Local Arts Agency Roundtable: A Conversation with Kristin Sakoda

Posted by Kristin Sakoda, Apr 17, 2020 0 comments

In 2018, Los Angeles County’s Board of Supervisors voted to transition LA County’s long-standing Arts Commission into the County’s first-ever Department for Arts and Culture in response to the growing and expanding arts ecology. In a recent conversation, LA County Department of Arts and Culture’s Director, Kristin Sakoda, told us about the process.

“There is culture in all people and all places—rich, cultural diversity; heritage; artistic practices; and traditions—but often unequal access, resources, recognition, and histories of support,” said Sakoda. “In a county as ethnically and culturally diverse and geographically sprawling as Los Angeles, the Department seeks to ensure that all the benefits of, and opportunities provided by, the arts are available and accessible to all residents, no matter who they are or where they live.”

The conversation with Sakoda continues below.

What was the transition process like?

As we worked through the internal process of transitioning from a Commission to a Department within LA County, we also set about on the strategic visioning that could guide us moving forward. We engaged our stakeholders in surveys and phone interviews about our current and aspirational role as an agency. Armed with that data, we held several inclusive staff convenings to develop a new mission, vision, and values statement, with which we then engaged our advisory body, the Arts Commission, and ultimately the Board of Supervisors.

How would you describe your current status?

In our first year as a department, we have a strategic foundation beneath us, and we are focused on how to become a 21st century arts agency. It is exciting to literally and figuratively have arts and culture seated at the table of government in one of the largest and most diverse counties in the nation.

What’s on the horizon?

In addition to core programs and services, including grants, professional development, civic art, arts education, and research and evaluation, and cultural equity and inclusion, we are creating and implementing innovative policies to support the role of arts and culture in civic life—addressing areas such as homelessness, foster youth, and those impacted by the justice system.

Since March, we have been working to respond to the COVID-19 health crisis, providing resources to the field and adapting our long-standing programs to the needs of the day and beyond. In the coming weeks and months, we will continue to support our local arts and culture community in any way that we are able.

What words of wisdom would you offer others looking to create an arts agency in their community?

Every arts agency serves and is reflective of the region in which it resides, so it is important to think about the needs, strengths, and opportunities within that region. You also need to build good will in different stakeholder groups simultaneously—arts organizations, artists, advocates, community members, and government officials. It is hard, but their input and support are what will sustain the agency in the long term.

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