Local arts organizations, rained on by the economy, have come under one umbrella.

In a consolidation believed to be a local first, COMBO, a fund-raising group established in 1964, has joined with the San Diego Theater Foundation, created in 1983. Both are non-profit associations.

The merger, to take effect Jan. 1, is intended to save operating costs and strengthen efforts to seek corporate donations. It means a “stronger, more vital organization to provide leadership for the arts community in these tough economic times,” said Gerard J. Buckley, president of the Theater Foundation.

The foundation will retain its name and nine-person staff, absorbing two special programs created by COMBO, Forum of the Arts and Business Volunteers for the Arts, keeping the COMBO name with them. The Forum provides workshops on business management, fundraising and marketing for arts organizations; Business Volunteers provides key corporate exex as management consultants. COMBO recently cut its three-person staff to one.

COMBO, short for Combined Arts and Education Council of San Diego County, was for decades the city’s arts powerhouse. For more than 15 years, its chief function was the redistribution of money from city and county government, business and individual donations and fundraising events.

As the city’s arts scene flourished in the ’80s, some of the larger organizations left COMBO and started raising their own funds. And the San Diego Theater Foundation, with its membership organization, the San Diego Theater League, was formed to help promote the thriving theater and performing arts community.

In July 1988, COMBO lost much of its clout when the City Council established a Commission for Arts and Culture. It took over the redistribution of city arts funds, which come mainly from a transit tax. A year later, COMBO finished a three-year program of redistributing funds from the National Endowment of the Arts, essentially ending its role in funneling money. Since then, it has concentrated on support services, like technical assistance and management consulting.

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