In L.A., A Legacy Of Art From '84

It's been done before.

An international arts festival comes to town, tied to an Olympic-style sports event.

The athletes pack up their duffel bags and fly home. But the arts festival takes root. Artists from around the world return to the host city every two or three years.

Many Seattle arts executives hope the Goodwill Arts Festival will play just such a regular reprise. For the nearest example, they need only look south.

It's happened in Los Angeles, site of the 1984 Summer Olympics.

The Olympic Arts Festival gave birth to the Los Angeles Arts Festival, a feast of theater, dance, visual and literary arts, in 1987. The second edition of the fledgling festival kicks off Sept. 1.

``What came after would not have happened without the Olympic Arts Festival,'' said Judith Luther, executive director of the organization that runs the ongoing arts festival. ``It took the city by storm. It was like a treasure chest that captured everybody's imagination.''

The inaugural festival scored some impressive statistics: 424 performances and exhibitions, by 1,500 artists from 18 countries, attended by nearly 1.3 million people.

The whole show cost a reported $11.5 million to present.

As in Seattle, the festival had barely reached the halfway point in its marathon 70-day schedule when conversation turned to: what next?

``We all felt there should be . . . a real tangible legacy to the city,'' Maureen Kindel said at the time. She chaired the event's advisory committee. ``What went on during the festival convinced me that it should continue to go on.''

Kindel, now chairman of the L.A. Arts Festival board, summed up the biggest obstacle to creating a recurring festival: ``Money. Money, money, money.''

The Goodwill Arts Festival price tag stands at about $16 million, which includes in-kind contributions of advertising time on local TV.

``If we do it again,'' said producer Norman Langill, ``it's got to be better than this festival. Not necessarily bigger. Just better.''

In Los Angeles, the first encore of the Olympic Arts Festival came in 1987.

Though buoyed by a one-time grant of $2 million from the Amateur Athletic Foundation, Kindel's budget shrank from the Olympic event's $11.5 million to a more modest $6 million, approximately. But the festival's focus stayed sharp. Like the Olympic Arts Festival, it emphasized risky, contemporary work.

The 1984 festival presented West Germany's Pina Bausch dancers on a stage carpeted with peat moss; Shakespeare in Kabuki-style French; the Sankaijuku dancers of Japan suspended by ropes on the facade of a concert hall.

The 1987 festival brought the Peter Brooks drama, ``The Mahabharata,'' based on an epic Indian poem.

This year's festival - budgeted at $5 million - promises a 16-day diet of arts from Asia, Latin America, Oceania (the Pacific Islands) and the far north. Under the artistic directorship of Peter Sellars, the festival includes a Cambodian dance company, Japanese performing-arts groups, and Aboriginal musicians.

``For the first time many people in our city will be able to go to a major cultural event and see their native culture reflected,'' Kindel said.

In an attempt to make the festival more accessible, about 75 percent of the events are free.

The festival tapped minority communities in the Los Angeles area for funding support: an African-American consortium raised money with a series of gospel concerts; Korean-American groups held a 10K run; Chinese-American groups, Luther said, sponsored karaoke sing-along competitions.

As a result, the festival has cleared one of the hurdles already erected in the minds of some local arts organizers: namely, how to bankroll a multimillion-dollar arts festival without robbing the current level of support for local arts.

``These donors have not been big contributors'' to arts groups in the past, Luther said. ``I think we're creating new audiences.''

Meanwhile, L.A. Arts Festival organizers are planning the next go-round, set to feature Islamic and African art.

``Festivals are really difficult to institutionalize,'' said Kindel. ``There's no big building for people to identify with. We don't sell season subscriptions. We don't happen annually.''

Still, she added: ``This feels like much more of an institution in 1990 than it did in '87.''