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L.A. County Voices Support for Diversity, Equity and Access to the Arts with New Policy

In a 2017 L.A. County survey, 58% of the arts and cultural workforce identified as white, 10% as Asian, 9% as Hispanic/Latinx, and 3% as African-American. Meanwhile a population race and ethnicity breakdown shows the county is 27% white, 48% Latinx, 14% Asian American and 8% African American. It comes as no surprise to find that white people are over-represented and people of color are under-represented, so the county is taking steps to change that. 

Students attend the 2019 LA County Arts Internship Program Summit held at the Music Center in Downtown, Los Angeles. | Monica Almeida.
Students attend the 2019 LA County Arts Internship Program Summit held at the Music Center in Downtown, Los Angeles. | Monica Almeida.
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On June 23, the County of Los Angeles Board of Supervisors voted to adopt a county-wide cultural policy ensuring all citizens have access to the arts. According to the motion, the new policy will serve “as a road map for how all county departments can contribute to cultural life, with a focus on cultural equity, diversity, inclusion and access.” 

And if that sounds like a bromide jumble of zeitgeist buzzwords, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture Kristin Sakoda, explained it to KCET as “a call for all county departments to strive to support cultural equity and participation in cultural life,” she said. “Maybe it's facilities of a specific department, or permitting that allows for more arts events, or land donated for creative spaces or a cultural district. We want to expand the way we support the arts.” 

It started with the Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative (CEII), proposed by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Mark Ridley-Thomas in 2015, which commissioned a study on how to diversify county arts institutions. An advisory committee was assembled representing 40 arts institutions, including county-owned cultural venues like The Music Center and LACMA, as well as county departments. Conducted over 18 months, the study included town halls, work groups and surveys resulting in 13 recommendations put before the board in 2017. Among the four approved by the Board is that of a county-wide cultural policy. 

LA County Department of Arts and Culture civic artist Olalekan Jeyifous in front of his artwork, "Extraordinary Experiences in Everyday Places" at the DOORS Re-entry Center.
LA County Department of Arts and Culture civic artist Olalekan Jeyifous in front of his artwork, "Extraordinary Experiences in Everyday Places" at the DOORS Re-entry Center.

The next step is for the Arts and Culture Department to implement the policy by first presenting a budget to the Board. 

CSUN students participate in an arts engagement activity to raise awareness of the County's new Voting Systems for all People, as part of the LA County Department of Arts and Culture's Creative Strategist Artist-in-Residence program.
CSUN students participate in an arts engagement activity to raise awareness of the County's new Voting Systems for all People, as part of the LA County Department of Arts and Culture's Creative Strategist Artist-in-Residence program.

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“The creative economy is a significant driver of our economy,” offered Sakoda. In fact, the 2019 Otis College Report on L.A.’s creative economy found a total of $207.8 billion generated, with labor income totaling $77.9 billion, and one out of seven jobs directly or indirectly generated by creative industries. “We’re the most diverse county in the nation and we share all over the world through Hollywood and the music created here,” said Sakoda. “So, it is important that there be access to participating as a career, access to arts education and all those amazing experiences.” 

Floyd Strickland engages students at the King Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science
Floyd Strickland engages students at the King Drew Magnet High School of Medicine and Science

While creative economy employment numbers overall shrank from 2018-2019 on account of contractions in the region’s fashion and toy manufacturing industries, they rose by nearly two percent between 2013 and 2018, according to Beacon Economics, the independent research firm that authored the report. The hope is the California Arts Council will introduce the policy in Sacramento in order to make it a statewide policy.

“It’s a policy, which isn't the same thing as a program, but it is meaningful. This is coming out of the mouth of the Board of Supervisors saying this is the policy of this county to celebrate, recognize and affirm arts and culture, but also to strive to expand what we do so we have greater cultural equity,” Sakoda explained. “With this policy we have the opportunity to shift the narrative a bit in addition to emphasizing how great it is and how important it is as a society that we have the great works happening on our stages, that we have art we can look at and learn about in museums.”

Top Image: LA County Department of Arts and Culture Organizational Grant Program grantee CONTRA-TIEMPO. | Courtesy of CONTRA-TIEMPO.

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