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AROUND THE FOOTHILLS

Backers of Art Festival Are Patient, Persistent, Businesslike

May 02, 1991|BY DOUG SMITH

The relaxed and scattered applause for the Verdugo Swing Band's gig at Allstate Plaza on Sunday gave a pretty accurate reflection on the state of art in Glendale.

It's here. It's slowly working its way into public consciousness. It still doesn't stir up the excitement of, say, a parking lot sale at Eagle Rock Plaza, or even a 5K run.

The Swing Band's performance closed out Kaleidoscope '91, the art festival put on for the past three years by the Glendale Regional Arts Council with support from business and the city.

As in the past, the two-day exhibit of juried art was spread out rather thinly in that triangular businessmen's oasis of bleached concrete surfaces and black reflecting pools off Brand Boulevard just north of the Ventura Freeway. Most of the artworks suggested craft more than vision. They were pleasing, competent, not quite as bold as the venue.

This year, though, a national competition was added in the gallery inside the Allstate building. In it are some works that make the viewer stand back and think, whether the meaning comes through or not. They include a life-size portrait of a tense family group in their skivvies and a swatch of odd-sized electrical conduit cascading to the floor. They will remain on show four more weeks.

Attendance was up from last year, when a heat wave provided the official explanation for a turnout of about 200.

This year, high winds offered the only natural menace, disturbing the reflecting pools with whitecaps and knocking down one portable panel on which art by local students was displayed.

Easily the most disappointing moment for the sponsors--and one that showed how far away the goal still lies--occurred when about 800 people crowded into the plaza to start a 5- and 10-kilometer run sponsored by Glendale Memorial Hospital and Health Center. Some of the runners drifted over to the art exhibit, but most kept their distance.

Art must have seemed too distracting.

Though the open access made an accurate count impossible, Arts Council Director David Ferguson estimated that about 1,000 people actually looked at the art. He rates that a success.

"What we're trying to do is build every year," Ferguson said. "As long as it builds, great!"

The number of artists who entered the competition increased more dramatically, from 75 last year to 260, of which 44 were chosen for the two exhibits.

Only 14 artists from the region were judged suitable. The sponsors believe that the space would have supported twice that number. So next year they will try harder.

The aim is to get an ever more prestigious selection from a wider circle of artists attracting more viewers and potential buyers until, one year, there will be a two-day spectacle on Brand Boulevard noticed all the way to Westwood.

Then, when people think Glendale, the word art will follow as naturally as Galleria.

So it didn't happen this year. Maybe it won't next year either.

What's clear enough now is that Kaleidoscope's backers are going to be patient, persistent and businesslike about it. Ferguson, incidentally, is a businessman himself, an investment planner. He works at his computer till the stock market closes at 3 p.m., then slips over to man the Arts Council office, which is subsidized by a Glendale business. With that kind of backing, something will come of it.

In one way, this looks like a promising year. That is because the largess of business is about to make the local component of Kaleidoscope a permanent affair.

There is a new 22-story building at 500 N. Brand Blvd. whose ground floor is only half rented. The suite at the southwest corner, facing Milford Street, was designed for a bank. Right now, commercial real estate and banking are both slower than art, so the space will be vacant for a while.

Until it is rented, the building's owner has donated it to the Arts Council. That could be three months. It could be six. It could be a year.

The Arts Council will offer the space one month at a time to each of the seven art associations that are its members. When the eviction notice finally comes, a new empty space will be found somewhere, Ferguson promised.

The portable art panels used in Kaleidoscope have already been moved there. They belong to the city and in past years have been relegated to storage between events.

The Eagle Rock Art Assn. will open the first exhibit Wednesday.

Kate Pedigo, a 79-year-old artist who paints scenes from her own life in a Grandma Moses style, curated the show. It isn't quite as selective as the Kaleidoscope festival.

"This was done in a big hurry," Pedigo said. "We called the people. The ones who want to show, they'll show."

It will be the farthest uptown most of them have ever been. Their usual venue is the Galleria.

They're planning a reception Wednesday, coordinated with the second annual Transportation Fair of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce, being held just outside the building. Free hot dogs and drinks at the fair should help attract about 1,000 people.

This will be a chance to see whether car-poolers are more curious about art than joggers.

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