As you may have heard, City Manager Pat West included a single sentence in his recent ’09 budget proposal that mentioned the possibility of creating a new arts and culture bureau. This has sent many people into a frenzy of speculation. I’m less inclined to wonder and would prefer, instead, to ask questions, so I did. Mr. West was kind enough to answer them.
1) How did the idea of an arts and culture bureau arise?
“We were all very impressed with Richard Florida‘s presentation at the DLBA‘s State of the City. His ideas about how cities need to be creative cities to thrive in the 21st Century resonated with us, and the idea for a Cultural Affairs Division emerged from that.”
2) Who was involved in the early discussions?
“At the staff level, this was initiated by Robert Swayze and Suzanne Frick, both of whom have very deep art backgrounds in the municipal arena: Robert Swayze with his Arts background while working for the County of Los Angeles, and Suzanne Frick with her background in Santa Monica. This was then discussed with the Mayor’s office and the City Council offices, and recieved a positive reception. We briefed Justin Hectus, Board President of the Arts Council for Long Beach, and Justin was enthusiatic.”
3) What is the anticipated budget, and where will the funds come from?
“By locating this Cultural Affairs Division in Economic Development, we’re able to achieve our objective without additional costs. Funding for the Arts Council will be funneled through the bureau. The benefit is that we make arts and culture one of the economic drivers in the City.
“The council will continue to recieve City funding including the $600,000 per year for administration and arts distribution, $40,000 for Smithonian week (this may go away in the ’09 budget), $150,000 for admininstration costs from the Redevelopment Agency, a percent for art money from RDA, and money from the RDA for the purchase of City public art. The Arts Council was created by the City Council in 1976. We recognize that, without City and RDA support, they would really need to re-tool their operation.”
4) Who are the ‘stakeholders’?
“That would be a long list! All the arts and cultural organizations in the city, artists, community groups… everyone who benefits from arts and culture. And that includes the business community. Think of all the businesses that benefit from arts and culture: Hotels and restaurants to begin with.”
5) What will this new bureau do, and what benefits will result?
“It’s not so much a new bureau as an expanded one. Economic Development has been the lead on business retention, expansion, creation, and attraction, and they will still have that role. By adding Cultural Affairs, we’re augmenting their role and recognizing how important arts and cultural are to Long Beach. The Economic Development Bureau will assist in marketing the arts.”
6) How do we know that this is the ideal model to serve the City’s diverse needs?
“It’s a pretty well-known model. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Denver, San Jose all have Cultural Affairs offices. The San Jose model is very similar to what we’re doing in Long Beach, where you have Cultural Affairs in Economic Development. We think it really aligns the two functions well, and will make the Bureau able to serve the diverse needs of the City.”
While I celebrate Mr. West’s willingness to embrace the possibility of change, my concern is that these changes do not coalesce too quickly, or without the involvement, guidance, and input of the larger creative and cultural communities. For example, the City’s “official” arts organization, Arts Council for Long Beach, is currently applying for a grant that will help pay for a new Master Cultural Plan. Will Mr. West and our elected municipal leaders be using this as a working document once it is completed? Will the ACLB, now more than 30 years old, be able to seriously explore alternate models, ones that may, in fact, make the ACLB no longer relevant? Again, I choose not to speculate but sincerely hope that answers will be forthcoming.