Los Angeles County Arts Commission

Elizabeth E. Peterson

Founded in 1947, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission is a unit of county government housed within the executive office of the county board of supervisors. Each of the five supervisors appoints three commissioners who advise the board on issues of governance, policy, and funding allocation. For fiscal year 2000-2001, the total budget of the Commission is approximately $3,815,000, reflecting a four-fold increase in only eight years. For this year, $1,902,000 has been awarded in grants to 146 organizations.

The Los Angeles County Arts Commission concentrates its activities in three primary areas: community programs, grantmaking, and special projects. The community programs are annual activities designed to encourage greater public access to the arts throughout the county, and include: Summer Nights at the Ford (a summer performance series featuring local theater, music, dance, and opera groups at the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre); an annual arts open house (a county-wide multi-disciplinary arts celebration that provides free access to designated county arts institutions, venues, and organizations on the first Saturday of every October); an annual holiday celebration (a free holiday performance held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion featuring local artists and aired on KCET); and Musician's Trust Fund concerts (performances in public sites throughout the county supported by matching dollars from the Trust Fund to pay union musicians).

The Commission's three grantmaking programs are structured according to the size of the annual operating budgets of applicant organizations (small, mid-size, and large). This emphasis on budget size reflects a core funding commitment to capacity building and ensuring the organizational health of the arts. According to Executive Director Laura Zucker, the programs are designed to be flexible and responsive to the particular needs and concerns of organizations in different stages of development. For instance, grants for small organizations (with annual budgets of less than $100,000) may be used for artistic or administrative advancement projects of any kind, while grants for mid-size organizations are intended to assist organizations in achieving goals of artistic or administrative stability. Grants for large institutions are meant to seed projects focusing on audience development and increasing public access.

Introduced in 1999, the Commission's newest funding program is a county arts internship program that provides $530,000 to performing and literary arts organizations for 155 undergraduate summer interns. The program allots $3,000 for each intern and $400 to the hosting organization. It is modeled after and complements the highly successful Getty Multicultural Internship Program, which provides funds for summer interns at visual arts organizations throughout LA County. In collaboration with the Commission, the Getty program incorporates Commission interns in its summer workshops and educational opportunities as a way to enhance the internship experience. Recognizing the program's value as a vehicle for training a new generation of cultural leadership, the county board of supervisors has made the internship program a permanent part of the Commission's funding allocation.

In tandem with its core grantmaking, the Commission undertakes special initiatives and research projects in strategic areas as a means to bring critical knowledge and informed planning to bear on key regional concerns. In the past decade, the Commission conducted perhaps the largest regional study of individual artists to date in the United States as part of the California Arts Council's economic impact study, The Arts: A Competitive Advantage for California. It also led a cultural tourism initiative in partnership with corporate and city agencies in San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. The initiative marketed the arts of the three metropolitan areas and provided seed funding for a director of cultural tourism at the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Laura Zucker notes that, as a county-wide public agency working with diverse municipalities, the Commission plays a unique and enduring role as a convener with the ability to leverage knowledge and resources among diverse stakeholders. Fulfilling such a role may mean facilitating meetings that explore common interests or that require more sustained effort. In a recent discussion, Zucker identified arts education and the lack of services for folk and traditional arts as two areas of pressing concern in the region. In the former instance, as counties and municipalities throughout the state prepare for the influx of arts education funding recently approved by the California legislature, the county commission is already spearheading an effort to survey county-wide K-12 programs and resources to identify gaps as well as model programs. Recognizing the lack of services and programming for the folk arts, the Commission is convening a meeting of interested parties to discuss strategies and steps of action for the region.

Elizabeth E. Peterson is program director, The Fund for Folk Culture.