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This Time You Don't Need the Entire Thomas Bros. : LOS ANGELES FESTIVAL: "HOME, PLACE and MEMORY." A city-wide arts fests. :

August 24, 1993|ROBERT EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The 1990 Los Angeles Arts Festival was criticized for being all over the map--literally. This year, in concentrating on West and Southwest parts of the city, it's drawing a different criticism. People in the San Fernando Valley are feeling left out.

Of the more than 200 events that began Friday for a marathon 4 1/2 weeks, only six will get out to the San Fernando Valley and three to East Los Angeles. San Pedro and Harbor areas get nothing.

The festival, which has been promoting itself as a citywide project reflecting "the scope of a great city" with "the most diverse society in the history of the planet," has let whole hunks of Los Angeles go wanting.

"The closest we came to this year's festival was three years ago when (festival artistic director) Peter Sellars was our commencement speaker," says Win Rogers, manager of academic resources at Cal State Northridge's school of the arts.

Most of the festival's 44 venues are concentrated in West Los Angeles and Leimert Park (southwest), with only four in the Valley--at a community college, a church and two parks. Only one venue--Our Lady of Lourdes Church--is east of the Los Angeles River. Nothing was scheduled south of the Watts Towers, in effect excluding San Pedro and the Harbor region where the 1990 festival was kicked off.

Of the festival's more than 200 events, six go to the Valley: "A Traveling Jewish Theatre" at Pierce College last Sunday, "Sacred Landmarks" at St. Anne Melkite Church in North Hollywood, Sept. 8 and 15, and the recently added "DWAAD Djimbe and African Cultural Group" at Balboa Sports Center, Sept. 4, and Chatsworth Park, Sept. 12.

The three scheduled for the Eastside are "Sacred Landmarks" concerts on Sept. 3 and 10.

No performances will be held at Cal State Northridge, while UCLA has 26 programs scheduled for four different halls.

"We approached the Festival with three proposals and all three came back with regrets," said Jerry Domine, president of the 650-member San Fernando Valley Arts Council. "Maybe they didn't like what they saw here."

Festival officials say economics--a smaller budget, fewer programs than the 1990 event--caused the festival to have a tighter geographic focus.

"There's a lot of city to cover," Sellars said. "There's a limit to human capacity, to what the staff can do. This year we wanted to focus on areas where we had not presented before."

A similar view comes from Claire Peeps, associate artistic director. "You can't be everywhere you want," she said. "You never can do all you want in a program of this nature. There was not enough funding to be everywhere. We do feel good about our major presence in the Valley at St. Anne's in North Hollywood and in East Los Angeles, where we will have our series of 'Sacred Landmarks' presentations. In addition, a large number of Latino artists from that area will be represented in the festival."

"This festival is more concentrated than the last one," said Sellars. "We are moving more in that direction in the future. One criticism of the 1990 festival was that we were spread too thin. So this year much of our concentration is on the Leimert Park area. We thought this year we could go farther with concentrated venues where we could do something through each week."

The selection of sites and artists was at times a complicated procedure, initially involving a planning committee of 180. Those 180 were subdivided into three groups of 60, concentrated on the arts and areas that Sellars had indicated would be the focus of this year's Festival: Africa, the Middle East and the culture of African-Americans.

From those meetings, 300 artists were suggested and forwarded to an 18-member steering committee, made up largely, according to Peeps, of Los Angeles presenters and artists. Of the 18, no San Fernando Valley or Harbor area institutions were represented. Six came from UCLA.

The Steering Committee met regularly through last year, settling on a theme, setting up projects, assigning individual curators for some programs.

The sites of the more than 200 presentations were chosen largely by the 18-member steering committee and a 40-member Social Marketing Resource Team of civic, business and religious representatives from various communities.

"One of our strategies was to decentralize our venue, to allow programs to move around the city, to try to encourage audiences to come to see different artists," said Peeps.

"With a third of the city's people we only get 8 to 10% of city funds for our arts and cultural programs," said Ross Hopkins, acting executive director of the San Fernando Valley Cultural Foundation. "The city in its arts programs primarily funds with ethnic diversity and the disadvantaged in mind, probably wrongly thinking that the Valley lacks diversity and the disadvantaged. I think that same mind-set may be represented in the L.A. Festival, since our own Cultural Foundation wasn't approached to be involved."

Sellars says that despite a smaller budget this year, he's working toward making future festivals annual rather than triennial. "I'm hoping to do it each year. There is such a range of communities to cover here with such a huge array of artists, but there is only so much time and money.

"We're moving toward doing concentrated areas in the future," he said, "much as we have emphasized Leimert Park this year, with satellite venues elsewhere. We would love in the future to put events all over the Valley and in East Los Angeles, but there is only so much we can do."

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