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Scaled-Down L.A. Festival Loses International Artists : Arts: On the positive side, artistic director Peter Sellars says that 'the whole world is in L.A., and the festival is actually going to prove that.'

June 05, 1993|DIANE HAITHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Festival, which has staged several ambitious citywide programs of international arts and culture since 1987, has slashed its budget for a planned fall 1993 festival from $5.2 million to $4 million, pared its intended eight-week run to four weeks and will limit itself to Los Angeles-based artists.

This year's festival, which will focus on African, African-American and Middle Eastern arts and culture, will take place from Aug. 20 to Sept. 19. It will be far less wide-ranging than 1990's $5.6-million Los Angeles Festival, which celebrated the arts of the Pacific Rim and brought in artists from 21 countries, as well as featuring 900 Los Angeles artists. The $5.7-million 1987 festival imported a host of artists from Europe. The Los Angeles Festival is an offshoot of the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival.

Festival artistic director Peter Sellars and executive director Allison Sampson said Thursday that Festival 1993, would limit itself to Los Angeles-based artists mainly for monetary reasons. Sampson added that volatile political situations in Middle East and African countries had hampered negotiations and dashed hopes for co-financing arrangements between the festival and cultural ministries or departments of tourism in some of those regions.

The 1990 festival ended $500,000 in the red and took almost three years to repay its debts. Sampson said the festival was unwilling to set this year's budget higher than its fund-raising expectations. She said they have raised 80% of the revised $4-million goal.

"We're very sad to have lost the international programming," Sampson said. "If our budget allowed us to take this on ourselves, and still represent Los Angeles artists fairly, I think the situation might be different."

While acknowledging that finances led to the decision, an upbeat Sellars said the resulting stronger focus on Los Angeles artists is appropriate and timely. "We've been saying that the whole world is in L.A., and the festival is actually going to prove that," he said. "Basically, the idea of large spectacles and circuses is not in the cards. . . . We're going to have something that is much more grass-roots oriented, and close to the ground. This configuration of the arts for the next decade is correct, the big-ticket items are going to be fewer and farther between."

Among the artists canceled are a whirling dervishes group from Turkey; Ta'zieh, a traditional religious Islamic street theater; the Amakhosi Performing Arts Workshop from Zimbabwe, which also presents street theater, and an international exchange between the East Coast-based Bread and Puppet Theatre--a popular attraction at the 1990 festival--and puppeteers from several Middle Eastern countries.

Gaps left in the festival's planned eight-week schedule by the cancellations led festival officials to shuffle Los Angeles artists to fill in, resulting in a shortened festival.

Both Sellars and Sampson said that the problems encountered in planning this festival may alter the festival organization in future years. Rather than hosting a huge international bash once every few years, the festival may take advantage of already-scheduled U.S. or world tours by international arts groups in bringing the groups to L.A. The result would be a more ongoing community participation, Sellars said.

Some festival staff and advisory members from the ethnic communities represented in the festival tried to remain positive about the changes: "In a period in which I think the city is trying to recover from April 29, 1992, the post-Rodney King environment, I think there may actually be some value in trying to show and celebrate L.A.'s diversity," said Steve Windmueller, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation Council and an adviser to the festival.

But others expressed strong disappointment, as well as fears that the action could appear to be a lack of commitment to the cultures represented in this festival. "I think it's a big drawback," said Mufid Sokolovich, president of the American Bosnia-Herzegovina Assn. of Santa Ana, who had been working with the festival to bring Bosnian artists to the United States. "I think the Los Angeles Festival is going to lose some credibility here. It sounded very exciting initially, it sounded like it was going to be a worldwide festival.

"The biggest human tragedy in the world today is Bosnia, and to have its artists not represented is a big drawback for the communities here," he said. Sokolovich said his association would feel greater pressure now to arrange for its own cultural exchanges with Bosnia-Herzegovina.

Film and video artist Ben Caldwell, whose KAOS Network is involved in the festival, said that he has no problem with a more local focus but is still shocked that the city and the business community have not taken greater interest and financial responsibility for the festival.

"I am astounded that they are not able to get more money from this environment, considering what happened (the 1992 riots)," Caldwell said. "I'm hurt inside because I see just how things haven't changed."

Highlights of the finalized 1993 festival schedule include an exploration of East and West Coast gospel titled "We've Come This Far By Faith"; a Leimert Park walk hosted by artists that takes visitors on a guided tour of the area's coffee houses, jazz clubs and boutiques; a "Sacred Landmark Series" placing artists in places of worship, and a Getty Museum Concert Series. Festival officials stressed that while there will be no international artists, there will be wide range of films from Africa and the Middle East included on the festival schedule.

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