened in September, 2006, was "less attractive and less valuable than ... expected," with such problems as obstructed sight lines and a lack of legroom in certain spots.

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