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THE ARTS FESTIVAL : The Successes of '84 Have Spurred Plans for a Reprise Festival in '87, and Perhaps More Through '91

July 28, 1985|BARBARA ISENBERG | Times Staff Writer

The Olympic Arts Festival was barely half over, recalls Festival Director Robert J. Fitzpatrick, when conversation started on Los Angeles' next arts festival.

Everything moved quickly. Maureen Kindel, chairman of the advisory committee for the festival, was on the phone to Peter Ueberroth the day after the Olympics ended. By September, the mayor had appointed a panel to study the matter.

Talk turned to action. Commitments totaling $3.5 million have already rolled in from the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee's Amateur Athletic Foundation, which sought and received changes in its articles of incorporation, from the Community Redevelopment Agency, and from Times Mirror, major sponsor of the 1984 festival. Besides assembling a four-week reprise for September, 1987, organizers are already planning bi-annual festivals as far ahead as 1991.

"Everyone connected with the Games felt a great elation and a subsequent letdown that they were over," recalls Kindel, president of the Board of Public Works and chairman of the newly formed Los Angeles Festival. "We all felt there should be something, a real tangible legacy to the city . . . What went on during the festival convinced me that it should continue to go on."

Who wouldn't want to repeat an event that the Boston Globe said "quite probably is the single most important cultural event in our country's history?" By the time the 1,500 artists from 18 countries had packed up their makeup and sets, their ballet shoes and violas, nearly 1.3 million people had attended 424 performances and/or exhibitions at four dozen sites. From its controversial opening-night performance June 1 of West Germany's Pina Bausch dancers on a stage covered with peat moss, the festival moved quickly through 70 days and nights of demon drumming, Shakespeare in Kabuki-style French, classical ballet and ceramic art. There were 34 world, American and Los Angeles premieres, among them London's Royal Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion and Japan's Sankaijuku dancers dangling head first--not to mention nearly naked--from the side of the Music Center.

In the world's press and at the box office, what Fitzpatrick called the city's "Arts Mitzvah" surpassed even its planners' greatest expectations. There were 200 sold-out performances, and 81% of all available seats were filled.

"It's one thing to say it can happen here," says dancer Bella Lewitzky, organizer of the festival's dance programs, "and it's quite another to say it did happen here."

While most of the festival has gone the way of the 500-pound cake and champagne offered the entire opening night audience, such landmarks remain as artist Robert Graham's big, bronze Olympic Gateway in front of the Coliseum and the freeway murals that Fitzpatrick once called art "from the fast lane." The County Museum of Art netted 20,000 new members, sold more posters and post cards than ever before, and sent the catalogue of its monumental "A Day in the Country" show of French Impressionist paintings through three printings.

Local and national entrepreneurs alike say that festival audience response let them know that they could take more risks, particularly when it came to foreign language theater. Such groups as Pina Bausch, Sankaijuku, Piccolo Teatro di Milano and the Royal Shakespeare Company all went on to New York appearances, some for the first time, and many of the troupes are planning repeat visits to either Los Angeles, New York, or both. Future festivals planned for everywhere from Baltimore next year to New York in 1988 can clearly trace impetus, if not roots, back to the success of the Olympic Arts Festival.

So can activities at the long-dormant Music Center Opera Assn. All 11 performances of the Royal Opera were virtually sold-out--at prices as high as $75 and $100--and "the lesson we learned then which is still part of our thinking process is that there is a large, enthusiastic audience for world-class opera in Los Angeles and it is ready to pay relatively high prices for that opera," says Thomas Wachtell, Assn. president. "The festival accelerated our search for a new executive director and the entering into a new stage . . . of the Music Center doing its own opera productions, rather than just being a presenter."

At the Los Angeles Theatre Center, Bill Bushnell, artistic/producing director, adds that the festival's success "opened up a kind of consciousness in this town that works of art take time and money, and that there are amazing and interesting things out there to be seen that a lot of people never experienced before. It helped me to reaffirm that you could experiment in this town and people would accept those experimentations."

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