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Budget Ax Unlikely to Fall on Arts : Funding: Public museums and theaters appear to have been spared in the $1.2 billion in cuts proposed by county supervisors.

June 22, 1995|DIANE HAITHMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

While the Los Angeles County budget proposal unveiled Monday recommends $1.2 billion in cuts that could result in the loss of more than 18,000 jobs--as well as possible closures of County USC-Medical Center, public libraries, parks and pools--it appears that county arts funding will not bear much of the loss.

Troubled county agencies face a possible 20% cut in all departments, yet no cuts were recommended for the most visible county-supported arts facilities, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Natural History Museum. Both museums are protected by 1994 agreements guaranteeing an annual base amount for the museums plus an annual increase to keep pace with the cost of living--in this year's budget, a 1% increase.

Also not feeling much heat is the Music Center Operating Company, which manages the theaters and facilities of downtown's Music Center arts complex, which is built on county-owned land. The proposal recommends a $238,000, or 7%, cut in funding for the services the county is contractually obligated to provide at the Music Center complex. Those include such necessities as security, ushers, custodial services and utilities.

Sandra Kimberling, president of the operating company, said that as it has in recent years, the operating company would be able to accommodate the budget cut while providing essentially the same level of service by using outside contractors. (The county would still pay for the services, but outside contractors are less expensive than county-provided services.) The operating company also began an energy conservation program this year that should result in future savings on utilities.

Joel Bellman, a spokesman for Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, said the county's continued support of the museums and the Music Center does not mean that the arts are a higher priority than health care and community services. He pointed to the fact that these arts organizations are largely funded by the private sector through donations, and "the county has a very solid agreement and commitment to its partnership with the private sector." He added that closing County-USC would save the county between $320 million and $350 million in operating costs, whereas arts funding represents a comparatively tiny portion of the county's general fund.

If the proposal is approved, the Los Angeles County Arts Music and Performing Arts Commission, which provides grants to various arts organizations and performing arts groups, would, like other county agencies, sustain a 20% cut ($151,000).

Laura Jesse, county assistant administrative officer, said Wednesday that the budget proposal would allow the county to make up the difference to the commission by an appropriation from the Cable Television Franchise Fund, which Jesse said the county has tapped in the past for arts funding. Including county funds, the commission has a total annual budget of $1.3 million.

Shelton g. Stanfill, president of the Music Center, a fund-raising arm for the Music Center's resident performing arts companies--the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum, the Los Angeles Music Center Opera and the Master Chorale--said that the companies would not be directly affected by the cuts since they do not receive direct support from the county. He added that the companies might be affected if county cuts reduced the amount of grants to the companies from the Music and Performing Arts Commission, but he said those losses are small enough to be easily offset.

Times staff writer Suzanne Muchnic contributed to this report

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