National Foundation: a roving spotlight that beams on young talent

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Emerging from an arts community somewhat troubled by federal spending cuts and a difficult national economy is something called the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts.

In its own (at this point) modest way, NFAA is here to support artists and give them the spotlight they deserve.

Recently, the foundation completed its second annual Arts Recognition and Talent Search (ARTS) with a week-long event in Miami, where 17- and 18-year-old artists and writers were judged, and joined in workshops and other activities.

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Foundation officials are quick to assert that ARTS is not a competition as much as an identification of deserving talents. Competition or not, however, the ARTS program results in the pool from which the Commission on Presidential Scholars draws its 20 scholars in the arts category.

It's a semiofficial function the foundation shares with the Educational Testing Service, which actually runs the ARTS program with the support and funding of the foundation. The ETS had conducted a similar but smaller program for two years before the NFAA began.

Gary Stember, executive director of the Presidential Scholars Program, remarks that the foundation is ''absolutely essential. I can't say enough about what they're doing.'' Without it, he adds, it is difficult to say how the arts category of the Presidential Scholars would be conducted.

This year, 132 young people were invited to Miami to take part. Thirty-one finalists were announced, each receiving $3,000. The 53 semifinalists got $1,500 , and the 27 merit award winners, $500.

Perhaps more important, a hefty list of institutions offering $1.5 million for scholarships, internships, and apprenticeships is available to several hundred applicants who did particularly well.

Almost a third of these were from minority groups. The NFAA is riding on the last year of a three-year, $270,000 affirmative-action grant from the Ford Foundation which helped it seek out minority group members who might not otherwise have been in a position to apply.

In all, 3,814 young people applied for this year's program, an increase of about 1,300 from last year.

Without the interest of one man, however, the foundation would be just another meaningless abbreviation. Miami cruise line magnate Ted Arison gave the foundation its start with $5 million in seed money in October 1981.

''I felt that the time was right,'' Mr. Arison remarked recently during the activities in Miami. With the [1980 presidential] election the mood is to cut spending. But our cultural heritage is so important.

''The arts are a part of our lives. There is more to life than producing and consuming.''

He feels many artists need help, and that younger artists need recognition. ''The school systems often don't give a proper environment for growing within the school walls. Each exceptional child feels he's different, he's strange.''

Foundation president Grant Beglarian says that ARTS should help educational establishments recognize artists and understand that art is not a peripheral activity. He adds that ''these children become temporary celebrities in their communities [after they have been honored by the NFAA].''

Dr. Beglarian, who was dean of the School of Performing Arts at the University of Southern California before coming to the foundation, is concerned about the number of artists joining the ranks of the cultural army. ''What do we do with all these new artists?'' he asks. ''Of course, some of them shouldn't be in it [the art community].''

He feels artists should look for a community that might need their services, and when he says community, he doesn't necessarily mean New York City or Los Angeles, but one on a more modest scale.

''Artists must be a part of the fabric of the community. Most artists are nourished by their community at the same time they nourish their community.''

At one point, Dr. Beglarian was in charge of the Ford Foundation's Contemporary Music Project, which provided young composers with a one-year residency in a community, with the idea of having them interact with it. Beglarian mentions that among those in the program were Philip Glass and Donald Erb.

But the foundation Dr. Beglarian heads up is not intended simply to help high-school-age talent. He says the foundation also plans to aid artists in the early part of their careers with training programs, workshops, and other activities. He would also like to create a sort of information clearinghouse to help artists and assist in matching them with organizations needing talent. The foundation has already sponsored several workshops, but most of these ambitious plans must wait for more money and more organizational work.

Money, however, has not exactly been pouring in. Mr. Arison, whose contribution makes up the bulk of foundation assets, insists, however, that the first two years are a time to build credentials. So far, there are 83 members of the foundation's Society of One Thousand. Annual dues from this help support the NFAA, and members also participate in certain arts activities planned especially for them by the foundation.

Arison himself has pledged an additional $500,000 a year for 10 years after his initial donation runs out next year.

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