Several prominent local arts leaders decried the "enormous problem" of Los Angeles' "struggling" ethnic minority arts community during the opening session Tuesday of a two-day seminar conducted by the American Council for the Arts.
Among the speakers at the Music Center were:
--Jerry Yoshitomi, director of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center: "Most multicultural (ethnic minority) arts organizations in Los Angeles are, at best, struggling," while "mainstream," or predominantly Anglo arts institutions are thriving.
--Carmen Zapata, producing director of the Bilingual Foundation for the Arts: "Los Angeles has no major multicultural arts institutions. Why? Because there is no money."
--Judith Baca, artist and director of the Social and Public Arts Resource Center: "We are a long way from even beginning to approach an enormous problem."
Their comments were made during the first of four "Issues Forums" to be held by the council, a national advocacy organization. Council organizers said that some 725 arts organizations throughout California were sent invitations to the seminar and about 80 confirmations were received. About 40 people attended Tuesday's meeting.
The seminars are being conducted to develop a national consensus, to increase public awareness and to gather input from the field, says Council President Milton Rhodes. The council has targeted four issues: multicultural arts, the individual artist, private funding of the arts and arts in education.
Tuesday's speakers also included Gordon Davidson, artistic director of the Mark Taper Forum; Rodri Rodriguez, vice president of the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Commission, and Peter Sellars, director of the Los Angeles Festival.
Yoshitomi also noted the lack of funding for multicultural arts activity from public and private sources outside the community, and from "within our own communities." Zapata said artistic criticism of multicultural arts events is "is left to those not familiar with a second language" and grants are awarded by "bureaucrats" with "limited knowledge about multicultural traditions and expression."
Cultures are losing touch with their own roots and identity, Baca said. University art students have probably "never seen a reference to their own historical precedence, because that isn't available in current university art history classes" and many ethnic minorities have grown up in isolated communities.
At one point during Tuesday's discussion, the problem at hand seemed especially immediate. Yen Lu Wong, artistic director of the TNR/Moebius dance troupe, rose from her seat in the audience to say, "I can't tell you how dismayed I am that the makeup of the room doesn't reflect the topic" of ethnic diversity in the arts.
However, speakers were quick to suggest solutions Tuesday.
Most agreed that all arts institutions must increase the number of ethnic minorities in their audiences and on their stages or in their galleries; that schools must teach the history and art of all cultures; that arts patrons from the multicultural community should be sought; and that "mainstream" arts organizations should increase the number of ethnic minorities on their boards of directors.
Cooperation between mainstream and multicultural institutions was championed too. Yoshitomi half jokingly suggested that the Los Angeles Theatre Center, Mark Taper Forum and the Bilingual Foundation for the Arts jointly produce and promote a season ticket series.
After Yoshitomi described Los Angeles as a culturally "divided city," where "we don't all watch (Latino programming on) Channel 18, read the vernacular newspapers or attend cultural events not of our own ethnic groups," festival director Sellers recommended "grass-roots community cultural festivals" be staged. Then, "people don't have to come to the cultural palace (Music Center) on the hill," he said.
In a later panel on the concerns of individual artists, Sellars reiterated the importance of the composition of boards of directors, recommending that working artists be sought for those positions.
"Board composition is the crucial element to change the cultural scene in America," he said.