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City arts movement leaps ahead

City arts movement leaps ahead
Committee of commissioners is established in hopes of increasing the presence of art.

By Jason Wells
Glendale News Press

CITY HALL — An ongoing effort to integrate a nascent arts movement into city planning took another step forward Thursday after the Arts & Culture Commission created a temporary, three-member subcommittee that will work more closely with the city to increase the arts in strategic planning.

The committee — which will include commissioners Arlette DerHovanessian, Joylene Wagner and Razmik Grigorian — lurched into being only after the commission came to a consensus that holding additional, special meetings to increase communication with city staffers would be too cumbersome.

“I think too much help can extend this out eight or 10 months,” said Wagner, who also sits on the Glendale Unified School District Board of Education.

But implicit in the desire of too many commissioners wanting a spot on the committee was a message that is spreading throughout the art community — that art supporters not only want art to play a larger role in civic life, but they want a seat at the table on how to make it more present.

More than 100 people turned out last week for a community event introducing the proposed expanded scope of the Glendale Arts Alliance, a restructured incarnation of the Alex Regional Theater Board that received tentative approval from the Redevelopment Agency in November.

On Jan. 15, the City Council tentatively approved a set of proposals that would allow developers of downtown projects to include dedicated arts and culture space in exchange for more stories.

Parks officials have been incorporating more public art elements in new park designs, and attention to the visual impact of redevelopment from the community has increased at public meetings.

“The arts over the last couple of years has certainly moved up on the priority list,” said Barry McComb, executive director of the Alex Theatre.

In doing so, the issue of moving Glendale closer to other metropolitan areas and their emphasis on arts and culture stands ready to receive its greatest gain, city officials and arts proponents say.

“I think overall, it’s going to be an excellent year for arts and arts planning,” said Grigorian, chairman of the arts commission.

But as much as the art community stands to gain through its continued promo efforts, some would like to see city government take one of the most definitive steps toward ensuring the cultural upswing.

Councilman John Drayman said that while the city has benefited from efforts of the Arts & Culture Commission and Glendale Arts Alliance, along with the countless hours put in by independent artists, to promote the arts scene, it has not done enough on its own.

“For too many years, the city has neglected the issue and pointed to the efforts of others,” he said.

“We can’t as a city point to those existing programs and say, ‘We have a culture-rich plan in city government,’” Drayman said.

The Arts & Culture Commission should report to an arts, culture and design department — not the city’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department, where staffers there carry more expertise in planning-related issues, he argued.

With a council that seems more open to fueling the change already in the air, Drayman added, giving the commission a staff of experts that can support direction with grant writing and advice would put Glendale on a permanent track to cultural success.

Certainly, going the way of Los Angeles and other cities would make a strong point, McComb said.

“If the city did that, I think that’s probably one of the stronger statements of support and commitment to the arts,” he said.

And support can run both ways, according to a recent economic impact report.

For the second time, Glendale participated in the Arts & Economic Prosperity study — sponsored in part by Americans for the Arts — that found the nonprofit arts and culture community in 2005 was a $12.7-million industry in the city, generating 357 full-time jobs and $1.5 million in local and state tax revenue.

Nationally, investments in the arts produced a 7-1 return for the government, the report found.

JASON WELLS covers City Hall. He may be reached at (818) 637-3235 or by e-mail at jason.wells@latimes.com.

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