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Arts focus of candidate discussion

Twelve of 13 running for City Council speak at Saturday forum

Posted: March 1, 2014 10:34 p.m.
Updated: March 1, 2014 10:34 p.m.

The importance of art to the Santa Clarita community, and what the city can do to ensure arts efforts are properly developed and funded were among the topics discussed Saturday by Santa Clarita City Council candidates at a “Focus on the Arts” forum.

The forum, held Saturday at California Institute of the Arts and presented by the Arts Alliance of Santa Clarita, was attended by 12 of the 13 candidates for the three seats up for grabs in April’s City Council election.

Candidate Duane Harte told the audience of around 20 people that he thinks art can help make Santa Clarita a destination city and said he supports creating additional entertainment venues.

“That’s what having a live art community does; it creates a destination for people to come to Santa Clarita,” he said. “Whether it be Old Town Newhall, Saugus, Valencia, Canyon Country, it really doesn’t matter. It’s creating that venue for people to come visit.”

Another candidate, Dante Acosta, said he would also support development of additional venues and that he thinks the relationship between arts and the local economy is somewhat symbiotic.

“If we can continue focusing on the arts and having that as a piece of the puzzle, we would continue having that economic activity and that economic activity will help to fund the arts,” he said.

Candidate Stephen Daniels said in addition to venues he would like to see the city develop arts competitions and work on re-establishing a local film festival.

“I think it brings some real notoriety to us if we brought that back and really went out of our way to make it as big as possible,” he said.

Another candidate, Alan Ferdman, said the idea of art doesn’t necessarily have to be constrained to a gallery or a performance venue, but could be emphasized citywide on things such as architecture.

“Let’s think about art in a very broad perspective and let’s carry it forward in everything we do every day,” he said.

Mayor Laurene Weste, one of the two incumbents running for re-election to the council, said the city needs to continue work to establish a local arts district.

“We are working to ultimately bring an amphitheater, we are working to bring an independent movie house, we are working to complete areas for an arts district so that all of the things we have talked about can be there,” she said.

Another major topic of discussion Saturday was how to secure funding to promote arts efforts, whether it be through grants, corporate partnerships or city funding.

Candidate Paul Wieczorek said he would like to look through the city budget to find additional dollars that can be spent on the arts.

“I want to go through, check where there’s waste going on — there’s waste in every city — find out some of the waste, reign that in so we have more money for the arts,” he said.

Another candidate, Sandra Bull, suggested the city could tap into its budget reserve for more funding.

“If they want to promote the arts and they want to spend some money on it, they can,” Bull said of the City Council. “We have the money, we have a 17 to 18 percent reserve.”

Councilwoman Marsha McLean said she would like to see the city continue to provide support for nonprofit arts groups.

“You never want to stay stagnant, there’s always room to improve,” she said. “And I believe our nonprofits are the hardest-working groups, they deserve more attention and anything we can do to help increase the funding.”

Another candidate, Maria Gutzeit, said the city would be served well by expanding the scope of its Arts Commission.

“I feel like we would get more industry professionals involved if we not only partnered with the county but also gave those commissions more power,” she said. “If you get people excited about what they’re working on, whether it be a film project, an art installation, an art event, those private businesses are going to bring funds to those events.”

Dennis Conn, another candidate, said improving local tourism and overnight stays in local hotels will help raise money that can then be spent on the arts.

Candidates also discussed the importance of promoting the film industry, which is a major portion of the local economy.

But candidate Berta Gonzalez-Harper, said part of that equation is out of the control of the City Council.

“I’m going to refer back to our regulations, our tax system, the way that the state of California is being run,” she said. “We really are losing out to other countries and other states because we just do not have a favorable business climate period, let alone for the film industry.”

Moazzem Chowdhury, another candidate, said he would be proactive in looking to secure funding to promote local arts efforts.

“That is what I’m going to work for,” he said.

One candidate, Gloria Mercado-Fortine, was not present at Saturday’s forum, as she was at a training program in Orange County, but was represented by her husband, Bruce Fortine.

“The arts in Santa Clarita have always been incredibly important for our valley,” Fortine said. “The success of this community is in part based on the arts.”

The Santa Clarita City Council election will be held April 8.



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