September 25, 2018

Meet LA’s Art Czar

When Joanne Corday Kozberg talks about her new job as president and chief operating officer of the downtown Music Center, the key words are “challenges,” “outreach” and “re-energizing.”

The new job, which she will assume next month, is formidable even for someone who recently wrapped up five years as California’s secretary of state and consumer affairs, in which she oversaw 14,000 employees and an annual $1.4 billion budget.

Now, as arguably the city’s most influential decision-maker in the performing arts, she will have overall responsibility for the well-being, development and $115 million annual budget of the Music Center’s four constituent companies — the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Center Theatre Group at the Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre, the Los Angeles Opera and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

Looming on the near horizon is the construction start for the once-embattled $209 million Walt Disney Concert Hall, scheduled to open in the fall of 2002.

Kozberg, whose family has a long association with Wilshire Boulevard Temple, cites as her biggest challenge the drive to build a younger and more diverse audience for the performing arts.

“We have a graying of audiences all over the country,” she said in an interview. “But in Los Angeles, we have the potential of a young work force, young professional class and college students to draw on.”

The real long-term answer to building new audiences, Kozberg said repeatedly, is to reinstitute arts education in our public schools, scuttled in the late 1970s following passage of the tax-cutting Proposition 13.

With the addition of Disney Hall, a second goal is to “re-energize the old Music Center site” to avoid a division between the established and new parts of the downtown arts complex.

Even more ambitiously, Kozberg hopes to create a “people’s space” along Grand Avenue. “With the Music Center, Museum of Contemporary Art and the Colburn School for the Performing Arts as magnets, and the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels rising, we should have appropriate retail shops and restaurants to draw people to the area in the evenings and weekends,” she said.

The 54-year-old Kozberg is a native of Canada, whose father, the eminent cardiologist Eliot Corday, moved to the United States shortly after World War II.

She is married to Roger Kozberg, whose father served as president of Wilshire Boulevard Temple; the couple has two adult children.

Joanne Kozberg is no newcomer to the arts, having served between 1986 and 1993 as member, chair and executive director of the California Arts Council, a state agency.

On the personal level, she said that “art is woven into the Jewish culture,” and she recalls that it was an alliance, forged by Dorothy “Buffie” Chandler, of the city’s old WASP-establishment with Jewish philanthropy that brought the Music Center to being 34 years ago.

Last week, Kozberg sat quietly in a back row, as the various administrative and artistic directors of the Music Center delivered a “State of the Arts” report to the institution’s longtime benefactors and volunteer workers.

Most striking was the report by Willem Wijnbergen, managing director of the philharmonic, who promised that the orchestra will seek new and specialized audiences by “reinventing ourselves continuously…we will disassemble and reassemble ourselves.”

Wijnbergen expects to start the phil’s 2002 fall program in the new Disney Hall, and to add a winter season for the Hollywood Bowl orchestra in the new venue.

Artistic director Gordon Davidson of the Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre struck a similar note of change, warning that the theater could no longer rely solely on traditional audiences and financial support from a few major foundations.

But he praised the Music Center’s “interaction of different art forms…more so here than at the Kennedy Center (in Washington) and the Lincoln Center (in New York).”

Peter Hemmings, the retiring general director of the L.A. Opera (famed tenor Placido Domingo will come on board as artistic director), said he hoped that the company’s seasonal programs would soon include 70 to 80 performances of eight or more operas.

Hemmings also predicted optimistically that, “within 10 years, we will be the second-largest opera company in the United States,” trailing only New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

Paul Salamunovich, music director of the Los Angeles Master Chorale, pointed with pride to the group’s 35-year history, describing it as “the only professional choral group in this country with its own orchestra and own season.”

Caroline Ahmanson paid warm tribute to the Music Center’s education division, which annually brings 12,000 events to Southland schools and has reached out to some 12 million children during the 20 years of its existence.