Arts Answers Part I: City Council Candidates Discuss Long Beach Arts with the Culture Agent


In the 27 years that I’ve been writing about arts and culture in Long Beach, I have had many opportunities to speak with people involved in the creative community, and those who enjoy its many benefits. In these discussions, residents expressed concern about the level of awareness and engagement that elected officials have when it comes to the arts.

As our municipal election nears, and we have candidates running in all of the even-numbered council districts, I reached out to them and ask for their thoughts about the many arts-related concerns that residents have.

I sent each candidate a set of five questions that speak to different aspects of municipal involvement with the arts in Long Beach. No responses were received from Sixth District candidate Erik Mille or Fourth District candidate Daryl Supernaw. Eighth District candidate Wesley Turnbow sent a response, but it did not include direct answers to the questions. His answers are thus omitted. 

Although it is natural to focus solely on candidates who are asking to represent the district in which one lives, I encourage everyone to read the answers below in their entirety, because, ultimately, it is the shared responsibility of the entire City Council to represent the people of the city.

The answers are organized by the order in which they were received and have not been edited or condensed. Please read below for questions one through three. In Part II of this series, candidates will answer questions four and five. 

1) If elected, how do you plan to identify, connect with, and support cultural, creative and artistic assets in your district?

Eric Gray | Second District Candidate:

Art is a major influence in my life. I’m musical and play piano by ear. A lot of my community activities have involved city beautification, including visual art and promoting art-based events. I co-founded the Long Beach Music Council and the Third Friday Twilight Walk to enhance the local arts scene in downtown Long Beach.

Though our city has made great strides towards becoming a cultural icon in Southern California, there is still more we can do. Identifying and connecting with art has been so important in my life, and as the city’s Councilmember I will work to ensure that all my constituents have the opportunity to experience this same connection.

It is imperative that any progress be in coordination with the artists, those supporting the artists, as well as those employed by our arts and cultural institutions. If elected, I will host a public dialogue to reach a collaborative vision on how the city can better invest in arts and culture in Long Beach.

A specific step I would push for in order to support these artistic and cultural assets is to explore incentives for future developers and businesses to give artists and curators opportunities to install and display artwork on and around their property. Another way to promote the arts in public spaces is to allow event planners to host visual, musical, and theatrical events in our parks and plazas.

Robert Harmon | Sixth District Candidate

I’ve already established and cultivated relationships with the various artist communities in Long Beach and have outlined my action plan in the Anaheim Corridor Vision Plan. I live in the district and I’m an art enthusiast that’s interested in helping local artists manufacture their sculptures, staturaries and other artistic visions in any medium. I’ve also made a connection to Jasper Wong who is the Founder and Lead Director of the Pow Wow muralist art collaborative. He and his team are ready to assist in beautifying the 6th District.

Josie Villasenor | Sixth District Candidate

I would identify a business that allows people to express themselves creatively, like Fox Coffee House in Wrigley. I would support the business by promoting it to the community, by having meetings within the business and have pop up events at the business.

Joen Garnica | Second District Candidate

If elected, I will continue to identify, connect with, and support creative and artistic assets in my district because I have enjoyed doing so as a community leader in my neighborhood associations, and as a designer in Long Beach. The creative heart of Long Beach lives in the 2nd District.

I have been an advocate and consumer of the arts and culture for many years. From seeking out and featuring Long Beach artists and their spaces in Long Beach Magazine as Design Editor, to commissioning art pieces from local artists for my own personal use, and personally funding art for public spaces. I have also participated in POW! WOW! Long Beach, connecting the organization with funding, and opportunities for artists and walls. I have been a member and season ticket holder to the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra and local theaters. I am the 2nd District Arts Delegate to the Arts Council for Long Beach, I have helped curate art for the DLBA, and in my business I use local artists, makers, and craftsman. As President of the East Village, I founded the Arts Patron of the Quarter and Unsung Hero award, where the “award” is an art piece by a local artist. And the list goes on. Art, culture, and creativity are paramount in any vibrant community.

Laurie Angel | Eighth District Candidate

I greatly appreciate this question because it helps me to broaden my focus. I will work directly with the established cultural and arts related non-profits, cultural and artistic venues, museums, ethic organizations, church and community groups in the city, and the 8th council district, work with those knowledgeable in these areas and BKBIA Director Blair Cohn and the Expo art director to develop a database or directory of these assets. In addition, I will re-establish regular community meetings in the 8th council district and ask our residents and businesses for referrals. It may be worthy to establish an 8th council district cultural advisory commission as well, for this purpose. I will also use social and print media and council office communications to add to a comprehensive directory of these important assets. This effort will add greatly to First Fridays and other district events.

Dee Andrews | Sixth District Write-in Candidate

For the past two terms, I have worked hard to make the Sixth District a better place to work, live, and play and if re-elected I will continue to focus on creating additional artistic and cultural opportunities in our community in the form of both events and on-going programs. I plan to continue supporting arts and cultural funding both in the Sixth District and throughout Long Beach.

Jeannine Pearce | Second District Candidate

I would work with existing networks including the arts council, schools, and community organizations to engage artists directly and find ways to help these groups thrive. I also support bringing back the 1% for the Arts and, if passed, will work to ensure it is spend on local artists.

I’m running for City Council to be an advocate for residents and to ensure that we constantly engage the community to be a part of governance structure and decision-making. If elected, I will also act from this same collaborative approach, ensuring the arts community has both a seat at the table when decisions are made and every opportunity to seek out my help in finding ways the City can support the arts and local artists.

Al Austin | Eighth District Candidate

The Eighth District is a vibrant hub of art and culture in the City, and I am proud to support these endeavors.  Whether it’s the First Fridays Art Walk on Atlantic Avenue, or numerous public art installations and murals throughout the district, or the Richard Goad Theater, home of the Long Beach Shakespeare Company, or The Kids Theater Company at the Expo Arts Center,or poetry readings and cultural conversations at the North Branch Library, or the Long Beach Freedom School or the Agape Children’s Museum, as well as the cultural resources of Rancho Los Cerritos and the Historical Society of Long Beach, the City can be a catalyst to bring artists, businesses and residents together to establish a dynamic community that embraces the arts.  

I have worked to promote and support these artistic endeavors and cultural resources throughout the District.  We also showcased many of these artistic assets while celebrating the diversity of the community through the first Beach Streets Uptown event last June, which drew more than 30,000people from throughout the region to experience the treasures of the community.

I have also worked in close collaboration with the Arts Council, Long Beach Arts, and CALB, as well as hosting Black History Month exhibits and the first Cambodian Genocide Remembrance Day event.  I have incorporated the arts in just about every project over the past four years.

2) Identify one particularly important cultural, creative, or artistic asset in your district. What is its significance to the community?

Eric Gray | Second District Candidate:

Though there are several important cultural and artistic assets in our district that I am so proud of and would love to mention here, I believe the International City Theater is as significant as any. The ICT is a nonprofit theater that has won over 250 awards for its continued excellence, including receiving the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle’s Award for Sustained Excellence in the Theatre in 2000, as well as the Workforce Diversity Best Practices Award from the Chamber of Commerce. More importantly, though, it has been a staple of our community, providing entertainment and inspiration to countless audience members through thought provoking and beautiful theater. I couldn’t agree more with LA County Supervisor Don Knabe when he said that the ICT is a “cultural treasure.”

Robert Harmon | Sixth District Candidate

One particularly important asset is our local 6th District talent that have not gotten the attention or the resources to express their unique ethnic art forms. For example the several Cambodian artists that aren’t recognized at the City Wide level. The Cambodian Film festival and the Cambodian Dancers need greater exposure outside of the 6th District. I aim to promote them more. There are also the African Drummers and Dancers, the shadow puppeteers, break dancing troupe and many others that are too numerous to mention.

Josie Villasenor | Sixth District Candidate

I believe Fox Coffee House is an asset to the artistic community because it allows local artists to express themselves regardless of artistic genre. It is significant to the community because it helps the local artists grow and connect with each other.

Joen Garnica | Second District Candidate

We have many assets in the 2nd District. I consider historical buildings, architecture, the Queen Mary, murals, sculptures, art installations, and performances important because they collectively help foster a sense of community in the 2nd District. However, the most important asset we have in the City of Long Beach is people, the creative force behind all of the above. Our local artists, musicians, architects, makers, historians, designers, and all-around art doers and creatives who ensure we have art, culture, and creativity infused in our city. Without people, we don’t have culture, art, or creativity. As a city, we must foster an environment where our creatives can thrive. It makes for a stronger, more vibrant community.

Laurie Angel | Eighth District Candidate

We are fortunate to have the Expo as a current, multi-media cultural venue that includes art in all its forms from paintings, sculpture, plays, and readings. But in the 8th council district we also enjoy the Rancho Los Cerritos, a home to founding community members that helped to establish and develop the area. At one time, historically, the Rancho was the only cultural center for the larger area – a place for people to gather or stop and share on their travels. The Rancho is now a museum that sponsors concerts, speakers on various topics of historic significance, and shares with visitors what life at the Rancho was like more than 150 years ago. We are very fortunate to have both of these venues here Uptown.

Dee Andrews | Sixth District Write-In Candidate

The ultimate cultural, creative, and artistic assets in the Sixth District are our people. Our community is home to people of many different cultures and there are dozens of sub-communities with their own art and creative energy. As a Council member, I have witnessed the vibrant spirit of Long Beach firsthand through working with residents to sponsor and create the annual Cambodian Arts and Culture Exhibition and the cultural celebration Peace Week which empowers the community to put aside differences and unite through art and hope.

Jeannine Pearce | Second District Candidate

I love our district in part because of the murals, the music scene, the arts district, and yoga on the bluff; but it’s not these that are the most important. It’s the people in the district creating art.

There are many local artists that I love, but one in particular is June Kaewsitch. She inspires the best in our community as a mentor to youth and an ally to community members seeking a new way to share their stories. I believe in the arts because it allows communities to learn from each other, to grow together, and to build community. June has done this through visual art, song, spoken word, and mentoring our youth and workers.

There are hundreds more artists like June that make the 2nd District a great place to live, work and play. We must continue to support people and their art to allow the Second District and Long Beach to truly thrive.

Al Austin | Eighth District Candidate

The Expo Arts Center is a city-owned resource that is at the center of the arts scene in the Eighth District.  Its versatility showcases the diversity of the community and the variety of artistic and cultural endeavors that are thriving in the Eighth District.

Not only is it where my field office is located, it is also the home of Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, The Kids Theater Company and an improvisation comedy class.  

I initiated and currently host free programs for seniors twice a week at the Expo that my office helped organize with the Eighth District Senior Advisory Committee.  These programs include exercise classes, guest speakers, music, and arts and crafts.

In addition, there are numerous gallery showings, performances and community events that take place throughout the year.  The Expo is also the site of a mural that was part of the inaugural Pow Wow Long Beach last summer.

I am working with the BKBIA to improve the Expo Arts Center and develop a sustainable model to continue to support the numerous programs that benefit the entire community.

3) What role should municipal government play in funding cultural and creative efforts? Please state your reasons.

Eric Gray | Second District Candidate

Art and culture sparks imagination and communication, often unifying us as human beings and as a community. It has helped give our district’s children opportunities to explore their creativity, and has inspired community murals that embrace our rich diversity. The growth of arts and culture is invaluable, not only to our residents but also to our economy.

For these reasons and as a supporter of the 1% for the Arts, I believe that the municipal government should always be open to funding cultural and creative efforts. However, this funding must always be in coordination with what the local artistic community believe is imperative in growing our district. I will not fund cultural efforts simply for the sake of spending; but if it as an effort that the community and I wholeheartedly believe in, it is the municipal governments’ job to help with the efforts.

Robert Harmon | Sixth District Candidate

Municipal government should support and set aside funds to encourage and foster the growth of opportunities for artistic expression wherever and whenever possible. The reason is that it provides good employment opportunities for artists, cultivates a sense of civic pride, beautifies our urban landscape and adds value to our city. In short, it increases the dignity, prestige and livability of our neighborhood’s residents and enhances the well being of all of our city’s citizens.

Josie Villasenor | Sixth District Candidate

Municipal Government should fund the arts through grants and school funding because it well help our youth to express themselves in positive and creative ways.

Joen Garnica | Second District Candidate

The arts are important and need funding and that is why I support the Mayor’s 1% arts funding plan. We all understand that responsible government needs to utilize its finances for infrastructure, police, fire, etc.; we also need to build community through culture. Creating an identity that we can share and take ownership of trickles down to other aspects of our day-to-day lives. For example, a wall that is tagged may just be an eyesore, but if a beautiful mural is defaced, the community becomes motivated toward positive change. That’s the power of art.

Laurie Angel | Eighth District Candidate

Government can serve to identify funding sources and grants to help add cultural and artistic work throughout the district. Additional, public development or construction contracts may include a fee to help support art or include art as a part of the project. Government, in concert with the 8th council district office can also partner with the city, schools, businesses, property owners along our major corridors to provide venues to display art, murals, unique, artistic and creative touches both inside and outside. Community meetings may provide a venue to share other art forms for expression, enjoyment and enrichment of those in attendance. Art provides for a rich visual, auditory, expressive and tactile experiences, in all of its forms. Art enriches lives, opens the mind and frees the soul to new creative possibilities; it provides constructive, healthy activities for individuals to express themselves in a positive and giving manner as they share with others.

Dee Andrews | Sixth District Write-In Candidate

Municipal government should play an active role in funding cultural and creative efforts. Building a community that fosters creativity and cultural expression is vital to improving the quality of life for all residents and the entire city thrives when our people feel safe to express themselves and create freely. As a Councilmember, I formed a Blue Ribbon Commission on Funding Arts and Culture to construct innovative strategies to ensure that art and cultural projects receive the funding they deserve and I voted to pass the proposal to reserve 1% of the City Budget for the arts.

Jeannine Pearce | Second District Candidate

Cities should lay the foundation for a prosperous arts, cultural, and creative community. The arts help to foster civic engagement, stimulate creativity and economic development, and bring joy, adventure, and love to a community like few things can. That’s why it is so important for cities to create spaces, funding and other provide other support for the arts. Art also serves to bring people together and forge relationships that can bridge our cultural, educational, and socio-economic differences.

Al Austin | Eighth District Candidate

The City can play an important role in fostering the arts. Whether it is providing funding to the Arts Council or cultural resources such as Rancho Los Cerritos, or utilizing public spaces to enhance the sense of community, such as we have done with the Expo Arts Center or with the number of murals and public art locations throughout the District.

Visit the Post tomorrow for Part II in the Arts Answers Series for all City Council candidates. 

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