Organizers of Sunday's Long Beach Art Expedition recently offered a special inducement to would-be sponsors of the 36-stop tour of local galleries and studios.
For $500, patrons could enjoy four donated hours in a chauffeur-driven limousine complete with champagne. There have been no takers, said Mary Sullivan, visual arts manager for the Public Corp. for the Arts, which is sponsoring the event.
The art walk will go on as scheduled. But the limousine offer underscores a new difficulty facing event organizers.
Because it is an election year, Sullivan said, some donors are stretched to their financial max. And because many local businesses have already made sizable contributions to the Long Beach Centennial, she said, they have cut total pre-event donations to the art expedition by about 50%.
Budget Is $20,000
Centennial organizers say they have raised about $1.8 million, mostly from local corporations, since early last year. Traditionally, Sullivan said, corporate donations supply more than a third of the art expedition's annual budget of $20,000.
Because of this year's shortage, she said, she and an army of volunteers are working harder than ever to promote ticket sales, which they hope will offset the deficit.
"We're spending more time hustling," Sullivan said, adding that this year's pool of 200 volunteers is about twice the size of last year's.
Cynthia MacMullin, director of the Hippodrome Gallery operated by FHP, a health maintenance organization and one of the expedition's major corporate sponsors, confirmed that many companies are finding it more difficult to maintain previous levels of support for the arts. But she attributed the difficulty to recent tax-law changes that have limited deductions for charitable contributions. "All the nonprofit agencies are feeling the pinch," she said.
Pinch or not, expedition organizers say they expect the weekend art tour to go smoothly.
After purchasing $15 tickets, participants will be given maps of the route and identifying badges at the University Art Museum on the Cal State Long Beach campus, the tour's first stop. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., organizers say, ticket-holders may cover the 30-mile route on their own or in vans provided by the PCA. For $5 more, they may join a bicycle tour of the route organized this year for the first time by FHP, whose Hippodrome Gallery is one of the stops.
Other points on the tour include the Long Beach Museum of Art, the Works Gallery and the studios of 20 Long Beach-based artists who will be on hand to answer questions and show off their works.
Begun in 1986 as a nonprofit effort to highlight visual arts in Long Beach, the tour has grown steadily in scope and participation. Initially, Sullivan said, it included 20 stops (nine of which were studios) and attracted about 600 participants. Last year, she said, nine stops were added and about 900 people bought tickets.
This year, buoyed by a simultaneous six-week series of art exhibits at 10 local galleries called Focus on Long Beach, organizers say they expect 1,000 to 1,500 tour participants to browse through the studios looking at art works and perhaps purchasing their favorites.
"It's one day of mass increased visibility for the artists," Sullivan said of the tour.
Participating artists say they appreciate that aspect of the event.
"It's a pleasant experience and it affords an opportunity to have lots of people see (your) work," said William Lane, a painter who says he sold about $2,500 worth of work as a result of last year's tour--more than the combined total that he sold the previous two years independently. "Overall I think it signals that there is a substantial number of artists in Long Beach and that the city is gaining a cultural identity."
Said Patrick Mohr, a creator of sculptural environments whose studio was on both previous art expeditions and will be included in this weekend's: "Artists often lead rather clandestine lives and exhibit only infrequently. An art community needs to have some sort of public awareness of its presence."
One example of that increased awareness is Nancy Last, a local art lover who went on last year's tour and has bought a ticket for this Sunday's event. Something of a patron and collector, she said she had participated in art tours of Los Angeles but never of Long Beach.
"We were shocked at the number and variety of artists working in Long Beach," she said. "It was quite an eye-opener."
Sullivan says she hopes this year's expedition can at least break even as it has in previous years. If not, she says, the PCA may have to consider changing its format or the way it is funded.
"What happens this year could affect the (event's) future," she said.