Negotiations between directors of the Laguna Beach Art Festival and the Laguna Beach City Council may appear on the surface to result from just another tenant-landlord rent dispute. But much more is at stake.
The discussions concern renewal terms of the current 18-year lease that expires in 1990. Festival directors say the issues involve both the reason the festival was created and its ability to survive. That's serious business that the City Council and community must not take lightly.
According to festival officials, the festival will be unable to continue to help support local cultural groups and art students, as its articles of incorporation drafted nearly 52 years ago mandate it to do, and make needed stage and workshop renovations, if the city doesn't lower its rental rate from the present 17.5% of the festival's annual gross income to 10%.
History and recent trends in rising festival costs and weak city support of the arts seem to support that argument.
In 1932, when the festival began, the city and the festival were partners and split proceeds 50-50, with the city, after expenses, putting what was left into a special festival improvement fund. The festival did the same.
Things changed after the present lease was negotiated. Under this agreement, the city gets about 70% of the sharable funds. And increasing operating costs borne by the festival have been cutting into the contributions it has been able to give for cultural groups and scholarships.
In the meantime, the city has been receiving more income and contributing less to community art and culture. That's not only contrary to what the city ought to be doing, according to its agreement with the festival, but it's out of step with what other cities in Orange County are doing to support culture and the arts.
For example, Santa Ana has budgeted more than $2 million to support its Bowers Museum and other cultural programs. Costa Mesa gives about $80,000 in city funds to help sustain culture and the arts. Newport Beach budgeted more than $55,000. But Laguna Beach, according to figures released by festival officials, allocated only $17,000 of the $368,000 it received last year in festival rent receipts. (The present lease calls for the city to use at least 10% of its annual rental income for cultural and artistic organizations and projects).
There's nothing wrong with the city's receiving revenues from festival ticket sales. But in negotiating a new rental agreement and allocating its receipts, the goal for the city, as it is for the festival directors, should be to contribute as much as possible to art scholarships and the community cultural groups.
Laguna Beach is known as the "art colony." The City Council should be doing more, not less, to deserve that distinction.