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Countywide Arts Council Eyed Again : Alliance: Past efforts have failed because of lack of public funds. Backers say none will be sought this time.


COSTA MESA — Some local arts officials are launching an effort to create a countywide arts council.


Similar attempts have been made twice before. In the early '70s, an Orange County Arts Alliance actually was hatched but failed in its goal--to secure substantial arts funding from the county government--and eventually disbanded. Four years ago, an ad hoc Committee to Form an Orange County Arts Council was created with the hope of replacing the alliance, but once again public money was not forthcoming and the committee never got off the ground.

This time, the involved officials say, they are taking a difference tack.

"There's no intention to go to a public body for sponsorship. We see this as a private organization," David Emmes, a director at South Coast Repertory in Costa Mesa, said Friday during a daylong conference here. "Working Together in Challenging Times," at South Coast Rep, had been arranged by leaders of big-budget county arts groups who said they have been meeting monthly to discuss arts community needs.

Private though it may be, Emmes said the proposed new arts council would stress "diversity" in that it would attempt to give voice to independent artists as well as organizations, small institutions as well as large ones, ethnic groups as well as Eurocentric ones.

However, the conference itself was totally lacking in such diversity: Not a single minority artist, independent artist or official of small arts organization had been invited to speak on any of the half-dozen panels, and few attended.


Panelist Thomas H. Nielson, chief executive officer and chairman of the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, noted the deficiency.

"This is not a particularly diverse audience," he told the 200 or so who did attend. "That's got to be a concern of all of us."

Attendee Naida Osline, cultural services supervisor for the city of Huntington Beach, was quite concerned.

"I can't believe anyone could leave here and feel satisfied," Osline said between panel meetings, "when we talk about diversity but don't see it."

Bonnie Brittain Hall, one of the conference organizers, said during an interview that the minority, independent and small budget people had been left off the invitation list because "we are just in the early process of reaching out to" the entire arts community.

"What we were trying to accomplish here," added Hall, who is associated with the Laguna Art Museum, "was to bring the arts community together with other communities," such as business and education, which were represented on the panels.

Orange County is one of only six counties in the state that does not have a local arts council (or "state-local partner" with the California Arts Council). Local councils can qualify for thousands of dollars in state and federal grants for redistribution to local arts groups. Such councils rarely subsist, however, without some municipal or county funding.

Numerous times over the years, state and federal arts officials have encouraged the creation of a council here. Diane L. Mataraza, local arts agencies program director for the National Endowment for the Arts, joined the list Friday.

"I'd urge you to grab the reins," she said. "I think the arts community in Orange County is deserving of the long-term benefits that only a unified voice will provide."

The conference organizers will meet again in January to create an advisory committee to determine what form a local council should take, said Emmes, who advised moving "slowly," with "measured, careful steps."

"Orange County certainly can't have a traditional" council funded with county money, said Joe Felz, director of the Fullerton Museum. "We found out that the hard way."

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