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Ventura Approves Cultural Framework

October 08, 1992|PHILIP BRANDES

Publicly funded support for the arts in the county has traditionally been far below levels found in similarly sized communities throughout California. Currently, the area's only staffed and budgeted organization dedicated to general arts support is the Ventura Arts Council, a nonprofit agency funded primarily by contract to the city of Ventura.

Local artists, however, may soon find at least some of their funding wishes--er--granted. The Ventura City Council voted on Sept. 28 to adopt a comprehensive cultural plan. The first officially sanctioned plan of its kind in county history, the proposal is aimed at providing a clearly defined set of goals for cultural development.

The plan is the product of a two-year grass-roots effort involving more than 200 participants from local arts, business and government sectors. It specifies priorities and long-range objectives to follow as funds become available, including establishment of a downtown cultural district, expanded arts education in the Ventura Unified School District and for citizens at large, development of new performance facilities, artist live/work spaces, a new downtown public library, and implementation and promotion of various cultural events and public art projects.

Recognizing the limited prospects for direct city funding, the plan developers designed it as a shrewd vehicle to broaden the city's qualifications for state and federal arts funding without increasing costs to the city.

This accounting sleight-of-hand is possible because of the criteria used in awarding grants, said Sonia Tower, cultural arts coordinator for the City Parks and Recreation Department and a key member of the Cultural Plan Steering Committee.

"Federal and state grants typically require a formal cultural plan and an officially designated cultural affairs agency to implement it," Tower said. The first criteria has been met by the City Council's adoption of the plan.

The second criteria can easily be met because a fully staffed cultural affairs unit already exists within the Parks and Recreation Department, Tower explained. "All that's necessary is to designate the unit as the city's official cultural affairs agency, and we can then apply for grants that otherwise we could never qualify for."

In some cases federal and state funding would be sought in the form of outright grants. To obtain further money on a matching funds basis, any dollars already budgeted for cultural activities would qualify.

Despite the attractive price tag, the plan was not accepted without controversy. During the City Council hearing, two local artists, Wyndra Roche and Charles Fulmer, protested the plan amounted to cultural welfare for mediocre art that would compete with private art businesses.

A more compelling concern for the council was the fear of unforeseen cost increases to the city, despite assurances from one of the plan's principal architects, Marshall Milligan from the Bank of A. Levy, that the plan would carry no obligation for the city to spend beyond its means or wishes. It was only after Milligan' suggested guarantee was added as an amendment to the plan that the council voted unanimously for adoption.

"We're very pleased," said a beaming Tower after the vote. "I think this sends a good signal to the community that they'd like to really work toward creating a sense of community, and they want to do that with the help of the arts."

Tower hopes the approved plan will enable the city to qualify for about $150,000 in grant money, to be allocated between arts events and the city's 16 local nonprofit groups. "Even though the artistic quality of the organizations is rated very highly, they're having to make do without basic needs being met," Tower said. "An additional $10,000 would be a big help."

Although the cultural plan is directed at the city of Ventura, Tower maintains that it has countywide benefits. "When you have a municipality that's shown this kind of leadership," she said, "it can be a model for other municipalities. Plus, it opens up whole new possibilities for collaborating with the county and going to the state with an application on behalf of the county and the city."

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