The Los Angeles Philharmonic will take over operations of the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre complex in the Hollywood Hills effective Dec. 1, under a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl assured residents that the change would bring more resources to the Ford, while retaining the venue’s focus on local artists and the diverse communities it serves.
“The county’s commitment (to the Ford) is and remains rock solid,” Kuehl said, noting that $80 million was recently invested in a multi-year renovation of the 1,230-seat outdoor amphitheater. “We approached the Phil because they have a nearly 50-year track record.”
The Philharmonic Association, which operates the nearby Hollywood Bowl, will set programming for the Ford Theatres’ 2020 season.
The county has been subsidizing the Ford operations for years because the venue’s short season, small size and limited marketing budget makes it hard to break even, according to Kuehl’s motion recommending the transfer.
The Los Angeles Philharmonic Association has the financial stability to support the theater complex and is interested in “a chance to deepen its relationships with a diversity of communities across Los Angeles,” the motion states.
However, some local artists and nonprofit arts organizations expressed some concern about whether the Phil could easily step into the role.
David Ford, who chairsthe Ford Theatre Foundation, was among the members of the public given 60 seconds to speak.
“It’s important that the Philharmonic persevere (in focusing) on local artists of color from the diverse communities of Los Angeles,” Ford told the board.
Other members of the arts community were more pointed in their remarks and many urged the board to delay a decision until they could hear more from artists and other constituents.
Gustavo Herrera, executive director of the advocacy group Arts for LA, said the board’s process to install the Philharmonic as the theater’s new manager was not transparent.
“(We) would be remiss to ignore the lack of community input,” Herrera told the board.
Following the vote, Kuehl told City News Service, “The county had approximately a dozen conversations with Ford Theatres’ staff and members of the Ford Foundation Board of Directors — men and women who have worked for decades with the Ford artists’ communities — to make sure that we were aware and respectful of artist concerns as the negotiations proceeded.”
Charmaine Jefferson, a museum consultant and the former executive director of the California African American Museum, said she had great respect for the Philharmonic but called the board’s decision “a slap in the face.” She accused the supervisors of “falling back on the idea that the most powerful know best.”
Kuehl pointed to the choice of Gustavo Dudamel as music director, as well as an expansion of the Philharmonic Association’s board to bring on more community members as evidence of the association’s commitment to diversity.
The Philharmonic Association has also established the Youth Orchestra Los Angeles, which provides free musical training, instruments and academic support to over 1,350 students from underserved communities.
Kuehl said the support for local artists “is written right into the lease,” and said she wanted to “assure everybody that this isn’t your father’s Philharmonic.”
In a statement issued after the vote, the Philharmonic Association’s CEO Chad Smith said the Phil was honored and humbled by the new responsibility.
“The Ford holds such an important place in L.A.’s cultural history and is a beloved neighbor of the Hollywood Bowl,” Smith said.
Olga Garay-English, executive director of the Ford Theatres, also struck a positive note in the statement issued by Kuehl’s office.
“The long-term artistic and financial future of the Ford Theatres will be greatly enhanced by the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s stewardship of this historic venue,” Garay-English said.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas offered a “friendly” amendment calling for additional community input and outreach by the Philharmonic as it begins to make decisions about operations and the 2020 season. The amendment was also unanimously approved.