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La Jolla forum focuses on arts and media

Nearly 200 people turned out Friday night for a discussion on ensuring criticism of arts and culture and books have a place in our community.

Hosted by Nancy Warwick at her La Jolla bookstore, the event was a response to the layoff of longtime Union-Tribune arts and book critic Robert Pincus, but it shifted focus to finding new ways to cover the arts and authors.

Richard Farson, chairman of the La Jolla think tank Western Behavioral Sciences Institute, moderated the discussion that went on for nearly two hours. He noted that the newspaper’s new direction as defined by editor Jeff Light in recent letters to readers was indicative of a trend toward lack of investment in American journalism. He also cited a “crisis ... (of) diminished support for the arts and culture in our schools, our media and our community.”

Panelists included Hugh Davies, director of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego with its La Jolla and downtown locations; Sandra Dykstra, a well known Del Mar literary agent; Light, the Union-Tribune editor; Angela Carone, who covers arts and culture and blogs on culture for KPBS, and Pincus.

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The editor noted that those arguing that the newspaper’s world should not change are not realistic. However, he acknowledged the need to find a way “to align the interests of the public, the universities, artists, authors and museums and said the newspaper is still committed to arts coverage but will be going about it with different people.

Carone voiced an idea that seemed to gain traction as the night went on: Find a new way to preserve the voice of Pincus, who compared his role to that of a sports columnist who has a “distinctive voice that people enjoy and value and bond with?

She said she was hopeful that the energy in the room could be tapped to create a new coalition.

“We have a philanthropic community here that supports and values the arts,” Carone said. “Talk to your friends, channel ... the money to a viable journalism arts enterprise.”

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She cited two such efforts in Texas and encouraged the panelists and the audience to start a conversation about the future.

Her idea drew support from Davies, who said good art critics “function as arbiters, referees of the art community” and play a significant role in helping the community understand artists, their work and the context in which they create.

The idea also drew the backing of Arthur Ollman, director of San Diego State University’s School of Art, Design and Art History, who said he wanted to figure out a way “to find a spot where Bob can be welcomed back.”