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Counterpunch

Democratic Process Behind 'COLA 2000'

May 08, 2000|ROELLA HSIEH LOUIE

David Pagel's May 3 review of the "COLA 2000" exhibition ("Not-So-Striking Resemblances Mark 'COLA 2000' ") does disservice to the artists and to the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department Grants Program, one of the few remaining government grants-making programs in the country that continues to give grants directly to individual artists.

Contrary to Pagel's characterization of the Individual Artist Grants process as a kind of bureaucratic compromise, it is in fact quite a democratic process that remains free of political influences. (It is also worth pointing out that the source of monies for all the grants given to the arts by the city of Los Angeles is up to 1% of the transient occupancy tax--also known as the hotel and bed tax--and generally does not come from the citizens of Los Angeles.)

The COLA (City of Los Angeles) awards process works as follows: An open call for applications is made in July and August. Artists apply with resumes and samples of existing work; they are not asked to make proposals. A panel of arts professionals is assembled and selections are made. Panelists for the current exhibition were artist Todd Gray, curator and art historian Susan Kandel, Los Angeles County Museum of Art curator Howard Fox, Santa Monica Museum of Art curator Carole Ann Klonarides and Michael Zakian, director of the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University. The support period begins the following July 1, and there are no restrictions on what an artist must produce, only encouragement that they create new work.

Thus the panelists are making judgments based on work produced at least two years before the exhibition takes place and are limited to who has applied. The exhibition at the year's end is an opportunity for the public to see the work of the grant recipients; it is not a curated or thematic exhibition, and Pagel should not have reviewed it as such. (Surely Pagel is not suggesting that one person select the grant recipients?)

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The Barnsdall Art Park where the Municipal Art Gallery is housed--venue for the three previous COLA exhibitions--is closed due to long-anticipated renovations. The Cultural Affairs Department staff was quite pleased to work with the UCLA Hammer Museum in the presentation of this year's visual artists.

Indeed, the grants program is also proud of being able to expand the Individual Artist Grants to include performing arts. In conjunction with the "COLA 2000" exhibition at the UCLA Hammer Museum, there will be a schedule of performances by five Individual Performing Artist Grantees at the Los Angeles Theatre Center in June.

Pagel's smarmy descriptions, such as the exhibition having a "heartless, cover-the-bases atmosphere," and his demeaning and unfair attacks on individual artists are a sad and inadequate excuse for responsible journalistic reviewing.

Roella Hsieh Louie is director of grants, public art and planning for the City of Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department.

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