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D.C. arts advocate previews today's L.A. Arts Town Hall

June 12, 2009 |  5:00 am

Video and bob lynch 002 Robert L. Lynch -- president and chief executive officer of the Washington, D.C., arts advocacy organization Americans for the Arts -- always counts on trips to L.A. to add a burst of sunshine to his life. But when he hit town this week, he was instead met by our June gloom (which to Culture Monster always sounds like some glum Goth scenester).

Despite the gray weather, Lynch -- the keynote speaker at today's 2009 L.A. Arts Town Hall at downtown's Japan America Theatre -- was buoyed by Wednesday's arts news from the Hill: The House Appropriations Committee had approved a bill that sets the annual budget for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities at $170 million each.

Earlier, President Obama had proposed increasing NEH funding to $171.3 million in 2010, a bigger boost than he was seeking for the NEA, which he would increase from $155 million to $161.3 million. The newly approved bill would put the NEA on par with Obama's proposal for the NEH, although it would still not meet the federal arts agency's all-time high of $176 million in 1992.

Culture Monster caught up with Lynch at downtown's Omni Hotel, where he was still scribbling his notes for this morning's address to the town hall, a daylong event presented by Arts for L.A. and the Center for Cultural Innovation in partnership with the NEA, the James Irvine Foundation, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and Los Angeles County Arts Commission.

Obama The confab is expected to draw arts leaders from throughout Southern California to brainstorm about issues including arts education, arts advocacy and cultural planning; the future of dance; and creating workable models for sustainability for cultural organizations. 

As a D.C. insider, Lynch said he expected to field plenty of questions from conference attendees about the Obamas' relationship with the arts, as well as the future of the NEA in the current administration. And, though his speech was still in gestation, Lynch said he would present both "good news and tough news" to the town hall.

On the good-news side, he rattled off the stats:  "The nonprofit arts in America [are] larger than anyone realizes.... It generates $166 billion in economic activity each year, provides 5.7 million full-time-equivalent jobs and adds $30 billion to the tax coffers," he said. Those numbers, he adds, don't include those who work at for-profit arts establishments such as design firms or commercial art galleries.

The tough news, he added, is not enough people know that. "I plan to urge more action from the arts sector on behalf of itself.... The arts organizations are going to bat for everything but the arts." 

Though the harsh economy has affected corporate, foundation and individual philanthropy, he said, that fact should not stop arts leaders and artists from seeking avenues to influence their local and national policy makers. Artists, the executive said, should not just "physically act, but politically act." 

Lynch added that a lack of arts education in schools makes the job more difficult. "We can't just have the attitude that if it's beautiful, they will come," he said. "Philanthropy is not automatic anymore."

-- Diane Haithman

Photos: Robert Lynch at the Omni Hotel; credit: Diane Haithman / Los Angeles Times. Michelle and President Obama wave to the crowd at a Feb. 6 Kennedy Center performance by Alvin Ailey Dance Theater; credit: Joshua Roberts / Getty Images.