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Nice Idea for a Summer Evening : L. B. Museum Comes Out in the Open

June 29, 1986|DAVID HALDANE | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — It wasn't your typical balmy Southern California summer evening. In fact, it was cold.

But about 150 people turned out anyway to loll on the grass at the Long Beach Museum of Art, eat smoked salmon or Chinese chicken salad and listen to the soothing strains of chamber music provided by a trio called the Bach Players.

"It's a nice way to spend an evening," said Dawn Walker, 27, of Long Beach. "I like an atmosphere like this."

Quipped Maureen Davidson, the museum's deputy director for administration who had planned Wednesday night's affair: "We promised a warm balmy evening, but what the heck. That's still to come."

Indeed, the museum will have many more chances to make good that promise as the summer unfolds. For the first time in its history, it has opened its doors for evening hours. And to draw people in, it has planned a series of free Wednesday night concerts. It has also departed from tradition by offering lunch four days a week and dinner on Wednesday nights in an outdoor cafe open at least until August.

'New Museum'

The changes are part of the "new" museum that has emerged by degrees since last September when the institution, until then run by the city, declared its independence by becoming a private nonprofit entity operated by the Long Beach Museum of Art Foundation.

Museum officials said last year that the change would enable them to raise more money through private and corporate donations, provide bigger and better exhibitions, put greater emphasis on art education and eventually move to a site more befitting a serious art museum than its present quaint brick home overlooking the sea on Ocean Boulevard.

At the time of the change, museum director Stephen Garrett predicted that annual revenues--which that year were $739,000--would jump to $1 million within a year.

That hasn't quite happened.

In the nine months since going private, according to Judy Maltese, director of development, estimated revenues have been $580,000, with $800,000 projected for fiscal 1986-87.

But Garrett says he is pleased with the progress the museum has made. It will take time, he now says, to show dramatic increases in income. In the meantime, he says, the museum--which accepts donations but doesn't charge an entrance fee--is using what money it does have to improve the quality of its programs and exhibitions.

One bit of encouraging evidence, he said, is attendance. So far this year, total attendance has been 29,570--more than double that of the same period last year.

Museum officials attribute the dramatic increase in interest to what they describe as the high quality of the museum's recent exhibitions and the "accessibility" of some of the exhibitions to members of the general public unschooled in the more esoteric aspects of art appreciation. In addition, they say, they are benefitting from more and better brochures explaining the exhibits and from such special offerings as the summer concert series and the new museum cafe.

"There is no arrogance or conceit in saying this," Garrett said with a grin, "but it is a sociological fact that the center of gravity has shifted and is currently hovering over Long Beach."

Among recent exhibitions of which the museum is particularly proud, he said, was a showing of photographs from Life Magazine and an exhibition of works by Los Angeles-based artist Laddie John Dill.

"The public has to be won over again and again," Garrett said. "We have to show them that we really do have something they can benefit from."

Collections of Photos

Currently on display are an exhibit of historical photographs celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Port of Long Beach, a collection of paintings and sculptures by Japanese artists living in America, a video display entitled "Poetic License" and a collection of works by Japanese-American photographer Richard Yutaka Fukuhara.

It was in conjunction with that show--on display through Aug. 17--that the museum opened its doors on Wednesday nights and contracted with a catering service to feed patrons at tables set up on the grounds from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays and from 5:30 to 8 p.m. on Wednesdays. Included on the menu is a Chinese chicken salad called a Van Gogh, a plate of fresh raw vegetables called a Dali and a soft wedge of brie with fresh fruit called a Matisse.

If successful in attracting patronage, Davidson said, the new late hours and museum cafe may be continued in the fall. "The idea is to get them here and make them love the place," she said.

By most accounts, the attempt seemed to be succeeding Wednesday night.

Pleasant Break

"It's a nice midweek break," said Vern Feliciano, 32, a local claims adjuster. "If you get tired of being yelled at by claimants all day, you can come here and nobody will bother you."

Added teacher Margie Broadhurst, glancing about the large grassy area at music lovers in folding chairs sipping glasses of red and white wine: "Now I don't have to go to Europe."

Not everyone was completely enthralled, however.

Frank Grombone, standing in the back of the crowd and wearing shorts, said he would like to see the museum install some heating elements in its windy backyard.

And Wes Baca, a visitor from San Francisco in town on business, said that while he loved the idea of an evening outside, he was bothered by the lack of parking in the area and by the shabbiness of some of the display cases in the museum.

"It looks like they need more money," Baca said. "They should pass a hat."

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