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Long Beach City Council will consider laws to help the local arts scene

February 23, 2010 |  6:02 am

Members of the Long Beach City Council hope to get City Hall off the backs of working artists, street performers and informal arts venues such as galleries, bookstores and coffee houses, while impaneling a new commission to brainstorm ways to boost the city government’s funding of the arts.

Pegged as an “Arts and Cultural Initiative for Long Beach,” the package of proposals comes from six of the nine council members, although not all are co-sponsors of every element. The council is expected to take them up at its March 2 meeting.

The changes, council member Robert Garcia noted in a statement Monday announcing the proposed overhaul of existing policies, “come out of months of discussions with arts advocates, who helped identify [laws] that are obsolete or not conducive to a thriving urban arts community.”

One change would excuse artists from having to pay the city’s annual business license fee unless their earnings topped a certain threshold . The sponsors say Los Angeles waives license fees for artists who gross less than $300,000, while Seal Beach, the Orange County community that borders Long Beach, does the same for artists who gross up to $20,000.

Also on the agenda: erasing or easing rules that require an entertainment permit for any musical performance that’s amplified or done by a group larger than a duo. The proposal by council members Garcia, Suja Lowenthal and Patrick O’Donnell says “the result is that the arts, music and cultural activities are stifled ... by the city.” They want venues that admit all ages and don’t serve alcohol to be allowed to offer music occasionally without a permit, if the performance is primarily for listening rather than dancing, the volume is reasonable and the hour not too late.

Other new ordinances would promote artist lofts and repeal an existing law that limits street performances to the center of downtown only, and then only with a permit.

The potentially farthest-reaching proposal would establish a panel of as many as nine members with “proven expertise” in the arts, business, finance and nonprofit management to generate ideas for boosting city funding of the arts, and for improving how those funds are allocated. It would have 90 days to brainstorm and report back to the city council.

The council recently cut annual funding for the Long Beach Museum of Art from $569,000 to $169,000 – partly because of tight municipal finances, but also because City Hall was unhappy over having to pay off $3 million in construction bonds after the museum’s private-nonprofit board had failed to deliver on a promise to retire the bonds with its own fundraising. Funding for the city government’s arts agency, the Arts Council for Long Beach, also has been reduced over the past two years.

-- Mike Boehm


City cuts $400,000 from Long Beach Museum of Art

Photo: Downtown Long Beach and waterfront. Credit: Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times