SALT LAKE CITY — National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Frank Hodsoll took the members of the National Council on the Arts on the road this week, but instead of good advance notices he faced a contentious local press.
He came to the venerable Hotel Utah here Thursday afternoon like a politician on the campaign trail, boasting about his decision to go West for the first National Arts Council meeting outside Washington in 10 years. The three-day meeting of the presidentially appointed council, which Hodsoll also chairs, ends Sunday. "Utah is right smack in the middle of the Western states where it is often said the national endowment (does) too little--that we are not relating enough" to the region, Hodsoll noted.
He also brought what he deemed monetary goodies, and said the visit provided the endowment "the opportunity to get a sense of the West" and for arts organizations and artists in the region "to get a better sense of how we operate."
However, instead of sparking interest in his grants or the council's agenda, he spent most of an hourlong press conference fielding tough questions about the state of the arts in the nation as well as the specific fate of Salt Lake City's financially beleaguered Ballet West.
Hodsoll had sought to portray a generally sunny picture, noting that between 1981 and 1985 private support to the arts rose from $3 billion to $5 billion; that state arts agency grants between fiscal 1981 and 1987 nearly doubled, from $115 million to $215 million, and that since 1983, $8 million worth of endowment support generated $43 million.
But he then faced a news producer for KTVS here. "I don't think the arts are flourishing here," producer Jackie Mathies said. Ballet West and the Capitol Theatre downtown both face being shut down, she said, and the opera company is in trouble.
Noting that Ballet West received $107,000 last year, Hodsoll replied that the company "hasn't approached us specifically about this, but normally we do not give a grant to bridge people over some kind of difficulty they got themselves into. . . . No arts organization can exist without local support. If the local people aren't prepared to chip in on behalf of themselves and their neighbors, the arts institutions are going to die. That's our tradition in this country and it's probably a good tradition. It means the local people decide what they want to support."
He acknowledged that this may "sound hard-hearted . . . " but that there are "rhythms" in finances.
(In an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune Friday, Alan Hall, Ballet West's president and general manager, said that because of the endowment's reductions over the last five years, his company could go "belly up." About 3% of the company's $3 million budget comes from the agency, he said.)
Hodsoll, who before his endowment appointment by President Reagan in November, 1981, served as deputy assistant to the President and deputy to the chief of staff at the White House, also tackled questions involving everything from why the arts are funded when so many homeless are walking the streets, to why the Kennedy Administration was more supportive of the arts than the Reagan Administration.
"I don't think the arts necessarily had that much recognition (then)," Hodsoll replied. "Lyndon Johnson, another Democrat, really made the arts endowment happen. . . . What Ronald Reagan has done is establish a National Medal of the Arts . . . .
"The only difference is we have a federal budget crunch," Hodsoll added. "It is true that our Administration has proposed lowered budgets and Congress has upped them. That's fair. It is also true that at the beginning of our Administration there were some--not the President--who thought, philosophically, there shouldn't be an arts endowment.
"Their point was," he continued, "that if we were going to be cutting food stamps and things of that nature, then we should cut the arts, which affect the middle class. David Stockman (Reagan's first budget director) and others (felt that way). But the President is on record as saying the arts are important . . . ."
At the press conference, Hodsoll also announced:
--To date, in fiscal 1987, which ends Sept. 30, the endowment has awarded $7.1 million in grants to arts organizations and artists in 13 western states: California, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming. California received the lion's share of $4 million. Individual artists generally account for about 8% of funding. Hodsoll indicated that the final tally would approximate the $32 million that went to the West last fiscal year.
--A grant of $28,000 toward a rural arts assistance information exchange program, aimed at strengthening financial and planning resources for the arts in rural areas, and particularly focused on the West.
Hodsoll said he did not believe the high cost of tickets were pricing the arts out of business. Audience preference was also involved.