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Ritchie, Others Discuss Arts 'Reawakening' in L.A.

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Three major figures in Los Angeles' art world, including Center Theatre Group Artistic Director Michael Ritchie, participated last night in a public discussion of L.A.'s unique artistic challenges, opportunities and the city's artistic future.

Ritchie was joined by L.A. County Museum of Art Director and CEO Michael Gordon and former General Manager of the City of Los Angeles' Cultural Affairs Department Adolfo V. Nodal in a panel titled "A Vision for the Arts in Los Angeles," hosted by the nonprofit RAND Corporation, which conducts policy research in various fields. The event at RAND's Santa Monica headquarters was attended by a crowd of approximately 200 arts patrons, professionals, and educators.

"It's not about specific cultural plans," RAND Arts Researcher Kevin McCarthy said of the broad, free-flowing discussion.

Rather, the panel was conceived as the beginning of a long-term dialogue that might eventually lead to a cohesive cultural plan for L.A. along the lines of plans in other cities that McCarthy and the panel's moderator Elizabeth Ondaatje recently studied.

Throughout the evening, talk revolved around L.A.'s rich diversity, sprawling geography, and relative youth as both major cultural assets and challenges.

"We so often stack [L.A.] up against New York or London," said Ritchie, who is in his second season at CTG after moving from the East Coast, where he ran the acclaimed Williamstown, Mass. Theatre Festival. "But those cities have been around for centuries. We're post-adolescent... I don't think Los Angeles has found its philosophy yet towards culture."

Gordon and Nodal agreed, with Gordon noting that part of his own impetus for coming to the West Coast from New York was that in L.A. "it wasn't clear what the future was for culture.... and that gives [opportunities] that exist nowhere else."

Nodal, a veteran of L.A.'s arts sector, neatly summarized the panel's sentiments when he said, "I think L.A.'s ready for a full-scale reawakening of the arts in the city."

Ritchie, who has been criticized recently for his habit of high-profile casting, touched on a topic of some controversy when he talked about his embracement of Hollywood synergy.

"We can go to the studios and say, 'what we do is important and we need you to support us,' and they will," Ritchie said. "We can go to the performers and say, 'it's important for you to be on our stages, it says something about the city you live in,' and they'll respond.

I've done that very specifically; gone to performers and said, 'I need you, you're symbolic of the importance of what we do in this city.' We really try to leverage that in the best possible way."

Overall, the panel's participants indicated that they would all like to foster work that reflects L.A.'s wild diversity and takes risks while also helping to increase both the prestige and accessibility of the city's major cultural institutions.

McCarthy and Ondaatje said they hope that future forums like last night's will eventually spur the city's cultural leaders to develop realistic strategies shape and nourish L.A.'s exciting arts community.

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