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Arts advocates to battle proposed L.A. cuts in grants, nonprofit rent breaks

April 27, 2010 |  8:17 pm

Another month, another set of brush fires facing arts advocates in the fiscally challenged City of Los Angeles, where the flames of a recession-driven budget crisis have been licking at government support for the arts.

In February, you'll recall, the issue was whether the Department of Cultural Affairs would have its fiscal umbilical cord cut, severing it from the penny-per-dollar hotel room tax that underwrites most of its budget.

In March, having doused those flames, arts advocates trooped back to City Hall, trying to keep a couple of neighborhood arts centers from immediate closure, while stopping another one, the Watts Towers Arts Center, from being placed on a list of facilities for which the city plans to seek private operators, in hopes of cutting government jobs.

Now it's April, and here we go again. Danielle Brazell, executive director of the Arts for L.A. advocacy consortium, is trying to muster the fire brigade again on two fronts.

One is Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's bid to slash $415,000 from grants already approved through the Department of Cultural Affairs' regular competitive application process. Instead, the mayor wants to funnel the money to four groups he's picked himself in the belief they'll bring more bang for the municipal buck. Opponents worry that what's being blown up, or at least abrogated, is a system designed to leave grant-making decisions to presumably unbiased panels of arts experts, and kept free from any perception that it's political connections, not qualifications, that matter.

The other is a new policy, OK'd last week by the city council's budget and finance committee, that would end the practice of granting rent-free leases on city buildings to nonprofit groups -- including arts organizations that account for more than a quarter of the 900,000 square feet that's being provided gratis, sometimes with utility and maintenance costs thrown in. A preliminary study by City Hall estimates that charging nonprofits 50% or more of fair market rent would bring in $1.5 million.

"It's like looking under a sofa for change...a pittance compared to what these organizations provide in services," says Brazell.

For the full story, click here.

-- Mike Boehm


Arts budget proposals: slightly up for L.A. County, way down for L.A. City

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L.A. City Council members scrape for money to keep arts centers open

Photo: Scene from last summer's Station Fire in Angeles National Forest. Credit: Wally J. Skalij/Los Angeles Times.