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Cultural tourism effort falters

Businessman Eli Broad finds public money is scarce for an $8-million campaign to promote Los Angeles' arts.

November 28, 2005|Mike Boehm | Times Staff Writer

L.A.'s arts scene has given the outside world plenty to attend to this year, with King Tut's return, architect Thom Mayne's Pritzker Prize and, for better or worse, the J. Paul Getty Trust's troubles. More big doings lie ahead early in 2006. But at this seemingly propitious moment for trumpeting Los Angeles' arrival as a player in high culture as well as pop culture, the city apparently can't afford a megaphone.

To make noise on behalf of cultural L.A., Eli Broad, the billionaire businessman and arts patron, has tried over the past year to launch a nonprofit agency, Arts + Culture L.A., geared to lure culture-seeking tourists and their dollars. He thought that an $8-million marketing campaign would be unfolding by now. Instead, Arts + Culture L.A. has been thwarted repeatedly in bids for government funding and exists only on paper.

"It's unfortunate not to go forward," Broad lamented recently, pointing to rare, high-profile opportunities that are about to be missed: the January reopening of the renovated Getty Villa and a major retrospective of L.A. artists at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, opening in March.

He thinks Arts + Culture L.A. should be funded with public dollars rather than out of his own deep pockets -- the source, among other largesse, of $10 million for the Walt Disney Concert Hall and $60 million for a new contemporary art gallery at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. With cultural tourism, Broad says, the entire L.A. economy benefits, so the public should pay.

He tried to coax grants from every level of government -- city, county, state and federal. But over the past six months, the hoped-for harvests of public money have died on the vine. Bad news came from Sacramento last summer and from Washington this month. Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) carried a $2.5-million request for Arts + Culture L.A. into budget negotiations, but the proposal fell victim to California's chronic revenue shortfalls.

Nunez spokesman Steven Maviglio said "dismal" budgetary conditions made it impossible to push expenditures earmarked for home districts. "It had nothing to do with the merit of the proposal," he said.

The federal request was made by Republican Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon of Santa Clarita, but spokesmen for McKeon and Rep. Jerry Lewis, the San Bernardino County Republican who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said the need to fund operations in Iraq and hurricane relief squeezed it out of the running.

At home, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors rejected a $2-million request from Arts + Culture L.A. when Supervisor Don Knabe's June 20 motion to fund it failed for lack of a second. Zev Yaroslavsky, a leading pro-arts voice on the board, opposed paying for Broad's initiative; he says that government spending for the arts should bring tangible results -- funding buildings, programs and operating expenses rather than an ad campaign whose payoff is speculative.

The Los Angeles City Council was the only government body willing to bet $2 million on Arts + Culture L.A. The city government, whose arts spending is dwarfed by the county's, had one obvious added incentive: Last year, it collected $128 million from its 14% levy on hotel bills, and any increase in tourism would bring a substantial return to municipal coffers. Few hotels are on unincorporated county land, so the county's 12% room tax generates just $10 million a year.

But now, even the money OKd by the City Council has fallen off the table. The deal called for Arts + Culture L.A. to come up with matching funds before the city would allocate its share, and nothing materialized. Consequently, there's nothing in the till to promote cultural high points from the recent past (the Frank Gehry-designed Disney Hall, Thom Mayne's Pritzker, nearly 938,000 visitors for the first American showing in a generation of King Tut's treasures) or the ones about to occur.

The Getty's controversies, over management ethics and accusations of illegal acquisition of antiquities, could heighten national and foreign coverage of the Getty Villa's reopening as a showcase for ancient Greek, Roman and Etruscan artifacts; attention to those troubles already has made more folks aware that the world's richest art institution resides in L.A.

On a more celebratory note, the Centre Pompidou is scheduled on March 7 to open two major exhibitions focusing on L.A. One, "Los Angeles -- Paris: 1955-1985," showcases works by more than 80 L.A. artists, including Sam Francis, Ed Ruscha and David Hockney. The other is architect Mayne's first museum show since winning the Pritzker.

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