Olmos at CPB briefing

Olmos at CPB briefing.
(Photo: Diane Corea, CPB.)

Olmos will head interim Latino TV grantmaking

Originally published in Current, Nov. 23, 1998

By Karen Everhart Bedford

Actor Edward James Olmos is heading a new interim organization that will spend CPB programming funds on public TV projects by and about Hispanic Americans.

The Latino Public Broadcasting Project fills a gap left by the National Latino Communications Consortium, which lost CPB funding early this year when an audit by the corporation's inspector general reported questionable spending practices and misuse of grant monies [earlier stories].

CPB has no "ongoing business relationship" with NLCC, said CPB President Bob Coonrod, during a Nov. 17 press conference announcing the new alliance. "We now have an ongoing business relationship with the Latino Public Broadcasting Project."

"We hope, at some point, the NLCC can get itself back together," he added. But Latino producers appear to be split on this point.

Over the next year, the new LPBP will solicit proposals and award $1.3 million in grants to Latino-oriented projects. Aided by Olmos' "motivation and his ability to lead, we are going to have a new era of producers of Latino descent--actors, writers, producers and others--emerge out of this project for us," said Frank Cruz, vice chairman of the CPB Board.

Los Angeles-based FASE Productions, producers of The Eddie Files and a longtime collaborator with Olmos on educational and public-interest projects, will serve as the fiscal agent for the project.

"We pray that we can find out how to make this thing work even better," said Olmos, during the press conference. "That's the goal of the 21st century--to make sure that the diversity of this country is well represented in all aspects."

"All I can say, it's an honor and a privilege to be working in this manner with my culture," he added. Olmos, who won a Golden Globe and an Emmy for his role as Lt. Castillo on Miami Vice, starred in several American Playhouse films: Stand and Deliver, in which he played the East L.A. math teacher Jaime Escalante, The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez, and Roosters.

Olmos also will help CPB resolve its longer-term dilemma of how to distribute programming funds to the Latino creative community on an ongoing basis. LPBP will host a series of forums with producers and programmers on establishing a permanent grants-maker for Latino programs. The forums will be held in San Antonio, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Miami, according to Miriam Crawford, CPB director of external affairs.

"We are an interim, but at the same time we are also serving as a way of making sure that this flow of money does not stop," said Olmos. That's why I've taken it on."

Olmos said the forums would help address a complaints that some Latino producers expressed about NLCC in interviews with Current--that it was not open about its funding guidelines and process.

In late August, 35 producers and other media representatives signed a letter to CPB from the ad hoc Coalition for Latino Programming on Public Broadcasting, offering to help establish a new grantmaking group. Most of the signatories to the letter "have found that obtaining clear, timely and dependable information about funding [was] difficult through the NLCC," the coalition said in the letter.

Members of the coalition have complained that NLCC distributed its funding "too regionally, amongst a small group of people," recalled documentarian Hector Galan, a member of the steering committee. "One of the bigger issues I've been hearing is that the NLCC started to become like a producing entity, competing with everybody in the field."

CPB's interim alliance with Olmos is a "good sign," said Galan. "It's good that they're doing something." He said the coalition would remain organized and take "a very strong interest in how the money is distributed."

Moctesuma Esparza, a prominent L.A.-based producer and NLCC supporter, said a letter expressing support for NLCC, now circulating within the creative community, has about 20 signatures. NLCC has a 25-year history and has achieved "many wonderful things," he said. "It is not appropriate that it should be dismantled" because of accounting problems that the board is working to correct.

Esparza, who has collaborated with Olmos on several film/TV projects--including The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez--is not an NLCC Board member and has not received NLCC monies "in a number of years," he emphasized. He has donated premieres of his films as NLCC fundraising events.

"The other thing of concern to me is that no one really knows if what people are saying has occurred is true," he added, referring to the CPB inspector general's report. "It feels like someone has been accused, tried and convicted without a trial."

NLCC has reopened and is staffed by an office manager while an attorney retained by the board attempts to negotiate a future for the organization, according to two NLCC sources. Lawyer Tom Gerardi, who served as CPB's general counsel in 1972-78, is "trying to address issues that may still remain" over the audit, he said in an interview.

While Gerardi only recently began working with the NLCC, he said one of his goals is to "determine how and under what circumstances the NLCC can continue to work with CPB and Latino producers" to ensure a "continuous flow of Latino production funds."



To Current's home page

Earlier news: NLCC closes and CPB inspector general finds faults in its practices.

Outside link: National Latino Communications Center web site. 


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