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Counterpunch

Cultural Affairs Needs Arts Vision

January 24, 1994|SERENA TRIPI | Serena Tripi is president, Board of Directors, the Dance Resource Center and an independent performing arts producer. and

I work with a dance organization that offers, among other things, technical assistance to more than 300 dance companies and individual artists. The last three years have given me a lot of contact with Cultural Affairs Department manager Al Nodal and his staff. There were five of us, representatives of various organizations, who gathered in his office every month to assist in the planning and execution of the running of a smooth grants process.

I am well aware that the department has had its cutbacks and that it has employees who work above and beyond the call of duty. There is a lot of respect that I give to the Cultural Affairs Department and the job that it has in trying to spread the ever-thinning arts dollar and there is also a lot of trepidation that goes along with that. The trepidation comes from Nodal's statements about restructuring the department, as reported by Diane Haithman ("Cultural Affairs Chief Plans Major Reorganization," Calendar, Dec. 13).

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"Restructuring of the department . . . (Nodal said) will convert the agency into a more 'service-oriented' organization, cutting costs by reducing grants, festivals . . . and relying more heavily on community partnerships to help run the department's citywide arts centers.

"The department also plans to establish eight 'regional arts councils' to increase community 'ownership' of the arts in underserved areas of the city. . . .

"Basically, what I want to do is develop a more comprehensive approach to the arts in this city," Nodal said. "There is no comprehensive program, everybody is doing their own thing. I hope (a staff member) can come up with a real marketing plan."

What does all of that mean? Everybody is doing their own thing? I thought that is what art was supposed to be. You cannot have a bureaucratic governmental department "market" anything unless they are going to take control of the money and the process and then lead us to what we are to "experience." What the department is doing is taking away the "experience" of the art.

I applaud Cultural Affairs spreading money throughout the city so that every segment of the population has a share. That had been a long time coming. But, they have forgotten one very important thing: art, its growth and continuation.

I am afraid Nodal's position has more to do with social service than with creativity. Are we to hinder the artists in our society by cutting back their ever-decreasing dollars from the city government so that a "Cultural Affairs Department" can take on the business of trying to heal and bandage this war-torn society that we live in? Why do our meager arts dollars have to become service-oriented dollars? If our city government had been doing its work properly in the first place, maybe we wouldn't have to patch up broken areas of Los Angeles with arts money.

Go and watch your City Council people at work. I've been to council meetings where they sit and talk and eat while people are speaking. They act much too pompous for public servants.

I want an arts vision for this city. We need more culture and arts activities for our children. Action-packed violence in movies and on television is not the legacy we need to leave behind. There has got to be a way to help artists make art, to grow as artists and to give their work to the community and to the world.

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The Cultural Affairs Department doesn't have a lot to do with culture. In this city, our culture is drying up and blowing away. Let us try to figure out a way to work together and stop the nonsense that never seems to end.

Henry James wrote in a letter to H. G. Wells: "It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance, for our consideration and application of these things, and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process."

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