The arts have a friend in this television station

What can a television station do to help artists whose funding has been sliced by government cutbacks? It can put the airwaves to work.

That's what WBZ, Channel 4, in Boston did. In 1980, Massachusetts artists had been hit with a double whammy of cuts in both national and state arts funding. Sy Yanoff, then vice-president and general manager of WBZ, was concerned.

''We recognized there was a problem with artists being underfunded and underpublicized,'' Mr. Yanoff says. ''We found our artists were more appreciated around the world than they were in Boston.''

So Yanoff, with support from Lawrence Fraiberg, president of Westinghouse (Group W) Television Stations Group in New York, figured out a plan that would both raise money for artists (through a $1 million charitable trust, ''The Fund for the Arts'') and provide exposure for the arts (through an on-the-air campaign, ''You Gotta Have Arts'').

WBZ was the first station in the country to undertake such an endeavor. Planned as a one-year campaign, it has in three years grown far beyond its initial design, creating ongoing links between the arts, business, and the community.

The station began with an appeal to the viewers for money, pitched by stars Geraldine Fitzgerald, Geoffrey Holder, John Houseman, and Marcel Marceau, who announced ''You Gotta Have Arts.'' Lillian Gish, who didn't approve of the grammatical indelicacy said, ''You've got to have arts.''

But the bulk of the money has been raised through a unique exchange: promotional air time for a donation to the fund. ''We were looking for a way to use our station to make money (for this cause),'' says Yanoff. Walter Pierce, president of the Boston University Celebrity Series, a high-caliber booking agency, was looking for higher visibility for a subscription package of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Joffrey Ballet.

The nonprofit Celebrity Series had no budget for air time, says Kathy Rochefort, director of marketing and public relations with the series (now called the Wang Celebrity Series). So Mr. Pierce suggested to Yanoff that WBZ supply promotional air time in exchange for a percentage of the gross from the concerts.

''It was bonanza for them and bonanza for us,'' recalls Terry Park, former public relations manager at WBZ. ''It was two organizations doing what they do best.''

The Fund for the Arts received $56,000 (10 percent) from that engagement and the dance companies increased the number of their performances and more than doubled their grosses from the previous year's engagements.

Yanoff's goal was to bring ''art to people from every walk of life'' in order to get a broad base of support for the arts. The ''You Gotta Have Arts'' campaign did this by using public-service announcements (free publicity for community groups known as PSAs) to give greater exposure to nonprofit arts institutions.

'' 'You Gotta Have Arts' was a way of thinking about the arts that was more personalized and folksier than how Boston is generally perceived,'' says Ann Hawley, executive director of the Massachusetts Council of Arts and Humanities. ''It covered a small dance company in Dorchester as well as a John Harbison symphony commission from the Boston Symphony Orchestra for its centennial.''

One of the reasons for the campaign's success is WBZ's arts and entertainment reporter, Joyce Kulhawick. Miss Kulhawick, perky and indefatigable, produces a veritable barrage of daily on-the-scene arts segments.

In terms of raising the perception of arts in the Boston and New England area , many observers feel the campaign has worked.

''I don't know anybody who hasn't heard Joyce Kulhawick say 'You gotta have arts,' '' says Bruce Wells, interim artistic director of the Boston Ballet.

While WBZ did not make its $1 million goal in one year as intended, the fund is now up to $800,000, and Tom Goodgame, WBZ's vice-president and general manager, estimates that it will be reached soon. When it is, the interest will be used to fund projects by individual artists.

But the station isn't waiting until then to give away money: Last year it awarded 16 grants for a total of $60,000 to artists who collaborated with nonprofit cultural groups to create public works of art.

Having television stations become involved in charitable community activities is nothing new. All are required by FCC regulations to provide PSAs. What's different about WBZ is the length and extent of its commitment.

In the beginning of the campaign, it sent out a call to arts organizations around the state to apply for PSAs, says Miss Davis. Discovering that most of these groups lacked experience in putting the announcements together, the station held free workshops to teach them. In many cases the station cut and mixed the spots and did the voice-overs, she says. While the workshops have ceased - mainly because the demand for them has died out - ''We're still known as the place to call for free advice,'' says Davis.

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