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Bowers Gets Higher Rating, $50,000 State Grant


In a rare action, the California Arts Council on Thursday overruled its peer-review panel and awarded the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art a $50,000 grant for 1997-98.

The council, which divvies up public funds at this time each year, first boosted the museum's annual rank from 2 to 4, the top score, after council member Hugh Hewitt, an Orange County attorney, made a motion to give the Bowers money. Learning of their low score, Bowers officials had earlier appealed directly to Hewitt.

Each year, panels made up of professionals representing each arts discipline assign rankings from 1 to 4 after assessing applicants' artistic and managerial integrity and community outreach. Historically, only groups with a rank of 3-minus or better have received grants.

"I'm delighted, obviously," Bowers director Peter C. Keller said Friday.

At Thursday's regular council meeting in Oakland, Hewitt reviewed the seven-member panel's evaluation with council member James L. Loper. He said Friday that, although changing a rank is unusual, it is within the council's prerogative.

"We went through the [application] materials from the Bowers," said Loper, executive director of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. "We also listened to the panel discussion--it had been taped--and we felt that the panel was unjustifiably low in their evaluation."

According to council documents, panelists praised the museum's "strong fiscal position," "excellent fund-raising income" and improved outreach to the Latino community.

But the Bowers'--whose most recent CAC grant in '95 totaled $12,102--"artistic focus [was] not well articulated in [its] application," panelists observed, and "difficult to assess." The museum seemed "unwilling to make a statement regarding [its artistic] quality." Likewise, the museum's "arts education programs [were] difficult to assess without support materials," panelists commented.


Loper praised the Bowers' "very good outreach to minorities." According to Keller, the museum served 80,000 schoolchildren last year through museum tours and in-school programs conducted by volunteer docents.

The museum's exhibitions are "excellent," Loper added. "I know the organization . . . and Hugh knows the people and what they do very well."

A council spokeswoman said Friday she did not know whether the council has ever raised a group's rank so dramatically.

In 1992, the 11-member council raised the former Newport Harbor Art Museum's 2-plus rank by a half point to 3-minus after lobbying by museum officials. Two years before that, the council gave the museum $20,000, nearly twice the amount recommended by a panel, after an appeal by former council member Harvey Stearn, then an Irvine developer.

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