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Downtown Art Project Now Reality

August 27, 1985|SUZANNE MUCHNIC | Times Staff Writer

A proposal--complete with funding--to enhance downtown Los Angeles as a cultural center has become a firm policy, spelled out in a fat book of charts and guidelines.

The action took place Monday morning when the board of the Community Redevelopment Agency voted unanimously in favor of the agency's Art in Public Places Program.

The far-reaching plan, hailed by most of the arts community as "innovative" and "revolutionary," will provide $2 million annually for the next five years for permanant artworks, a biennial arts festival and a trust fund to finance cultural activities.

Board approval of the new program enables the CRA to use "art as a redevelopment tool" and establish "systematic and rational guidelines for the selection of artists and art programs," according to a summary distributed at the meeting.

Funds for these activities will be provided through a Percent for Art Requirement, which applies to all projects facilitated by the redevelopment agency in Bunker Hill, Little Tokyo and the central business district. Under the requirement, developers in those areas must spend 1% of total development costs (less land and public improvements) on art.

Marc Pally, the agency's arts consultant, said that $200 million a year in development projects are expected to come on line during the next five years. This will yield $2 million a year allocated to the cultural project.

The CRA has been implementing a Percent for Art program since 1964, but only as a negotiable tradition and only applied to Little Tokyo and Bunker Hill. Past redevelopment agency projects have brought Louise Nevelson's massive "Night Sail" sculpture to Crocker Center, sculpture by Michael Heizer and other well known artists to Wells Fargo, and provided for the Museum of Contemporary Art currently under construction at California Plaza. The new program obligates developers to the Percent for Art Requirement and extends it to the central business district.

The Art in Public Places Program also spells out substantive changes in the tradition. Instead of spending all the funds for permanent installations of painting and sculpture, the new policy allots a maximum of 60% of the funds to such visual artworks and deposits a minimum of 40% in a new Cultural Trust Fund. Half the trust monies will go to a proposed biennial Los Angeles Arts Festival. The other half will fund a program of performing and visual arts events and provide aid to developing or refurbishing arts facilities.

This spreading of the wealth to performing arts has angered some traditional visual artists who fear that redevelopment agency commissions of permanent art forms will give way to temporary projects and broader cultural programming. Artist Daniel Cytron, who spoke against the new plan at a recent public forum returned to the board meeting to voice the same objections.

Charging that the program would take away "an integral relationship between artists and builders" and endanger the "only chance for immortality," for some artists, Cytron urged a delay in the decision. He recommended that the board enforce a 50% minimum for on-site, permanent visual art and asked that a general meeting of downtown artists be scheduled to discuss the issue.

CRA Administrator Edward Helfeld responded that Cytron was making incorrect "assumptions" about the dilution of a "sacrosanct fund." He suggested that Cytron was giving board members a false impression of negative community response by making a solo appearance in opposition to the program when numerous proponents had already spoken at the earlier public forum and didn't think it necessary to repeat their arguments.

"It's pretty clear from the testimony and it's very clear from the letters we received that there's strong support for the program," Helfeld asserted.

Chairman James M. Wood called for a vote and assured Cytron that "there is a commitment to fine arts here. There's no lack of understanding of the distinction between fine arts and performing arts. It is our intention to support the fine arts."

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