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Green light for the Arts

Commission approved after 10-year struggle

Posted: January 14, 2009 11:31 p.m.
Updated: January 15, 2009 10:41 a.m.

More than a decade after local artists first approached the city for assistance, the council gave the green light to the formation of an arts commission, but its future is a blank canvas.

Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Laurie Ender was the swing vote in Tuesday's 3-2 decision - with Mayor Frank Ferry and Councilwoman Laurene Weste dissenting.

With the formal thumbs-up out of the way, the matter goes to the city's eight-member Arts Advisory Council, which will draw up a proposal for what the commission will look like and then return to the council for approval, said Rick Gould, director of Parks, Recreation and Community Service.

Concerns were raised Tuesday over execution, not principles, Ferry said.

"All five (council members) support the arts community and all five members want to see the city become a leader," he said Wednesday.

Given the state of the economy and the city's current hiring freeze, it is difficult to see how the addition of another layer of government in the form of the commission will be fleshed out, Ferry said.

Those concerns were the reason for his dissenting vote, he said.

There is only so much money to go around, he said, and added, "something has to give."

That said, he added: "I'm excited at what they're going to do. I will be a 100 percent supporter."

Tuesday's motion was met with praise from TimBen Boydston, a former council member, past member of the Arts Advisory Council and executive and artistic director of the Canyon Theatre Guild.

"I'm very excited about taking the next step for the arts here in Santa Clarita. It's long overdue," he said Wednesday.

Boydston does not believe money will be an issue in forming the commission, noting the Arts Advisory Commission functioned with a staff of two.

The commission would require $5,000 per year per commissioner for stipends and between $50,000 and $100,000 per year for staffing, according to Tuesday's agenda report.

Councilman Bob Kellar, when making Tuesday's motion, proposed a stipend of, "maybe $25 a meeting."
Boydston took issue with one of Ferry's proposals.

"It was very disturbing to hear Mayor Ferry threaten the arts organizations and people who benefit (from grants) by considering cutting off community arts grants and using them for the new commission," he said.

"I don't think that kind of blackmail is appropriate."

Ferry called Boydston's comments "inappropriate and foolish."

"The reality is, a new commission will cost us money ... and here we are in a budget crisis," he said, and added he suggested using community grant money as a viable solution. "Tell me where we're going to take the money from.

"I find (Boydston's comments) to be disconcerting and wrong."

What kind of change the commission will effect remains to be seen.

The agenda report notes that an arts commission could prove successful but, "it could also result in little or no change to the status of the arts in the community."

That "x-factor" of not knowing exactly how things will play out is what gives Ferry pause, but he added he will not be a hindrance and that "I absolutely want to see it be successful."

The Arts Alliance - now called 661Arts - was formed after local arts organizations approached the city in 1996. In December 1997, the City Council approved the Cultural Arts Master Plan, or CAMP, which initially focused on assessing the needs of the art community. Phase two, adopted in 1998, recommended the city should serve as a local arts agency and focus on facilities.

Since then, the city invested in the Canyon Theatre Guild, the Repertory East Playhouse, restoration of the Newhall Auditorium and the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons.

In total, the city spent $3.25 million.

"(This) is a significant step forward for cultural arts," said John Dow, marketing director of the Santa Clarita Symphony, in an e-mail to The Signal Wednesday. "The formation of an arts commission ... will provide shared infrastructure, marketing and promotion, advocacy, grant writing and funding for our local arts organizations."


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