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L.A. City Council keeps art, cultural programs afloat

March 26, 2010 |  6:44 pm

With some Los Angeles art centers on the verge of shutting their doors, the City Council agreed Friday to shift money earmarked for public art projects to keep classes and other cultural programs running over the next two years.

City leaders have authorized as many as 4,000 job cuts to address a $485-million budget shortfall next year. Arts supporters pleaded with the council to intervene after some of the first pink slips were issued to employees at the William Grant Still Art Center in West Adams, the Charles Mingus Youth Center in Watts and the Warner Grand Theatre in San Pedro.

Olga Garay, executive director of the Cultural Affairs Department, said the layoffs of art instructors could have forced the department to end classes at some of those facilities. Classes also were at risk at the Barnsdall Park art centers in Hollywood, which already are losing two instructors to the city’s early retirement program.

City officials are seeking private, nonprofit operators for seven city art and theater facilities. In the meantime, Councilmen Ed Reyes and Tom LaBonge said they hoped to keep classes running by dipping into a fund that sets aside 1% of the construction budget for public buildings, such as police and fire stations, for art.

“This gives us a lifeline in the short term,” Reyes said.

Garay said she believes there is at least $500,000 available in the program’s trust, which recently provided money for the cast-bronze sculptures on the Spring Street side of the new Los Angeles Police Department headquarters downtown.

“Right now we’re trying to sustain these cultural centers and theaters that are the lifeblood of many communities,” Garay said. “... These dollars will provide a bridge until private enterprise can come in and partner with us.”

It may be weeks before officials know how many dismissed employees can be rehired under temporary contracts, she said. The proposal also must win approval from the city Cultural Affairs Commission. After the legal issues are vetted, the council will take a final vote on the proposal.

Several members, including Jose Huizar and Richard Alarcon, said they wanted to ensure that officials strike the right balance between saving jobs and enhancing public buildings.

“There’s some public projects that will lose out on an arts component,” Huizar said. “Let’s face it, some of these art projects at these public buildings do a great job to help support the arts and beautify a community and bring arts to some communities that don’t have any.”

--Maeve Reston at Los Angeles City Hall