LONG BEACH — The City Council has agreed to give $300,000 to local performing arts groups, a move that backers say signals a renewed commitment by city officials to enrich cultural life in Long Beach.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday to allocate the funds, which are double the $150,000 the city spent last year to help subsidize the arts.
"This is a real boost for the arts in Long Beach," said Nini Horn, board president of the Public Corp. for the Arts in Long Beach. "It's a commitment from the City Council that says they recognize what we're doing and support it."
Councilwoman Eunice Sato pushed through the funding package, which she proposed as a compromise when the council appeared deadlocked. While the council's three-member Finance Committee recommended allocating $250,000, Councilman Thomas Clark was holding out for $350,000.
Clark argued that money was available because the council approved a 1% increase last year in taxes charged to visitors staying in local hotels. About $400,000 extra was raised because of the increased tax.
In addition, Clark pointed to other California cities that have done more than Long Beach to subsidize the arts.
Finally, he argued that the other funding proposals were far less than had been recommended by a city task force, which said the local public arts organizations should receive more than $400,000.
The council, however, voted 5 to 4 against the larger allocation favored by Clark, who was joined on the losing side by council members Marc Wilder, Jan Hall and James Wilson.
"The money is there if we want to distribute it," Clark said after the vote. He added that the compromise proposed by Sato "is a step in the right direction, although it isn't as full a step as I'd like."
Mayor Ernie Kell said that potential cutbacks in federal funds mean the city's fiscal footing might not be as solid as it now appears.
"It's a bottomless pit out there," Kell said. "Just because we have the money now doesn't mean we have to spend it."
While nearly three-quarters of the mon ey will go to the city's four major performing arts organizations, the council for the first time allocated funds to scores of smaller community arts groups. Those groups will share $54,000 while the Public Corp. for the Arts will receive $30,000.
Last year, all of the city grant funds were divided among the Long Beach Symphony, the Long Beach Civic Light Opera, the Long Beach Ballet and Long Beach Opera. Those groups, which perform out of the downtown Terrace Theater, will be eligible for $216,000 in city funds during the coming fiscal year.
City officials said each group will probably see an increase over the funds it received last year, although no decision has been made on the allotments. During the 1984-85 fiscal year, the symphony received $51,300, the Civic Light Opera got $48,150, the Long Beach Opera was awarded $34,950 and the ballet received $15,600.
To receive the city money, the groups must put up matching funds garnered through ticket sales, donations from private or corporate groups and grants.
Leaders of the major arts groups said they were pleased by the council's decision.
"I think it's fabulous news," said Marty Wiviott, Civic Light Opera producer. "Any time the council makes a recommendation that unanimously supports the arts, it's good for all of us."
Wiviott said the City Council's commitment will make it easier to get additional grants and donations.
"When we go out to the oil companies or the insurance companies or the banks, they always ask, 'Well, who else supports you?' When we can say we have the city's support, it goes a long way," Wiviott said.
At the Long Beach Symphony, which canceled its performances midway through the 1984-85 season because of a $575,000 debt, the allocation was seen as a commitment.
"I'd have to say we're extremely pleased," said George Murchison, a managing director of the orchestra. "For the council to step up and say they're willing to do something for an organization that's in the financial straits we're in is just fantastic."
Sato said there is a concern for the small arts groups. "They're important and have an impact because they reach out into the community," she said.
Those groups will make good use of the funds, Horn said.
"When a small group is desperately in need of money to put out a brochure or buy some costumes, a $500 grant becomes significant," she said.
The 21-member board of the Public Corp. for the Arts, an umbrella organization that provides promotion and publicity for 65 arts groups in the city and advises Long Beach officials, will recommend to the City Council how much money should be allocated to each group. The council will make the final decision on allocations.
Horn, board president of the Public Corp. for the Arts, said she was both pleased and a bit troubled by the council's decision to give the group a $30,000 grant. While the organization needs the funds, she said, the money was earmarked in earlier council proposals for the symphony and other major arts groups.
"We don't want to sound ungrateful about a gift that is given out of the blue, but we're worried about being perceived as competition to the arts groups that we support," she said.