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L.A. Festival to Curtail Operations, Study Future : Arts: The triennial event is 'no longer viable as a large-scale, citywide production' because of dwindling public support, its organizers say.


The Los Angeles Festival, the nonprofit organization that presents the citywide triennial arts fest, will curtail its daily operations effective March 31 and launch a six-month feasibility study to determine the future of the festival.

Its leaders say the festival series, which began with the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival, is "no longer viable as a large-scale, citywide production" because of dwindling public support.

Festival board chairman Daniel P. Garcia said on Monday that, along with declining public resources, the festival must also anticipate city arts budget cuts. "If you look at the festival in the (early) years, there was a tremendous amount of support from the public sector, which is not possible at the present time. We wanted to make sure we didn't do anything that was financially improvident," Garcia said.

Asked if future festivals might be canceled, Garcia said: "That's always an option, whether I like it or anybody else likes it. My own view is that's not going to happen, but it's very clear this organization . . . needs to find a different way of funding its activities."

Peter Sellars, who was artistic director of the past two festivals and is scheduled to direct a 1996 festival, is in Africa and unavailable for comment, but he said in a prepared statement: "We are trying to stay ahead of the curve. What kind of future will the arts have in America? It is clear that we all will have to adapt to survive in this environment."

Garcia said that the festival will retain programming director Claire Peeps as the only paid festival staff member during restructuring. Festival executive director Allison Sampson will become a volunteer consultant. Sellars, who has never received a festival salary, will continue as artistic director. The rest of the staff has been laid off.

The 1993 festival--which took place Aug. 20 through Sept.19--focused on African, African American and Middle Eastern arts and culture. The event was the second Los Angeles festival directed by producer/director Peter Sellars, who also directed the 1990 festival celebrating the Pacific Rim. Robert Fitzpatrick directed the '84 Olympic arts fest as well as a 1987 festival of European arts.

The $5.7-million 1987 festival ended with a budget surplus, but the $5.6-million 1990 festival, with more free events, ended with a $500,000-deficit that took festival organizers until 1993 to pay off. In 1993, the planned $5.2-million international festival was scaled back, just months before its start date, to a $4-million festival featuring primarily Los Angeles-based artists.

Maureen Kindel, founding chairwoman of the festival (she stepped down as festival board chairman in September and remains an active board member) said that, although the festival incurred no significant debt from the 1993 festival, "we barely made it through." Kindel said that an individual donor who had promised a contribution of $75,000 reneged on the deal.

"We have to take a realistic look at what's happening with the money situation," Kindel said. "The City of Los Angeles, through the Community Redevelopment Agency, was one of our major partners; in addition to that, (former) Mayor (Tom) Bradley used to get on the phone and raise money for us. Now, we have a situation where there just isn't any money, and God knows what Mayor (Richard) Riordan's budget is going to look like. I think it's going to be startling."

Kindel said board support for continuing the festival in some form remains unanimous. "I must tell you (last week's) board meeting was attended by every board member, and there was no notion in that room . . . that the festival is over," she said.

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