Los Angeles

Nurturing the Arts in Los Angeles

A student artist documents the Lennox Big Draw Voter Registration Event. | Courtesy of Arts for LA.
In partnership with Arts for LA
Arts for LA helps communities throughout Los Angeles County advocate for greater investment in the arts.

By Aáron Heard

Los Angeles has long been suggested to be the "creative capital of the world," and a new "Equal Opportunity Data Mining,"report published by the National Endowment for the Arts may provide the statistical facts to back up the claim. While earning that auspicious title is an honor, what does Los Angeles have to do to maintain that reputation?

According to the much-cited 2012 Otis Report on the Creative Economy of the Los Angeles Region, Southern California's creative economy is the region's fourth largest occupation sector and employs one in every eight workers. The NEA's Equal Opportunity Data Mining Report goes further, dividing the creative economy into eleven possible artistic career categories, spanning from choreographer to architect. In Los Angeles, these eleven groups of artists combine to make up 4.86 percent of the workforce, the highest percentage of any city in the country, the study says. In addition, the state of California is a top ten contender in nine of the eleven artistic career categories, according to this data set.

California has one of the highest numbers of artists in the United States. Having more artists means more money streaming into the creative economy to the tune of $1.3 billion in tax revenue yearly (another figure from the Otis Report). About 55 percent of the artists in Los Angeles have a yearly income between $15,000 and $75,000. Ultimately, Los Angeles as a metropolitan area, county, and city has solidified its place as an incubator for artists as well as arts and culture-related businesses and organizations.

A mural in Boyle Heights. | Courtesy of Arts for LA.

But being an incubator is impossible without innovation, and innovation doesn't thrive without creativity. Even President Obama agrees. In a January 25, 2011 speech, he stated: "The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation." Aggressive cultivation of arts and culture is crucial for supporting the creative economy. Artists in Los Angeles are lucky to have access to diverse resources to turn their creative passions into a career. Politicians seem to be on artists' side too. New Mayor Eric Garcetti says he is focused on bringing more employment to L.A. and reducing the poverty pockets within the city. Arts, he says, is part of his plan. In a recent interview with HuffPost Live, he mentions the arts are "a great driver of a cultural economy." More jobs in the creative industries means more people employed and more money flowing through the economy to address community issues.

Of the two million residents that make up L.A.'s work force, close to 100,000 are artists. Sixty five percent of all U.S. artists focus on visual arts. These individuals are creating and recreating the world we see -- the visual stimulation we take in on a daily basis -- from the buildings in which we live and work, to our modes of transportation.

It seems that creativity is also necessary for jobs and careers in which production of art is not essentially the end game. Apple founder Steve Jobs stated that design and utility are not inseparable elements, but elements that inform each other. That is to say that an item's artistic aspect is equally important as its functionality. This belief encourages the possibilities for cross-sector collaboration between the creative economy and more traditional forms of employment. Existing collaborations may seem obvious, but they are often under recognized: designers and construction workers collaborate to build infrastructure; visual artists and web developers to create websites; and artists and industrial workers to manufacture toys and furniture.

In my opinion, L.A. will not stay the creative capital if it doesn't behave like the creative capital. The best leaders do so by example. This means making the necessary adjustments and staying at the forefront of progress. For example, Mayor Garcetti is interested in increasing "local ownership." In his interview on HuffPost Live, he says that lobbying to bring film production back to Los Angeles and ending "stop runaway production" should be a high priority in Sacramento.

Mayor Garcetti speaks with Arts for LA's Danielle Brazell. Courtesy of Arts for LA.

To keep the title of "creative capital," I believe that Los Angeles also has to be continuously branded and rebranded, like any other product for sale, in order to attract artists to cultivate their projects in our city. But what does this rebranding look like?

First, the arts and culture industry should be seen as a communal investment for the common good and mutual benefit of the public, both directly and indirectly. In addition, ensuring all our students have access to the arts in their education is critical to their development of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication skills. They will be the future minds responsible for cultivating, maintaining, and growing this creative capital.

The next step is being aware of and advocating for art-related policy at the local and state levels. Much of L.A.'s arts infrastructure is supported by the Department of Cultural Affairs, but this isn't the only mechanism to move arts and culture forward. Arts-related policies have a place in public safety, for example, where programs like Summer Night Lights include arts activities as part of a larger scheme to curb crime by providing positive alternative options.

Arts advocates meet with L.A. City Council District 10 staff. | Courtesy of Arts for LA.

Two surveys Arts for LA supporters found that 96 percent of our advocates are registered to vote. Individuals interested in supporting and advocating for the arts participate more overall in local and state politics. With artists and arts audiences engaged in building the future of Los Angeles, it's essential we make sure the arts stay on our elected officials' radar.

Creativity is a resource. Although it isn't physically tangible, like oil, it is the fuel driving much of our economy. Yet, unlike oil, creativity is not a finite resource. It can be made. With a fertile environment, creativity has the potential to be an unlimited resource for Los Angeles.

Artwork by Andrew Colunga for <a href="http://www.artsforla.org/artsday-2013">ArtsDay 2013</a>. | Courtesy of Arts for LA.

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Top Image: A student artist documents the Lennox Big Draw Voter Registration Event. | Courtesy of Arts for LA.

About the Author

Aáron Heard, by way of the L.A. County Arts Commission, is Arts for L.A.'s Communication & Research Intern for the summer 2013. She is currently studying for her B.A. in Creative Writing at the University of Southern California. A...
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