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What now for cultural arts?

The loss of redevelopment agencies in the L.A. region hastens worry about the future of community projects

March 17, 2012|Mike Boehm

On a typical recent day in L.A., art lovers were pondering the huge Jackson Pollock canvas at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Over at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts, headliners took their bows, just as Frank Sinatra and Whitney Houston once did.

Cirque du Soleil's "Iris" was in rehearsals at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, where the Academy Awards had wrapped only a few weeks earlier. Downtown, worshipers walked through the "Great Bronze Doors" that Robert Graham sculpted at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and rock 'n' roll fans paid homage to one of George Harrison's guitars at the Grammy Museum at LA Live.

The venues and the doors exist thanks to money from community redevelopment agencies. But a new state law abolished the agencies last month, and a powerful economic engine for the arts died with them.

Gov. Jerry Brown pushed for the change, arguing that there were more pressing needs for the property taxes that had funded redevelopment. Shutting the agencies frees up $1.7 billion for the state and $1.3 billion for public schools and city and county governments in the current fiscal year, according to an estimate by the state Legislative Analyst's Office.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, March 21, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 2 inches; 78 words Type of Material: Correction
Community redevelopment agencies: An information box accompanying a March 17 article in Section A about arts projects carried out by community redevelopment agencies listed the $32-million Fox Theatre restoration in Riverside. Although the city's redevelopment agency bought the theater, it was renovated with other city funds and should not have been included in the list. As a result, the article should have said that region-wide arts funding by redevelopment agencies was at least $440 million, not $470 million.

Now arts advocates will have to persuade financially strapped local governments not to forget the cultural needs that redevelopment had often addressed. If they fail, it could spell the end of an era in which the L.A. region's cities were able to fund ambitious cultural projects.

"Nobody knows how things are going to play out," said Danielle Brazell, executive director of Arts for L.A., a leading nonprofit advocacy group. "With the loss, it's going to be up to municipal leaders to have the insight and foresight to say you need to use some of those resources to maintain a strong cultural ecology."

Redevelopment agencies often viewed the arts as a tool for invigorating tired downtowns and other neighborhoods. With a mandate to eliminate urban blight and promote economic growth, they have pumped more than $470 million into arts venues and artworks in the L.A. area.

The city of Los Angeles' redevelopment agency, CRA/LA, had focused most of its efforts on affordable housing and big new commercial projects such as California Plaza, LA Live and Hollywood & Highland. But it also regularly invested in the arts. Starting in the late 1960s, it funneled $231 million toward building and renovating venues, commissioning public art and supporting cultural programs.

Now the CRA/LA arts program is winding up its affairs. Director Susan Gray will make recommendations about how to spend the $7.2 million that remains for cultural projects OKd before the law terminating redevelopment agencies was passed last year.

In Santa Monica, a $52-million renovation of the Civic Auditorium, to turn it into a more desirable venue for concerts and musicals, will go ahead because it was approved before the deadline. Also making it under the wire was a $52-million parking garage and plaza at the Broad Collection art museum, now under construction in downtown L.A.


A future 'concern'

When city governments face big-ticket cultural needs in the future, though, "I don't know how we're going to fund it," said Andy Agle, Santa Monica's director of housing and economic development.

Jessica Cusick, Santa Monica's cultural affairs manager, says it's too early to tell what the full impact will be but that she and her colleagues share a "tremendous concern" that the arts will suffer.

The list of construction projects funded by CRA/LA over the years includes the Museum of Contemporary Art headquarters ($23 million), the Kodak Theatre ($30 million), the downtown Los Angeles Theatre Center ($27 million for construction and operating subsidies) and the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center in Mid-City ($13.9 million). It also provided the land for the Broad Collection and the Colburn School of Music.

If not for CRA/LA officials' foresight, the free, outdoor Grand Performances series at California Plaza might not exist, says its executive director, Michael Alexander. Besides requiring the developers to build the Water Court theater, he said, the redevelopment agency insisted on a lease provision under which California Plaza building owners pay nearly $800,000 a year to fund the shows.

The agency's theater renovations dot L.A.'s landscape from San Pedro (the Warner Grand) to Leimert Park (the Vision) to the San Fernando Valley (the Madrid in Canoga Park and the El Portal and Lankershim Arts Center in North Hollywood).

L.A.'s redevelopment agency also required developers to pay an add-on fee of 1% of project design and construction costs to create public artworks at their sites and to fund other neighborhood cultural needs. The result has been the purchase or commission of more than 200 pieces of public art, at a cost of $33 million. They include sculptures by Joan Miro and Alexander Calder, a huge mural by Frank Stella, a mixed-media collage by Robert Rauschenberg, and Graham's "Great Bronze Doors."

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