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Arts Executives Seek Dismissal of Commission

October 22, 1987|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

Directors of some of the county's most prominent arts institutions want to wrest control of cultural funding from the Ventura County Arts Commission because they say the board's inept leadership has alienated artists and jeopardizes future grants from the state.

The action would climax a long-simmering resentment against what many arts administrators feel is an agency incapable of appreciating art, understanding artists or bringing art to the people of the county.

Jeanette O'Connor, one of the disgruntled administrators and executive director of the internationally known Ojai Music Festival since 1978, says her group will approach the Board of Supervisors next month to request that a new agency be appointed to serve as liaison between local arts groups, private business and government.

Meanwhile, County Arts Commission Chairwoman Pamela K. Burke denied the allegations of mismanagement, praised the commission and urged her critics to join the board instead of slamming it.

"I would put the background and credentials of that commission against almost anyone," Burke said. "It's awfully easy to say there's no leadership, but I don't see people stepping forward to volunteer."

But the board's critics, who include respected administrators of local symphonies, museums and music festivals, say designating a new official arts agency is the only way to provide the leadership, fund-raising and community outreach that Ventura County needs and is not currently getting.

Only $500 in 6 Years

They are especially outraged that the commission:

Has managed to raise only $500 in six years of existence, and that from commission members.

Lacks a trained arts administrator on its staff and shows no indication of hiring one, despite state threats to cut off funding if this is not done.

Has been lambasted by state officials for its unresponsiveness to the community.

The commission's opponents are also troubled by a highly critical report issued this summer by the California Arts Council, a nonprofit state agency that doles out funds for county arts programs.

"There are so many inherent problems that seem insurmountable that we simply have to find a new local partner and start afresh," O'Connor says.

The commission's annual $71,000 budget is wasted, she charges, because members are "just taking the money and throwing it down a rathole." The willingness of O'Connor and others to publicly criticize a county arts commission that awards them discretionary funds reveals the depth of their frustration. While some say the commission merely reflects the growing pains of a county whose arts appetite is growing faster than its sophistication, others see it as a moribund group that displays little insight into the state of the arts in Ventura County.

Last week, a new controversy erupted when the commission attempted to oust Justin Du Pont, a commissioner appointed by the city of Port Hueneme who is among the board's most vocal critics. Although many in the arts community do not agree with Du Pont's abrasive style, they also feel that he should remain on the commission. And they cite the internal squabble as yet more evidence that the commission is unable to take criticism from its own members, much less move forward with large-scale arts plans.

"Just because someone disagrees . . . it seems a little extreme that removal would be the only answer. . . . Controversy is good for the arts, and I think he ought to stay on there," says Andrew Voth, the executive director of Oxnard's Carnegie Art Museum and a technical adviser to the commission.

A number of commissioners disagree vigorously. Last week, they voted 6 to 5 to send a letter to Port Hueneme recommending Du Pont's ouster. While the city retains the authority to dismiss Du Pont, retain him or simply ignore the letter, Mayor Dorill B. Wright said he hasn't received any specific information and is taking a "wait-and-see attitude."

Burke, a commission member since 1983, said she spends about 20 hours a week on commission business. "We are going forward, getting things done," she says. An active commission, she adds, "is not something you form within two weeks."

Earlier Attempt Failed

Critics, however, point out that it has been six years since county supervisors first appointed an arts commission to work hand in hand with the California Arts Council to develop a cultural program for Ventura County. The commission is required to develop a master cultural plan for Ventura County, promote and develop local arts, raise funds and recommend to the Board of Supervisors which groups should receive a share of state art funding.

An earlier attempt to put together a county arts plan with state help died in 1980 because the supervisors voted down the idea.

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