Creative Alchemy (or How Arts & Culture Voters Can Change Los Angeles)
It’s election season in the City of Los Angeles. Eleven candidates are vying for the mayoral seat and a whopping 40 are vying for eight city council seats. Because of these changes in representation, the political landscape in Los Angeles will shift significantly.
We—as artists, as creative entrepreneurs, as arts administrators, curators, audience members, parents, and students—have the opportunity to leverage our collective voice to help chose who will represent our values.
Although forbidden by IRS regulations to endorse specific candidates, nonprofits can initiate a public dialogue about the role arts and culture play in building healthy, vibrant, and prosperous communities. And, for the past seven years, Arts for LA has been doing just that.
Our nonpartisan candidate survey is a way for prospective leaders to map out their vision for our city. Just four questions—and the 100 word responses from each candidate—have provided a window into what those running for office in the City of Los Angeles would do to invest in creativity:
- What was a meaningful arts and cultural experience you had growing up?
- What do you believe the role the City should play in the development and support of the region's cultural infrastructure?
- How would you champion modifications to, or expansion of the City's current funding stream for local arts and culture?
- What three things would you do to deepen the City's investment in its creative economy (cultural tourism, in-direct and direct jobs, nonprofit, and for profit)?
Published one month prior to the election, the survey gives us an opportunity to inform the public at large about where each responding candidate stands on the future of arts and culture in the city. Voters can access our survey results online—and sometimes in local publications reprinting the responses—and use the information provided by the candidate, in his or her own words, in determining the best candidate for that particular voter.
Additionally, our surveys prompt candidates not just to take positions on the role of arts and culture, but to be more informed leaders about the broad impact arts and culture have on educational goals for our students, on the health of the Los Angeles economy, and on the opportunities for change within the city itself. Building a relationship with the next mayor, city council member, or school board member is vital to ensuring they aware of the issues that affect our sector.
This conversation is so important because these leaders will vote to uphold or alter policies vital to our arts and culture delivery system. In fact, I believe we have the power to create a tipping point in this election. After all, we are the trendsetters, the truth tellers, the visionaries who generate the creative alchemy our town is known for.
We didn’t come to owning the term “creative capital” of the United States lightly. It’s taken decades of experimentation, of trial and error, to build a town on creativity. But from the dawn of the silent film era, to birth of the aerospace industry, to product design, modern dance and postmodern visual art, Los Angeles has fostered creative innovation.
We tell the stories of the world through mixed media, many of which have become incredibly sophisticated and profitable. The leaders we elect become strategic partners in this creative alchemy. Operating in a political environment that is conducive to creativity will create the conditions for communities throughout our region to prosper.
As candidate forums and debates take place throughout the city, the next step in the candidate survey process is to bring the issue of creativity out into the public conversation. The debate held at the Empowerment Congress on January 21 opened with a question about arts and culture. This was no accident.
In a packed auditorium of over 1,500 people, David Mack, managing director of the Watts Village Theatre Company asked the question:
“A recent report from the Otis College of Art and Design showed the creative economy employs one in eight workers in the Los Angeles region. However, dedicated funding for arts and culture is often the first commitment to fall prey to the city of LA’s budget axe. While municipal arts grants per capita are $15.85 in San Francisco and $14.21 in Chicago, they are only $1.72 in the City of LA according to the Americans for the Arts Local Arts Index. With unemployment in the double digits in areas such as South LA, how will you better utilize the power of the arts to revitalize our most neglected communities?”
Audience response to this question was unmistakable: Angelenos could not believe these figures were our reality. Candidates at the forum, already more educated about the state of arts and culture just by listening to the question, made thoughtful remarks in response.
Watch this question asked at the 45:00 mark:
This is the way it’s done. Go to a forum. Ask the question. Move the dialogue from obscurity, to prominence. If we all do it, they’ll get the message that the arts vote matters.
We often refer to the term “creative industry” as though the people who are in it share the same values, vision, and principles. For-profit commercial production and arts in the public interest are two very different ways of operating. But what unites us is our need to have creativity in our life. Whether is to make a buck or to save our soul, we need creativity to prosper. To make our lives thrive. To give us shelter, and to give us purpose, to remember and to bring our vision to life.
One out of eight jobs in Los Angeles County is part of our “creative industries.” That equates roughly to approximately 13% of the population. The creative industries are also the fourth largest employment segment in Los Angeles, outnumbered only by the most enormous industries of business-to-business services, healthcare, and hospitality.
If you attend arts events, you are five times more likely to vote. Think about it. We are the niche that can make the change. But we must take the moment to ask the question of our candidates, “If elected, what would you do to invest in creativity in our city?”
(Editor's Note: This article was first featured on KCET Artbound on January 25, 2013.)