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How does an arts venue fit into a developing neighborhood? Where do cities come up with money to include the arts in their budgets? When a group goes bankrupt, what happens to its supporters and performers? What’s in a local museum’s storage vault that could possibly intersect the intriguing world of international artifact looting?
Here are some big local arts storylines from the past year and what to watch for going forward:
Arts in Money Trouble
Several veteran arts organizations filed bankruptcy or closed their doors this year:
• Starlight, the outdoor musical theater company that popularized an onstage “freeze” every time a plane flew overhead, filed for bankruptcy in August. The announcement wasn’t a surprise for the beleaguered company, but the court filings yielded a look at how the company inspired devotees to give staggering amounts of money, time and energy since the 1940s.
What’s next: Should Starlight reemerge intact, how will it change its business model?
• Lyric Opera San Diego filed for bankruptcy this fall. The company’s Birch North Park Theatre and adjacent parking structure are often credited with catalyzing the resurgence of street vibrancy along University Avenue there. It’s unclear how Lyric’s bankruptcy will affect the theater’s role as cornerstone in the new North Park. But because the city invested millions in rehabbing the theater, it requires that the Birch remain a performance venue for decades to come even if someone else buys it.
What’s next: Will bankruptcy proceedings disrupt the activity that’s already starting to come back in to the theater for rentals and productions, like the recently announced next season for another musical theater troupe?
• After struggling for a few years, Sushi Contemporary Performance and Visual Arts closed its doors in June, leaving vacant the ground-floor space it had inhabited in East Village’s Icon condo complex.
What’s next? Will the condo developer find another arts tenant for the space? Will planners at downtown’s redevelopment agency try to make deals to save room for arts and culture in this way again?
How Local Governments Find Money for Arts
At a time when city revenues are scant, the budgets for many local cities’ arts efforts are threatened or slashed all together. What resources will the cities around the county designate for arts? And what about the county itself? A few governments to watch:
• Vista’s Moonlight Amphitheatre, run as a department of the city, will see its last season next summer directed by mainstay Kathy Brombacher. The city has recently pulled back on its budget, leaving a gap for a philanthropic foundation focused on the theater to try to fill. (For more on that change from the city, read this Union-Tribune story from last spring.)
• Escondido’s arts center ran a deficit of $232,000 last year and “officials have hired forensic accountants to investigate whether the center might have lost as much as $200,000 more than has been reported during the last two years.” (North County Times)
• County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price announced she won’t run for re-election, the county’s Board of Supervisors will welcome a new member for the first time since 1995. Slater-Price has consistently designated money for arts from two county grant programs that allow each supervisor to give $1 million per year discretionarily. The grants have often been criticized as a slush fund used to reward political supporters.
Steve Danon, chief of staff to Republican Congressman Brian Bilbray, announced more than two years ago he would run for Slater-Price’s seat. Danon has pledged to abolish the discretionary programs.
What’s Hidden at the Museums
The dramatic nature of a 2008 investigation into an alleged smuggling ring thrust the usually under-the-radar Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park into the limelight. Though the inquiry has seemed to be just collecting dust for three years, officials told us in July the investigation’s ongoing. From my July story:
The whole story bursts with intriguing tentacles, detailed in court documents and published articles in the months following the raid. It centers around artifacts found in Thailand, dating back 2,000-some years, that somehow made their way to a folk arts and crafts museum dedicated to “arts of the people” in San Diego.
Even if nothing comes from this investigation, this topic fascinates me. Museums and arts institutions are often granted deference as sacred sanctuaries honoring archaeology and culture. But museums around the world have been wrestling with questions of the legalities surrounding what had been for centuries a confusing and murky world of colonialism, cultural battles and wars between archaeologists and curators.
What else is hidden at the museums? (If you think there’s something I should know about a museum in San Diego County, drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org).
Holiday reading tip: Check out the book “Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum” about the decades-long saga related to these topics at the Getty in Los Angeles. I rounded up some other good articles to check out in this post.
I’m Kelly Bennett, the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at email@example.com or 619.325.0531.
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