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Torrance Striving to Become Major Center for the Arts

June 15, 1986|GERALD FARIS | Times Staff Writer

TORRANCE — It began when people who value the arts decided to make sure the city didn't miss its opportunity to create a center for them.

"We had to really battle for the theater with people who said, 'Why do we need it?,' " said Lynn Bramhall, a retired educator who is active in youth-oriented civic organizations. "This really brought us together."

Torrance had decided to expand its recreation and cultural facilities. The key debate, which pitted arts advocates against the Chamber of Commerce and others, was whether the centerpiece of the $12-million project should be a fixed-seat theater for the arts, or a multipurpose facility that could accommodate meetings and conventions.

In May, 1985, the City Council opted for the 500-seat theater.

Arts Council Formed

And in November, several of those who pushed for the project--accustomed to cooperating informally to champion the arts in Torrance--joined together as the Arts Council of Torrance, which had its first general membership meeting in April. The group intends to be an advocacy group for fine arts--theater, music, dance and the visual arts--in the city and the schools, its organizers say.

O. James Vogl, who chairs the city's advisory Fine Arts Commission, agrees that the theater controversy was a catalyst for the Arts Council, of which he also is a member. "It brought public attention to the fact that Torrance really is interested in doing something toward the arts, like Orange County with its magnificent complex" at the South Coast Plaza.

The city's financial commitment to the arts center shows that "we're out of frontier days," said Wilfred D. Brugger, a real estate broker and amateur singer who is president of the Arts Council.

He said Torrance is the major city in the South Bay, with many resident artists and art patrons, but it has no arts tradition.

"We want to start one," he said.

Positive Step

Mayor Katy Geissert said formation of the council is a positive step for Torrance. "It will create an umbrella organization where people interested in a whole variety of arts can come together," she said. "It will be a matter of discovering talent, assessing community interest in the arts, and showcasing the arts."

Torrance officials say it is a greater problem to determine where to put the arts than to en courage interest in them.

"We are facilities-poor in this community," said Joe D'Alisio, city performing arts supervisor. "We don't have anything specifically dedicated to the arts other than Joslyn Center, which is the equivalent of two classrooms and an art gallery. . . . We have no more space for programs."

In the fine arts area, he said, the city offers such things as youth chorus, dance and drama. The city-sponsored Civic Chorale will perform next month at the world's fair in Vancouver and will go on an Asian tour next year.

600 Attend Concert

A recent chorale concert in Torrance drew 600 people, double what was expected, D'Alisio said. "This shows Torrance people are really looking for things in the arts."

But if city-sponsored arts programs are flourishing, they are not so plentiful in the community at large. The Torrance Symphony started only a year ago and there is one community theater. D'Alisio said he knows of no private ballet or dance companies that are Torrance-based.

He said the Arts Council is needed. "The city cannot demand that other organizations do certain things, or go after certain kinds of funding for programs. This is where a nonprofit organization like an arts council, which essentially is free of political pressure, can act as a catalyst, putting together the various factions."

Dorothy La Spina Turner, a dance teacher-choreographer and a member of the Arts Council, said the city is full of talent "waiting to do something."

Open to Anyone

The Torrance Arts Council--whose 30 members include actress Rosemary De Camp and City Councilwoman Dee Hardison--is open to anyone who wants to aid the arts. There are periodic membership meetings, but council business is conducted at monthly meetings of an executive council.

Brugger said Arts Council members recently appeared before the Torrance Unified School District board, urging that the district offer a more convenient class in band and chorus at middle schools. The course currently is given at 7:30 a.m., which Brugger said reflects a "low priority for the arts" and threatens its survival.

Its current project is an assessment of the arts in Torrance--who is doing what, and where. "We've asked our members to share what they know about about the arts," Brugger said.

Council member Bramhall said she sees the basic work of the council to be "coordinating and promoting a cooperative effort among city officials, school officials and other community groups to publicize the arts and have them happen . . . to lend a hand in the formation of groups."

Services Not Duplicated

Several people said there is no duplication between the city Fine Arts Commission, which advises the City Council on arts programs and awards, and the Arts Council, although some council members also serve on the commission.

"The council is a civilian body, in no way tied and restricted," said Vogl. "The council could go after a grant in a way the city could not."

Brugger put it this way: "The commission stops at the city walls. The council has no limit."

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