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Painting a Bleak Picture : With One Exception, Arts Programs in O.C. Continue to Suffer


Today, as groundbreaking for the new Huntington Beach Art Center is scheduled to take place, the city is considering eliminating its entire Cultural Services Division.

And compared to what's going on at many cities in Orange County--indeed, throughout the country--that's the good news.


For one thing, putting shovels to pavement will at long last launch a renovation to convert a nondescript downtown building into the multifaceted center, slated to open next spring.

Further, for now at least, it's only a contingency plan, not an official recommendation, to eliminate the city's Cultural Services Division, whose job it will be to help administer the center just as it has nursed its prenatal development.

Elsewhere, cutbacks are closer to reality.

The Fullerton Museum Center is bracing for a 20% reduction in the funds it receives from the city. Irvine, which has already made deep cuts in its cultural affairs departments, is recommending eliminating the head of that department. In Newport Beach, municipal arts grants have been slashed by more than half.

So the good news in Huntington Beach is that the elimination of its Cultural Services Division will be officially proposed only if the state decides to divert up to $5 million in property-tax revenues to the school district instead of to the city, where it has gone in the past, according to Huntington Beach assistant city administrator Robert J. Franz.

Even if the cultural services division is axed, it would likely mean problems for the planned art center, not its demise.

In contrast, many other Orange County municipalities have officially recommended yet another round of painful budget reductions that stand to further curtail city-funded arts programs.

Such programs have already been pared down--or abolished--after three recessionary years of cutbacks throughout the state to a variety of municipally supported activities.

All of that has increasingly sent arts administrators searching for likewise diminishing private dollars.

"It's definitely been moving that way for us and for everyone," said Joe Felz, director of the city-supported Fullerton Museum Center.

For fiscal year 1993-94, Fullerton city officials are expecting a budget deficit of about $4.2 million, nearly 9% of the city's $47-million budget. Largely as a result, the officials have proposed cutting the museum center's allotment for the year by a whopping 20%--its biggest cut ever--to roughly $240,000, Felz said. City money provides about 70% of Fullerton Museum Center's 1993-94 budget of $340,000.

That could mean the loss of one full-time and one part-time clerical employee, a reduction in operating hours and the number of music, drama and other adjunct programs offered. Additionally, admission may be upped by 50 cents (to $2.50 for adults) to help make up the difference, Felz said.

"It's a pretty dire situation," Felz said, "and it's similar from city to city."

Previous cuts totaling about $20,000 during the past two years have forced the museum center to close on Tuesdays, cancel its annual Lively Arts Festival and limit other activities, Felz said.

Other budget cuts recommended by officials in cities around Orange County with prominent arts programs would:

* Reduce Muckenthaler Cultural Center's allotment from the city of Fullerton by 20% to roughly $235,000. City community services superintendent Kay Miller said the cut would primarily result in the loss of two clerical employees, one full time, one part time.

The center's municipal support has declined by about 25% during the past few years, which led to the cancellation of an exhibit planned for this spring.

* Eliminate Henry Korn's job as cultural affairs manager for Irvine, saving roughly $100,000 in salary and benefits.

Past cuts in Irvine killed a $15,000 cultural grant program after its first year, reduced operating hours and exhibition funding at the Irvine Fine Arts Center by 50%, and prompted a reduction in staff hours at the city's cultural-affairs division.

* Cut in half the municipal arts grants budget in Newport Beach, leaving it at $25,000. Two years ago, the grants budget totaled $55,000. Typically, some eight arts groups receive grants.

Stepped-up local efforts to seek support from foundations, corporations or individuals as public funding continues to dwindle are mirrored by the California Arts Council, and by other struggling state arts agencies across the country.

Gov. Pete Wilson has proposed trimming the council's $12.6-million budget by 20% in 1993-94 and continue reducing it in succeeding years so that the CAC eventually is left with a budget of about $5 million.

Faced with this, the council recently followed Tennessee's lead by launching a program with which it hopes to generate thousands of dollars through the sale of artist-designed vanity license plates.

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