April 24, 2010; Source: Los Angeles Times | Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has proposed a “crisis-mode arts budget” in L.A., cutting spending by 24.8 percent, outsourcing public endeavors to nonprofits, and moving already granted funds to cover some of his own earmarks. The city, experiencing what the L.A. Times has dubbed the “most tumultuous budget season in memory,” is making cuts across the board. The arts budget is taking what might be the heaviest blow, with the budget for the Department of Cultural Affairs and related activities dropping from $14.5 million to $10.9 million. About thirty jobs would be lost in the cut.
In anticipation of such a crisis-mode, Olga Garay, executive director of the Department of Cultural Affairs, had submitted a budget request for 2010-11 that included the outsourcing of three neighborhood arts agencies. Now, city officials are moving to find nonprofit partners for more than twice as many. Ten have already been spun off from the publicly-funded network, and to ease the transition from public to public-private, Villaraigosa’s budget includes funds to keep the lights on through July 1. Still, many are worried that it’s too hasty.
The most controversial aspect of the plan, perhaps, isn’t privatization or the loss of jobs, but a re-granting of $415,000 from qualified groups. Instead of doling out funds via the standard competitive application process, Villaraigosa proposes moving the funds to cover four of his earmarks. Understandably, nonprofit arts advocates and grantmakers alike are concerned with the move. “It puts arts organizations in competition with each other, not based on excellence, but what kind of political relationship you can have with the decision-maker,” Danielle Brazell, who heads the Arts for L.A. advocacy group, was quoted as saying.
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After all the bad news, the city still had yet another trick up its sleeve—requiring nonprofits to pay half-price rent on city buildings that were previously rent-free. The plan had been in the works for some years, but coincided with the budget announcement, according to officials. In order to qualify for the half-price rate, area nonprofits—with a considerable amount of work already on their plates—would need to convince city council members to pay the difference out of their district’s discretionary spending account. There’s nothing like more work for less!—James David Morgan