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Absence Of Key Leaders Hits Music Center

February 11, 1986|DAVID CROOK | Times Staff Writer

Two pillars of Los Angeles' performing-arts establishment are without their key managers and may not have full-time day-to-day leadership in place for weeks or even months.

There is no indication that the resignation two weeks ago of Music Center Operating Co. President Allan H. Colman or the two-month-old medical leave of Performing Arts Council President Michael Newton are adversely affecting current operations at the downtown Los Angeles performing-arts complex.

Strains are starting to show, however.

Staff and volunteers at the two organizations have assumed extra duties as a result of the absences, and leaders who otherwise have been devoted to overseeing operations or policy making at the center have had to stretch their time and energies to handle administrative chores as well.

"Everybody's doing two jobs," said Esther Wachtell, vice chairman of the Performing Arts Council. "It makes life very difficult for those of us left behind."

The operating company manages the center itself while the Performing Arts Council--currently conducting a drive to raise $9.5 million--raises about a third of the annual budgets of the center's seven resident arts companies: the Philharmonic, the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum, the Joffrey Ballet, Music Center Opera Assn. and the Master Chorale.

Wachtell said the council's 1985-86 Music Center Unified Fund Drive, scheduled to end June 30, has raised about $6.7 million. Already, however, preparations are being made for next year's drive.

"At the Performing Arts Council, we really can't put things off," Wachtell said. "We run an annual campaign, (and) we are in the planning phases for '87 now. . . . We have no hiatus period."

Executive functions at the operating company are now being handled by its board chairman, Eaton W. Ballard, formerly chief financial officer of and now a consultant to the Carter, Hawley, Hale retailing company.

Harry Hufford, chief administrative officer at the Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher law firm, has assumed added duties as acting president of the arts council in Newton's absence. Vice Chairman F. Daniel Frost, a senior partner at the law firm, also has taken an active role in the council's administrative affairs.

Newton left the council Dec. 9 on a two-to-three-month medical leave to undergo chemotherapy treatment for cancer. He is not now expected to return to the council before next month, said arts council spokeswoman Claire Segal, and not definitely then.

"I wouldn't even think of asking him (Newton) when he's coming back," Segal said. "He has to get his strength back.

"A place like the Music Center is not going to collapse." Segal said. It "would not be very well structured if it depended on one or two people.

"We miss that leadership, obviously. It means that everybody's got to work a little bit harder."

That sentiment, apparently, is echoed at the operating company.

Ballard, its chairman, said this week that the company's board plans to take its time selecting a replacement for Colman, who submitted his unexpected resignation Jan. 21 and officially left the company Feb. 1.

Colman, who joined the operating company two years ago after a career in public administration, wrote in a letter to the Music Center staff that he was leaving to pursue "opportunities in independent production."

In an interview, Colman said he was trying to bring two shows to the center, in part to fill dark hours resulting from the Civic Light Opera's pullout last year from a 16-week commitment for the Ahmanson Theatre.

Last summer, those weeks were filled by the run of "My One and Only," Colman said, under a "kind of unique deal" between the operating company and New York producer Barry Weisman. The Center Theatre Group has agreed to take those 16 weeks this year with an option for future years.

Colman also noted that part of his charge at the operating company was to expand uses for the center, opening up some of its space to groups not often associated with the complex. Most of his time at the operating company was devoted to bringing new shows and programs, Colman said.

Failing to continue that effort "could be somewhat of a financial drain" on the operating company, Colman said.

"I think the operating company is in real sound financial shape," he insisted, however. "That should continue for many years."

Most of Colman's duties have been assumed by board chairman Ballard in the past two weeks, who said the operating company's board has no deadline for picking a new president.

Part of the transition, Ballard said, is being devoted to a rethinking of the requirements for the president's position. "We think it's very important that we evaluate that (job) again before we move," Ballard said.

He expects, however, that a replacement will be named at least by October, when new officers are scheduled to assume control of the organization.

"We have not launched an active search yet," Ballard said. "We feel there's no crisis. Therefore, our board has suggested that we move slowly."

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