LA Philharmonic Might Take Over Managing The Ford Theatre

Inside the Ford Theatre. (Gennia Cui for the LA County Arts Commission)

The L.A. Philharmonic already manages the Hollywood Bowl — now they might be adding the 1,200-seat Ford Theatre to their portfolio. A new motion by L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl would transfer operations over to the L.A. Phil. It's on the agenda for next Tuesday's Supervisors board meeting.

The theater, originally built in 1920, recently underwent a $72 million renovation.

"It is the most wonderful, intimate summer night venue," Kuehl said. "You're outside, the hills are beautiful, but you're not in a great, great, great big Bowl — which is fine for a whole lot of stuff."

But it has faced financial struggles, according to Kuehl.Kuehl spoke with KPCC's AirTalk and with LAist.

"It's difficult these days to sustain a performance space," Kuehl said.

Some local artists performing at the Ford had to self-finance their own shows without having that made up for by audience revenues, despite contributions from the County.

"The Arts Commission of the County did a wonderful job programming for the Ford for many years, and concentrated on local, local, very local artists," Kuehl said. "Even though the County put in a lot of money, it really was not able to sustain it, and I wasn't really comfortable with just having the artists having to come up with out-of-pocket money."

She said that she saw the L.A. Phil as the best option to run the Ford.

"They're solid, they understand the mission — we even wrote the mission into the agreement between the County and the Phil," Kuehl said.

The L.A. Phil has increased box prices at the Hollywood Bowl, while still keeping cheap seats available, and Kuehl said she expects a similar approach with the Ford.

Kuehl sees the Ford's featuring of local artists continuing, alongside other programming. The L.A. County Arts Commission ran the theater before it became independent. The independent operators have already been programming more international artists than the theater had before.

"What that meant was we would have some very well known international artist, and our local people could open for them," Kuehl said. "And it gave them a much wider audience, one that they didn't have to pay for, and one that we thought really bumped up their visibility."

It isn't clear how much of the Ford staff will be transitioning over to working under the L.A. Phil. Kuehl said that it would not be a chance to reduce costs by combining staffs, with the only significant staff change being that the L.A. Philharmonic will also handle marketing for the Ford.

"But it doesn't mean that we just load the current employees with all the new work for the Ford," Kuehl said.

Having the L.A. Phil operating the venue also means more opportunities to engage with the community and do things like offering classes for young people on stage at the Ford, according to Kuehl.

She said the L.A. Phil Music and Artistic Director Gustavo Dudamel is enthusiastic about the venue.

"He's a very inventive man, he's really devoted to community outreach — and especially young people and their ability to make music and feel good about themselves," Kuehl said. "Gustavo has been very enthusiastic about our local talent, and especially in communities of color."