Candidate Forum on the Arts: Useful or Pointless?

12:45pm | On Wednesday night the Arts Council for Long Beach, in partnership with Arts for L.A., is hosting a candidate forum on the Arts. (Or three separate forums, actually: one each with candidates for the Long Beach Unified School District School Board, the Long Beach City College Board of Trustees, and Long Beach City Council.)

On the whole I'm a supporter of candidate forums. They provide the voting public with opportunities to hear candidates speak to a variety of issues, as well as giving us a chance to gauge the sincerity of each person vying for your vote, how well she thinks on her feet, whether he directly answers each question or falls back on generic talking points, etc.

But I don't think I can be blamed for wondering whether a candidate forum on the Arts is a waste of time.

This has nothing to do with my lacking interest in the Arts. I'm one of those liberals who decry how pathetically little our government spends on the Arts, one of those people who is sickened every time some politician is posturing on the Senate floor with this or that piece of "prurient" art as an example of why the National Endowment for the Arts must be stopped! In my eyes the Arts are plenty political, if for no other reason than the existence of certain factions in government that politicize the Arts by trying to dupe John Q. Public into believing that downsizing our already-microscopic Arts budget is an act of fiscal responsibility, rather than the empty gesture it really is, a feint much easier to make than actually doing something with substantive punch.

But if you're running for office in Long Beach, here's the script you're following: "I'm a big supporter of the Arts. The Arts are an invaluable part of our society. We should invest whatever we can in the Arts. However, these are tough economic times, and sacrifices need to be made all over." Etc.

A prior obligation will keep me from attending Wednesday night's forum -- but I'm not sure I'd have gone, anyway. What could possibly be the story? Is one of the candidates for LBUSD or LBCC going to say the Arts is not an important educational component? Will a present or aspiring city councilmember present a concrete plan to increase support for the Arts within our borders?

"The forum is an opportunity for arts supporters (voters) and candidates to learn from each other," says John Glaza, interim executive director of the Arts Council for Long Beach. "Voters need information to make informed decisions and candidates need to understand what's important to the arts community".

That's the right spirit, of course, but it begs the question about whether the forum will actually provide voters with that information. "They're not going to say anything," says one prominent member of Long Beach's Arts community. "It's like [with] puppy dogs: 'Yeah, we love them. They're great.' But that doesn't really tell you anything."

Glaza says the Arts Council will not incur any direct expenses for the forum, so holding it is harmless enough. But if all we're going to get is a pile of pro-Arts platitudes, what's the point?

Check it out for yourself and tell me what I missed.

The candidate forums on the Arts takes place Wednesday, March 21, from 6:00-9:00pm at the Museum of Latin American Art (MoLAA), located at 628 Alamitos Ave. All three forums will be moderated by Sandy VandenBerge from the Long Beach Community Foundation. Admission: FREE. For more information, click here.

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