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Arts Issue Stirs Angry Exchange

April 22, 1985|JUDITH MICHAELSON | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — There were moments last week when one might have wondered about the California Arts Council and its friends in the state Legislature: With such good friends, who needs an opposition?

Little plagues were stirring in both houses.

In the Assembly there was Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), as staunch a supporter of the arts as there is here. So angry has she been over the council's failure to spend the $100,000 allocated last year for a minority arts program that word had leaked that she might not hold a hearing on the arts budget. Rumors had even circulated that as chair of Assembly Ways and Means subcommittee No. 4, she would "de-fund" the Arts Council. The executive director of the California Confederation of the Arts mentioned that possibility in a letter of "utmost urgency" to Gov. George Deukmejian.

On Wednesday afternoon there was a hearing. Council staff finally came up with what appeared to be a satisfactory plan to disburse the money. Arriving late and full of fire after a speaking engagement at Berkeley on South Africa, Waters took her chair and seemed to dispel any notion of de-funding the council. "I don't care what the problems are with the Arts Council," Waters said. "De-funding it (the council) does not assist in promoting the arts in the state of California--that is not the answer. The answer is to in some ways send a message that people are aware there are problems. . . . "

From Waters' point of view, the problem is California Arts Council Director Marilyn Ryan, a former Republican assemblywoman and a Deukmejian appointee.

The matter of de-funding cropped up again when Waters raised a second issue: moving the council's Southern California office from the state Office Building in Van Nuys to a "more centralized" location in Los Angeles that would be "more accessible" to the area's minorities--as the Legislature stipulated last year.

"It makes good sense that if you want to serve Downey and Whittier and South-Central and East Los Angeles . . . that you try to do it from a place that is more centralized," Waters said. "Can't you do it, Miss Ryan?" Waters asked, without attempting to hide the exasperation in her voice.

When Ryan appeared to balk, saying the rent was cheaper in Van Nuys, Waters said: "You could find cheaper offices in Timbuktu. . . . When can you move, Miss Ryan?"

When Ryan replied that she thinks Van Nuys " is a central location--as central as we could find," Waters said evenly: "Miss Ryan, I am trying to be calm. I don't want to get into a fight about this. It is not a central location, believe me." And she accused Ryan of defying the Legislature.

Ryan denied any defiance, asserting that "we did scour the area for appropriate office space" and that there are "advantages" in being in a state building with "duplicating equipment." There was no space available downtown, she added, saying the council had moved from a temporary facility in Van Nuys to the state building there.

"Miss Ryan," Waters interrupted, "when can you move?"

"Van Nuys is not Los Angeles?" Ryan asked, and Waters replied that no, it's Van Nuys, repeating, "When can you move?"

"Do you have a definition of what would be Los Angeles?" Ryan asked.

"No," Waters replied, "but I'm just about to take this whole budget back because I'm getting a little bit tired of this. When can you move?"

In the front row, June Gutfleisch, executive director of the California Confederation of the Arts, the umbrella advocacy arm of arts organizations, artists and local arts councils, put her head in her hands.

Ryan then said it would take "at least three months to move."

Stephen Goldstine, president of the San Francisco Art Institute and chairman of the California Arts Council (appointed by former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.), said that because a governor appoints the staff, "we don't have a lot of power in these matters." He promised, however, to make the move an issue at the next Arts Council meeting Friday in Pasadena, saying the move to "the center of metropolitan Los Angeles" would take place as soon as possible.

In the end, Waters didn't de-fund the council. Instead, she recommended that Ryan's salary--about $60,000 a year--be funded for just three months of the new fiscal year, which begins July 1. "It takes three months to move," Waters said. "Just put three months' funding in the budget; there would have to be an additional request for her salary, and we would have to evaluate it, based on her ability to follow the directions of this committee. Are there any other issues?"

There weren't.

And on a straight party vote, 4-3, the subcommittee backed Waters, including the appropriation of $16,585,000 for the California Arts Council--or $4,006,000 more than Deukmejian's Department of Finance is requesting. (The figure includes $887,000 in federal support, and the council is working toward compliance with the National Endowment for the Arts.)

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