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Arts Program Draws 500 to SDSU for Albee, Others

March 01, 1987

Playwright Edward Albee unlimbered his stock-in-trade critic-bashing act, performance artist Rachel Rosenthal cooed about the joys of performing with her pet rat and a congressman voiced mock concern that the slight tactical edge held by U.S. military marching bands could be eclipsed by Soviet bands should critical federal funding drop.

Those were a few of the lighter moments Saturday as 500 arts lovers packed San Diego State University's Mainstage Theatre for "Speaking of the Arts," where they heard artists such as painter Wayne Thiebaud, concert violinist Ani Kavafian, critics Martin Bernheimer, Robert Pincus, Ed Wilson, and others discuss the arts.

Sponsored by the university's College of Professional Studies and Fine Arts and the Los Angeles Times San Diego County Edition, the marathon talk fest on the arts (not including an hour and a half of questions from the audience), may be seen in part today on KPBS (Channel 15) from noon to 4 p.m.

The sold-out symposium, which ran from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., was arranged into three panels: artists, patrons and critics. Each of the panels was alloted 80 minutes to discuss various aspects of the arts.

Rep. Thomas J. Downey (D-N.Y.), former chairman of the 190-member Congressional Arts Caucus, said that although the $165-million arts share of the federal budget amounts to only a minuscule .05%, it's a big bang for the buck in practical terms. A grant to an arts organization by the National Endowment for the Arts amounts to a federal stamp of approval that encourages funding from other sources, Downey said.

The patron panel, which was moderated by Times Arts Editor Charles Champlin, also included Steven Lavine, an executive with the Rockefeller Foundation; Polly Munts, national manager of community affairs for Target stores, and Stephen Goldstine, formerly chairman of both the California Arts Council and the San Francisco Art Institute.

Two of the questions discussed by the critics were how does one qualify as a critic, and should critics really criticize or be consumer reporters, ranking a performance or exhibition on a scale of 1-10.

Panelist Greg Palmer, a TV critic, who is also news editor for KING-TV in Seattle, defended television arts criticism even though there is rarely the time to delve into analysis. A large audience sees his reviews, Palmer said, who wouldn't normally read a newspaper review because "it comes between the news and the weather."

Albee, asked what he used anger for in his plays, said there was "no point in writing a play about people who are getting along terribly well."

One of the symposium's more memorable comments came from Kavafian. Asked who was the angel who had commissioned the musical pieces that have been written for her, Kavafian said she paid for them "from my own funds."

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