Category Archives: NEA

The Mayor, The Arts and the Town Hall Meeting

mayor-with-olga-linda.jpgOfficially titled the “2007  LA Arts Town Hall”,  a rousing turnout of 800 artists and arts organizers gathered downtown this past Saturday at 9:30 a.m. to hear the mayor and a distinguished panel of LA and California arts leaders discuss the state of the arts in LA. Held in the auditorium of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, the main event was the two hour plenary session, kicked off by the opening remarks of Mayor Anthony Villaraigosa, who very graciously posed for this photo.

The mayor was introduced by Claire Peeps, Executive Director of The Durfee Foundation and the co-moderator of the panel, who set the tone for the day’s discussion about collaboration amongst LA’s arts organizations. Villaraigosa then launched into an inspiring speech on the importance of the arts in LA, a subject about which he feels passionately.  Reminding the assembled of how he saved the Department of Cultural Affairs from extinction only a few years ago, he mapped out his new direction for the arts in LA.  The mayor’s grand vision  for the city of Los Angeles is  a “Venice of the 21st century, thriving at the crossroads of culture and trade”, and he congratulated the artistic community here for “pushing the envelope” in music, art and theater.  He insists that this creativity defines LA as a city, and that he sees LA as the cultural capital of the country.  Making his case, he pointed out that more people who come to LA visit the Getty Museum than Universal Studios.  While acknowledging that for their own sake, “arts have a way of lifting the soul”, for the sake of the city the arts here generate $140 billion dollars in revenues.  One can only wonder how that figure is arrived at, but it is impressive. Concluding, Villaraigoa mapped out his agenda for promoting the arts: increasing public support of the arts and artists by creating public/private partnerships.  His first act in this regard was to hire Olga Garay, the mayor’s choice for General Manager of the Department of Cultural Affairs, who participated on the plenary panel, as she insisted “just to listen”.

olga-garay.jpgOlga Garay, soon-to-be General Manager, LA DCA

But, in fact, Ms. Garay had much to add to the discussion, having just arrived from New York City, where she was a major arts consultant and former program director of the Doris Duke Foundation, and ready to start her job here on August 1. The official title of the panel discussion was “The Arts in LA-Taking Charge of our Future”, and this is one sharp arts administrator who is ready and able to take charge. In explaining how she came to be enticed to take the job and move to LA, Ms. Garay laid out her main reasons:
1) LA has world class cultural institutions
2) LA has the largest creative workforce in the U.S.
3) LA has a “vibrant neighborhood structure and a plethora of ethnicities”
4) LA has an active “eco-system for the arts and culture”. 
As if she didn’t heart LA enough, she is of the opinion that LA is a “national and international leader and crossroads in the arts”.   We can only wish her well and look forward to see what she will do in this important position.  I, for one, personally welcomed her and promised to send a fruit basket. In my opinion, this city is lucky to have such a delightfully vibrant and experienced arts manager.

Next to speak was Laura Zucker, Executive Director of the Los Angeles Arts Commission. In 2005 Zucker partnered with Eli Broad, with whom she developed and launched Arts + Culture LA, a nonprofit that promotes and markets LA as a cultural destination.  A dedicated arts administrator with a very positive outlook, Ms. Zucker sees the LA arts community as a “vast marketplace with room for everyone”. She expressed the need for a comprehensive cultural calendar, a particular challenge for the 88 municipalities of LA county, the largest county in the U.S., and also reiterated the morning’s theme of more collaboration amongst arts organizations. 

Speaker John E. McGuirk is the new Arts Program Director of the San Francisco based The James Irvine Foundation, the largest multi-discipline arts funder in California, with an arts grants budget of $20 million.  His talk focused on a recent working paper by the Foundation and AEA Consulting, called “Critical Issues Facing The Arts in California”.  The paper identifies five critical challenges facing the arts: access, cultural policy, arts education, the outmoded nonprofit business model and preparing the next generation of artists and arts managers. You can read it here. 

Sam Miller, President and CEO of Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC) is working on healthcare issues for artists, which he claims will also impact any type of self-employed person. Working with the Actors Fund, he has created a group called “Artists United for Healthcare”. Learn more about them here:

The final speaker was Danielle Brazell, who is the Managing Director of Arts LA, a nonprofit arts advocacy organization.  She began by praising the arts community of LA, which she characterized as “a visionary arts community that does more with less and who know how to work together.”  Unfortunately, in this case, less is not more, although Ms. Brazell herself tripped over those words.  She has been working to create and build relationships with policy makers in local and national government and stressed advocacy as a top priority for arts groups. 

A question and answer session led by co-moderator Cora Mirikitani, President and CEO of the Center for Cultural Innovation then followed. Ms. Mirikitani also organized Saturday’s event, for which she got a standing ovation.  Three salient points emerged during the Q & A as agendas for the LA arts community: 1) a need to collaborate with and be more involved with the private sector; 2) a need to bring together and film/TV and arts community; and 3) more engagement between the arts community and civic leaders.

Here are some salient facts and statistics offered by panelists and publications that were mentioned at the event:

City of Los Angeles
GOOD numbers:
*LA generates $140 billion in revenues from the arts
*There are over 15,000 arts related businesses in Los Angeles
*As a group, 87% of artists vote, in disproportion to the general population
*LA outranks NYC in the number of creative establishments (27,121–13% higher) and creative workers (346,000–47% higher than NYC’s 236,000). [Figures are from the Otis College report “Creative Capital” and are based on the 2005 ES 202 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics].
Baaad Numbers:
The LA Department of Cultural Affairs currently contributes LESS money to the arts of Los Angeles than does the post-Katrina City of New Orleans. 

State of California: (statistics are from The James Irvine Foundation brochure)
GOOD numbers:
*Nonprofit organizations add $5.4 billion to the state economy
*California has the largest number of artists in the country: 330,635
*California has 10,000 arts organizations
*There are 86,012 arts related businesses that employ 484,657 people
Baaad numbers:
*California spends only 11 cents per person on the arts, ranking it as LAST in the nation in per capita arts spending at number 50.

For lots more statistics and fabulous research on the arts, see the following reports and studies:

The James Irvine Foundation:
“Critical Issues Facing The Arts In California”

“Crossover: How Artists Build Careers Across Commercial, Nonprofit and Community Work”

Otis College of Art and Design:
(Thanks go to Matthew Fleischer of LA Weekly for posting a link to this report in his article about the study on March 1, 2007 [“Creative Capital: New Otis Study”]
“The Creative Economy of LA”

National Endowment for the Arts (NEA):
“The Arts and Civic Engagement: Involved in Arts, Involved in Life”
(Did you know that arts fans are sports fans? Check it out.)

Come on LA and California, step up to the plate. See my future post on why the U.S. needs a department of culture.