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Council May Dissolve a Hopelessly Divided Arts Advisory Group

Culture: Infighting threatens to break up the commission, which hasn't met since February. Some say the dormant panel has outlived its usefulness.

June 11, 1996|ERIC WAHLGREN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

OXNARD — The curtain may finally fall on the languishing Cultural and Fine Arts Commission today.

But the beginning of the end of the arts advisory group came last February when a feud erupted among the commission's seven volunteer members. Since then, the panel has not held a single meeting.

City officials say other groups promoting the arts in Oxnard--including the Oxnard Performing Arts Foundation--will fill any vacuum left if the City Council votes to scrap the commission.

But Bernard Leventhal, a former commissioner and leader of a local Dixieland band, said he would like to see the dormant commission resuscitated.

"I am hoping that it will be reformed and be given a function of assisting and developing the arts in Oxnard," said Leventhal, 83, a retired chiropractor. "I think the city deserves something like that."

The discord began last year when Miguel del Aguila, an Oxnard-based pianist and composer, joined the commission.

Other commissioners said that at the very first meeting he attended, Del Aguila--whose operas and chamber music have been performed in cities that include Moscow, Vienna and New York--was confrontational and trashed the commission's policies.

"He had his own agenda to put forward," Leventhal said. "He was very, very disruptive."

So disruptive, some commissioners said, that the panel's chairwoman, Mona Broyles, refused to schedule another meeting until Del Aguila stepped down.

Broyles, Leventhal and another commissioner wrote a letter urging city officials to remove Del Aguila, but he stayed and the group stopped meeting altogether.

The 38-year-old composer wanted the commission to change, he said, because it was not independent enough from two city-paid arts consultants and because the commissioners lacked vision.

"I felt that the commission was totally out of touch," Del Aguila said. "They had to consider the changing conditions of Oxnard, of its demographics, of new art forms."

Del Aguila said he was pleased to hear that the city plans to consider disbanding the commission. "The commission that I knew as a member wasn't able to do much for Oxnard," he said.

In attempts to make music out of the morass, Del Aguila composed "Vals Brutal," or brutal waltz, which satirized his experience on the panel in a five-minute piano piece.

Andrew C. Voth, a cultural arts advisor to Oxnard and one of the consultants Del Aguila criticized, said he never influenced the commission and that the composer's beef seemed personal.

Voth said he was treasurer of a nonprofit group called Patrons of the Cultural Arts of Oxnard, a group that turned down Del Aguila's request for a grant because Voth said it awards money to groups, not individuals.

"I have no idea what is going on in that man's brain," Voth said. "I know he is a complete enigma to me."

But Voth said the proposal to dissolve the commission has little to do with Del Aguila and more to do with the fact that other groups and foundations have already picked up the slack.

The Oxnard Performing Arts Foundation has raised a collective $250,000 in cash and art for the city's performing arts center, which is about to undergo an extensive make-over.

Besides the grant-writing patrons group, an Art in Public Places Committee works with developers to bring more artwork to city areas. The Carnegie Fundraising Board also has been drumming up dollars for the city's Carnegie Art Museum.

"The Cultural and Fine Arts Commission sort of went the length of its usefulness," Voth said. "[Del Aguila] might have brought it to a quicker conclusion."

The City Council tonight will also consider eliminating the city's Special Events Planning Committee.

Its functions, such as organizing the Strawberry Festival and the city's Fourth of July celebration, have been taken over by volunteers in the private sector, city officials said.

City leaders also will decide whether to rename and refocus the city's War Memorial Committee, calling it the Veterans Memorial Committee.

Oxnard has already built a monument to the city's war dead in Plaza Park, and the new committee would take care of its upkeep and other veterans' issues.

"On the surface, it sounds reasonable because most of the projects are completed," said Roy W. Lockwood, a veteran of World War II and the Korean conflict. "All it takes is a caretaker to watch over future events."

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