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Arts Council Rejects Taper Funding Appeal

November 22, 1986|ZAN DUBIN

Dramatic irony played itself out Thursday on the stage of the Mark Taper Forum, where the California Arts Council held its final meeting of the year and rejected the Taper's appeal for increased state funding.

The state arts agency, under fire for some of its grant-making procedures, rejected four other appeals for funds and granted one.

A representative of the Taper--its full name is the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum--said the council relied on "inadequate information and misinformation" about the theater's programs for minorities, undiscovered artists and other activities when it cut the Taper's state grant by $34,000 this year. The Taper also charged that the council's new appeals process is inadequate.

Taper general manager Stephen Albert told the council that it was wrong to grant the theater just $180,000 for the 1986-87 fiscal year without properly reviewing the Taper's programs. The council granted the Taper $214,000 last year.

"Nowhere in the (grant application) process is there a point where the applicant can address misinformation or misperceptions," said Albert, who had made a similarly impassioned plea at the council's September meeting in Sacramento.

Albert also objected to the grant appeal process itself, saying, "I think there are several issues in our appeal that remain unaddressed."

The Taper's formal four-page appeal letter attempted to refute several alleged "misconceptions" held by the council and its staff panels, which select grant recipients and determine grant amounts. Among the council's criticisms was that the Taper had cut back its New Theatre for Now program for new works and writers.

"The decision to make New Theatre for Now a biennial event was made 10 years ago," stated the Taper in the appeal letter.

Similarly, the Taper's appeal addressed a council charge of insufficient service to the ethnic community by citing the theater's recent multi-ethnic ensemble production of "Green Card," which told the story of immigration to Los Angeles.

Taper artistic director Gordon Davidson sat in the audience during part of the theater's presentation. In an interview, he, too, criticized the council.

"I think what's missing (from the process) is the quality of the need, and the need is very great," Davidson said. "Those dollars go right into our work and severely affect what we do."

However, after an unusually long debate that lasted about 25 minutes, an uncharacteristically divided council voted 8-3 to reject the Taper's appeal.

Another arts group turned down was San Diego's Old Globe Theatre, which received $95,000, after receiving more than $115,000 last year.

Peter Shavitz, director of the Old Globe's annual fund, said, "The crux of the problem is in not getting information to the panelists" before the appeals process.

"We found ourselves unable to communicate certain information to the council" before the final funding decision was made, Shavitz said.

Of the groups appealing, only the Social and Public Arts Resource Center in Venice, which won $12,000, was successful.

The council's formal appeal process is new this year, and council director Robert Reid defended the process in an interview while acknowledging that it needs improvement.

"It's an unsettling procedure," Reid said. "You can see the council members squirming and those who appealed today are unhappy. But look at the contrast between last year and previous years. However, we're immediately going to set up a group to take the appeal process and refine it."

Reid also acknowledged that the grant-making procedure itself has problems: "We'll have to now include a process for more input from the applicants to the staff before the final grant recommendations go through to the council."

(The council took one minor action Thursday addressing the problem: It tripled the budget for council staff to visit state arts groups that are applying for organizational grants. Last year, the council had $5,000 for site visits.)

In other business Thursday, the council presented commemorative plaques to retiring members Bella Lewitzky (who is in Europe with her modern dance company); Wendy Goldberg, the founding president of the Filmex Society; Noah Purifoy, the council's only black member and its only member to sit on the council since its 1976 inception, and outgoing chairman Stephen Goldstine, former president of the San Francisco Art Institute.

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