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Plan's Changed, but Art Center Debate's the Same

Museums Proposal for solving Huntington Beach venue's fiscal woes no longer specifies 'traditional' programming, but a city official makes his desire clear.


A proposal to reorganize the deficit-ridden Huntington Beach Art Center no longer calls for more "traditional" programming. But the city official who wrote the original draft stood by that recommendation when the plan got its first public airing this week.

"I'd encourage more traditional art forms, maybe more painting and sculpture," city cultural services manager Michael Mudd told about 20 center supporters at a meeting there Tuesday night.

Mudd said showing more traditional art at a venue known for contemporary exhibits will attract more critically needed private donations. The proposal could have the effect of changing the artistic mission of the center, which has earned critical acclaim for its cutting-edge exhibitions.

Mudd had been asked by the city administrator to draft a reorganization plan for the 4-year-old, city-subsidized facility, which is running a $306,000 deficit. The red ink stems from lower-than-projected attendance and $250,000 owed in construction costs, officials said.

Under the plan, some center programs and services, such as exhibition catalogs, would be cut; its director would be eliminated, at least temporarily; its operating hours could be reduced; and its $350,000 budget would be trimmed by as much as $70,000.

Mudd would run the revamped venue and design programming with input from community members. The plan, which the council is expected to consider April 19, also would create a local arts agency to develop an art-in-public-places program and provide grants to other facilities, such as the Huntington Beach Playhouse and the city's community band.

"We want to provide services to all the residents" of Huntington Beach, Mudd said.

Private funding, which has always subsidized center programs, still will have to be raised, especially since the new agency will help support other organizations, Mudd said. That raises questions of who will pay for what and what will be the center's artistic mission.

Echoing other supporters, Mudd said that many former center donors are reluctant to contribute again because they have been turned off by too much contemporary art. Members of the Huntington Beach Art Center Foundation, which raised $1 million for the center's construction, are among them, he said.

But other patrons expressed concern over changing the focus of the nationally recognized venue.

"We have a wonderful reputation, and I'd hate to see that go down the drain," said Eunice Nicholson, a longtime supporter who has given thousands of dollars to the center.

Members of a newly formed center board, which has raised $40,000 to support contemporary exhibits in the last year, agreed. "What attracted the board to the art center was cutting-edge art," said board president Greg Escalante.

City Community Services Director Ron Hagan, who deleted the proposal's references to traditional art, said he didn't want to see the programming altered. But, he said, that will depend on "what the community will support."

If the council approves Mudd's proposal, that issue would be determined in the ensuing months, Hagan said, when supporters will be invited to discuss programs and draft a plan to erase the deficit.

In the meantime, all programs already scheduled at the center through November will be staged, center officials said.

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