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Arts-Funding Groups Deal Double Blow to Symphony

November 21, 1986|HILLIARD HARPER | San Diego County Arts Writer

State and local arts-funding organizations on Thursday reacted to the cancellation of the San Diego Symphony's winter concert season by suspending scheduled contributions to the orchestra.

The California Arts Council's board of directors, meeting in Los Angeles, eliminated half of a $50,000 award it had previously approved for the symphony's 1986-87 season and set aside the remainder pending the outcome of symphony plans to mount a mini-season in March.

The board of directors of COMBO, a private fund-raising group in San Diego County, suspended monthly payments to the symphony for two months or until the symphony announces the resumption of performances, whichever occurs first.

A COMBO official estimated that $18,000 to $20,000 will be withheld and placed in an interest-bearing account pending the outcome of the currently stalled talks between the symphony's management and musicians. The symphony was slated to receive $180,000 to $200,000 from COMBO for the year ending June 30, 1987.

Symphony President Herbert J. Solomon called the COMBO action "ill-timed . . . ill-advised and unjustified."

"At the very time we're demonstrating the financial responsibility COMBO wants us to demonstrate . . . and at the time when revenues are not coming in, that's the time COMBO should be supporting us, not depriving us of our revenue," Solomon said.

The symphony has a history of losing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. But under Solomon and new Executive Director Wesley Brustad, numerous cost-cutting procedures were effected before the season was canceled last week because of deadlocked contract talks with musicians.

Solomon declined to comment on the California Arts Council's action, saying he was unfamiliar with the details.

Musicians representative Gregory Berton said of Thursday's actions: "I think it's always unfortunate when the symphony doesn't receive funding. I hope this encourages them to start some good-faith bargaining."

The players and the symphony were about $500,000 apart on wages and differed over a package of proposals affecting artistic control of the orchestra before the season's cancellation last week. No negotiations have been held since Oct. 31.

Solomon, who took office in June, has pledged to bring a strong sense of fiscal responsibility to the orchestra. But he feared that Thursday's actions could make a resolution of the labor dispute even less likely because it would further reduce the symphony's income.

The suspension of funds is retroactive to Nov. 11, when the season was canceled. Kate Adams, chairwoman of COMBO's allocations committee, denied that the action was designed to pressure the symphony into reaching an agreement with musicians.

"It was purely a business decision," Adams said. "We were being responsible administrators in our stewardship role. We're not taking sides" in the labor dispute.

Under COMBO guidelines, it may suspend funds to a beneficiary organization if it "has significantly decreased or altered its projected programming or (has) not presented the ongoing programming."

COMBO, a abbreviation for the Combined Arts and Education Council of San Diego County, will reconsider its symphony funding in January if no concerts have been scheduled then, an official said.

Funds from COMBO are allocated on a monthly basis to beneficiary groups. Last year, the symphony received $250,000 from COMBO, said Diane Annala, a senior vice president for the organization.

The California Arts Council withheld until Jan. 15 a decision on whether the symphony will receive the other $25,000. That depends on whether an agreement with musicians can be reached to hold some concerts in the spring, a council official said.

"We will need a proposal . . . of how they plan to use the balance for the spring season," spokeswoman JoAnn Anglin said. She said that, if the symphony presents "a real good proposal for what to do with that $25,000," it may be allocated to the orchestra.

The arts council will decide on the funding in late January.

The state arts body has reallocated the $25,000 it is withholding from the symphony. On Thursday, the council also canceled a $50,000 grant originally scheduled for the Oakland Symphony, which is now in Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings, Anglin said.

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