Art Works Blog

Postcard from Los Angeles and Sacramento

Washington, DC

Proposed site of the Broadway Art Center in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Stephen Friday

I had a great trip to California last week. We began on the eve of our L.A. meetings with a dinner with our old friends at the Irvine Foundation, Jim Canales and Josephine Ramirez, who have become increasingly close partners with us. On Wednesday morning, I took part in a panel on the Otis Report on the Creative Economy. The Otis School of Design is run by Samuel Hoi, who is one of the most exciting and innovative people in this field. Their report is an assessment of the role of the arts in the economy in the Los Angeles metropolitan area based on an annual survey. During the event, we heard from Nancy Sodho---an economist for the Kyser Center for Economic Research---who presented new findings and employment projections based on the Otis Report. Ann Markusen, our old friend who wrote the newly released white paper, Creative Placemaking, about the role of the arts in the economy also had a presentation. We had a very good panel discussion with Jim Canales moderating where we talked about the intersection of art in the real world: art and design, art and neighborhood revitalization in urban renewal, all of our basic themes. It was great that the people that the Otis School brought together were all engaged in the same subject. We had a lively back-and-forth discussion, which is always my favorite part of these trips, especially when there is a conversation between people who are bright, informed, and on-subject.

In the afternoon we went out to look at the beginnings of a site being funded by an MICD25 planning grant, which we made to the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (LADCA). LADCA Executive Director Olga Garay was there showing us around along with Keith McNutt from the Actor?s Fund. This project is really directly about arts and urban renewal; they?re talking about bringing back one of the grand old theaters there to its former glory. It?s an amazing place, and it?s going to be even more incredible when it gets done. It was great to get a tour of the whole neighborhood down there, which has been a real tough and intimidating neighborhood. I?m excited to show up in a year and see some shovels in the ground. There is still money to be raised, there?s still planning to be done, but it?s a very exciting project.

Then it was on to Sacramento, which was a revelation. Kevin Johnson, the former NBA star, is the mayor there. We started at the Crocker Art Museum, where we discussed a city initiative called For Art's Sake, which was launched by Mayor Johnson in June 2009 with the purpose of creating a collective vision and direction for the arts in Sacramento. We met with Project Manager Deborah Edward who knows exactly what she has to do there. Sharon Gerber, who has been the transition leader while Deborah prepares to come in full-time, spoke very emotionally and very movingly while giving us a year-one recap of the initiative. It?s exciting to see how everyone involved views the arts as a huge factor in bringing back Sacramento and fostering the growth of that city. We also talked a lot about the new Kennedy Center arts education initiative there called Any Given Child.

Mayor Johnson is really a dynamic leader who has a vision for the revitalization of his city, and he understands that the arts are going to play a significant role in that. He?s a third-generation Sacramento native, and his life is making Sacramento a better place. That?s all he cares about---from when he wakes up in the morning until he goes to sleep. It?s all about his commitment to Sacramento, and it?s good to see that kind of engagement and commitment from a public servant. You know, Mayor Johnson uses his mayoral pulpit to really make a difference in that city. If every city had 200 Kevin Johnsons, it would be a glorious country, even more so than it already is. We look forward to getting back there early and often to help him in his vision.

The lesson from this trip is that art has a place at the table when we?re talking about economic renewal and neighborhood revitalization. When you see people like Samuel Hoi at the Otis School of Design, Kevin Johnson in Sacramento, or Olga Garay in L.A.?s Department of Cultural Affairs, people who are really engaged at the intersection of arts in the real world, that gives us hope.

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