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Cost Determines Arts Audience

June 29, 2002

Re "Make L.A. a Free Art Zone," editorial, June 22: I heartily endorse The Times' call for free access to all museums. As the director of Grand Performances, L.A.'s premier free performing arts program, I can tell you from our experience that cost--not upbringing, not socioeconomic class, not education--determines who will attend all types of performing arts events. Our audiences for ballet, folk and modern dance, opera and theater, in addition to the jazz and world music that we present, are filled with people from all neighborhoods in Southern California. Families from diverse backgrounds regularly share the joy of discovery when local and touring artists perform. When that joy is not limited to people of means, the whole community has the opportunity to see how the transformative experiences of the arts can serve us all.

But greater numbers of free concerts and more free access to museums won't take place until Los Angeles changes its attitude toward public and private philanthropy for the arts. Private-sector support rests on too few shoulders. We need greater city and county support. Today, a Los Angeles city resident can expect about $1 per capita of city and county funds to be provided as arts grants to our local cultural institutions. A resident of San Diego can expect close to $8 to be committed, and a resident of San Francisco can expect more than $12.

Our 16th season began Friday, and I welcome all Southern Californians to experience Grand Performances' free evening and weekend concert series in the heart of downtown (at California Plaza). People need to see for themselves how wonderful it is to experience the arts in the company of people of all ages from all parts of Los Angeles. And we all need to realize how important it is to support efforts to enable even more people to participate, through free access, in the cultural life of our community.

Michael Alexander

Los Angeles

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We live in a low-income neighborhood, and about six months ago I found some kids in our neighborhood who were interested in art but had never been to an art museum. So together we planned an outing to the Museum of Contemporary Art, but when I phoned to find out admission costs, I had sticker shock. It came out to be big money. Fortunately, we did find the Norton Simon Museum of Art in Pasadena to be free for kids. While there, one of my young friends fell in love with the art of India, while the other kids were inspired by the Pop art exhibit.

Perhaps they will grow into art lovers someday. No, they don't fit what has come to be L.A.'s usual art-supporting profile: affluent, privileged and Anglo. But who makes up our community and who must be the next generation of people to love and support museums in Los Angeles? Many come from non-English-speaking homes or homes where there is no art, but many have art lurking in their souls.

L.A. is fighting for self-respect. We've had a difficult recent history. As we see some of our most beloved industries get slammed, we instead should celebrate and enlarge the growing art community that has developed here. If we don't encourage our strengths, if we don't give support and make available experiences that will strengthen the lives of our kids and their kids, we are doomed to be a third-rate city.

Making our wonderful museums open to as many people as we can lure into them can only ensure broad support for art and museums tomorrow. At the very least, admission must be free for our children.

Judith Markoff Hansen

Angelino Heights

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The "free art zone" urged by your editorial is a laudable idea. While liberating LACMA we should not, however, forget the L.A. County Museum of Natural History, where the fees--$8 for adults, $5.50 for children over 12 and $2 for children 5 to 12--are particularly onerous because the museum is so oriented toward family attendance.

Irene Oppenheim

West Hollywood

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