Education, Arts & Culture

Supervisors Create First LA County Arts Department

The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to create the first Los Angeles County Arts Department. Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Board Chair Sheila Kuehl coauthored the motion with broad support from arts funders, creators and institutions.

“With a new arts department, we can further elevate the impact of the arts on our community, culture, and economy,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “The importance of the creative industries cannot be overstated, particularly in Los Angeles. Creativity is one of our most essential economic assets.”

According to the 2017 Otis Report on the Creative Economy, the total creative output generated by industries within the region’s creative economy was $190 billion in 2015. It also employed 759,000 people, which accounted for 1 in 8, or about 15 percent, of all private wage and salary workers in the region.

“Los Angeles County contains an unparalleled wealth of arts and culture. It makes sense that we establish a County department to support arts and culture. With this motion, we will provide the capacity for a robust department that can strengthen the arts and expand our commitment to cultural equity and inclusion,” said Supervisor Kuehl.

“This is a historic moment in the arts for this region,” said LA County Arts Commission Executive Director Kristin Sakoda. “It is world-class and community-based and there is still more to come!”

The LA County Arts Commission was initially established in 1947. It has grown in the last 70 years since from solely supporting local music performances to supporting hundreds of nonprofit organizations and functioning as a full-service local arts agency.

Throughout the decades, the Commission’s role has expanded to include innovative and meaningful programs including working with school districts throughout the County to develop and implement a strategic plan to integrate arts into K-12 public schools. It also administers the Civic Art program, where artists are aligned with capital projects to bring aesthetics and programming to the community in which the project is located.

It also oversees the iconic Arts Internship Program. To date, more than 2,000 college and university students participate in a paid internship for ten weeks during the summer in arts organizations and venues throughout the County.

“A County Department can make a deep impact in providing workforce training and advancing cultural equity and inclusion efforts,” said Stacy Lieberman, Deputy Director of The Broad.

The new County Department will retain the Arts Commission as an advisory body and will begin its transition by July 1, 2018.

Singing the Praises of a Jazz Legend

In honor of International Jazz Day, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas awarded a scroll to the world-renowned vocalist, Barbara Morrison, the most recorded jazz and blues artist of her generation.

During the ceremony, she sang a beautiful rendition of Duke Ellington’s Come Sunday, drawing enthusiastic applause from the audience in the Board of Supervisors hearing room at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration.

“I’m pleased to recognize Barbara Morrison, who has entertained and influenced jazz enthusiasts throughout the world for nearly six decades,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. 

Morrison has been entertaining and influencing jazz enthusiasts for nearly six decades, since her professional career began at age 10 with a performance at a Detroit radio station.

She relocated to Los Angeles in 1973 and began performing with blues artists Eddie Vinson and Johnny Otis. She recorded her first solo album in 1985 and now has more than 20 albums featuring original compositions of live and studio performances.

Since 1994, Morrison has taught jazz vocal classes at UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music. She has received three Grammy nominations, been recognized by National Public Radio as one of the Voices of the Century: 50 Greatest Female Jazz Vocalists, and received a Motown Heroes and Legends Award in 2015, Morrison continues to perform with her duo and trio throughout California and worldwide.  

Her list of accomplishments includes performing with noted jazz and blues artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Etta James, Nancy Wilson, Tony Bennett, Esther Phillips and the Count Basie Orchestra. She has performed in such highly regarded venues as Carnegie Hall, the North Sea Jazz Festival, the Bern Jazz Festival and the Playboy Jazz Festival.

She opened the Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center in 2008, and the California Jazz and Blues Museum seven years later, in the heart of the African American arts scene at the historic Leimert Park District of Los Angeles.

From Los Angeles to Memphis
A Fifty Year Journey

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas marked the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s tragic death by journeying to the place where he was assassinated in Memphis, now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum.

On April 4, 1968, 13-year-old Mark Ridley-Thomas was an eighth grader on the campus of George Washington Carver Middle School in southeast Los Angeles when news broke of Dr. King’s assassination. He had heard Dr. King’s unmistakable voice on the radio station KGFJ and, even as a young teenager, felt the power of his words and the tragedy of his loss.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. Photo by Leroy Hamilton.

Inspired by the immortal I Have a Dream speech, Ridley-Thomas took an undergraduate course titled “Social Ethics of Martin Luther King” at Immaculate Heart College in 1974, on his way to earning his undergraduate and graduate degrees, along with secondary and adult education teaching credentials. By 1976, he himself was teaching a full-length semester course on the philosophy of Dr. King to college preparatory students at Immaculate Heart High School.

In 1977, Ridley-Thomas was recruited to the local board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Los Angeles, an affiliate of the organization founded by Dr. King in 1957. By age 26, Ridley-Thomas had risen to become executive director of its Los Angeles Chapter. During the 80’s, Ridley-Thomas furthered his studies and deepened his writings on Dr. King while earning a Ph.D. in Social Ethics from the University of Southern California, with a focus on Social Criticism and Social Change.

Rev. Jesse Jackson and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Photo by Leroy Hamilton.

Ridley-Thomas headed the SCLC of Greater Los Angeles for a decade, from 1981 to 1991, working on such issues as school desegregation, police misconduct, domestic violence, sexual assault, dispute resolution, parental empowerment and voter registration. From 1991 to the present, Ridley-Thomas has held several elected public offices, guided by the philosophy of Dr. King on a range of critical issues, including police accountability, homelessness, voting rights, affordable quality education, living wage, and healthcare for all.

“Dr. King’s death was a turning point in my life as it relates to the philosophy of nonviolence,” the Supervisor said. “To be in Memphis now, 50 years later, is really quite moving.”

During his time in Memphis, the Supervisor visited the Lorraine Motel, where an assassin’s bullet felled Dr. King. The Supervisor also participated in discussions of Dr. King’s legacy; a celebration of Dr. King’s final sermon, I’ve Been to the Mountaintop; and a march and rally to the “mountaintop” at Mason Temple.

Among those who participated in the tributes were Rep. John Lewis, who marched with Dr. King in Selma; the Rev. James Lawson, who had invited Dr. King to Memphis in 1968; the Rev. Jesse Jackson; Children’s Defense Fund founder and president Marian Wright Edelman; and, finally, AFSCME president Lee Saunders, who served as event co-chair.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, Rep. Karen Bass, Rev. James Lawson, and Maria Elena Durazo. Photo by Leroy Hamilton.

A contingent from Los Angeles traveled to Memphis to pay tribute to Dr. King, including Bishop Charles E. Blake of the West Angeles Church of God in Christ, also an event co-chair. U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, labor leader Maria Elena Durazo, actors Chris Tucker and Glynn Turman, and drummer Sheila E also made the journey, and noted photographer Leroy Hamilton documented the various events. They joined thousands of people from around the world in celebrating and commemorating the life and legacy of Dr. King.

“We have a lot of unfinished business related to justice, peace and human dignity,” the Supervisor said. “But the nation owes a great debt of gratitude to Dr. King and his family and all of those continuing to fight for justice and democracy.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Rev. James Lawson, AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders and Bishop Charles E. Blake. Photo by Leroy Hamilton.

A Raisin in the Sun

A Raisin in the Sun, on stage at A Noise Within theater in Pasadena. Photos by Craig Schwartz.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas hosted a special performance of the Tony Award-winning A Raisin in the Sun for more than 300 people from across the Second District, many of whom had never been to a theater before.

“Theater has the power to engage, educate, empower, transform individuals and communities, achieve social justice initiatives, and bring communities closer together,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

A Raisin in the Sun, Lorraine Hansberry’s seminal work, tells the story of an African-American family living in a cramped apartment on Chicago’s South Side during the 1950s, as they struggle with competing dreams and racial intolerance. Even decades after it was first performed, the play remains a resonant story of hope and the need to retain dignity in a hostile world. Its title was inspired by a line from Langston Hughes’ poem, Harlem.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas at the theater production of A Raisin in the Sun. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas invited attendees from schools, youth groups, seniors, veterans, and community-based service organizations to watch the play at A Noise Within theater in Pasadena, with a cast that includes Ben Cain and Toya Turner under the direction of Gregg Daniel. Many in the audience expressed appreciation for the performance.

“Arts are very important to the community and we should have more,” said Thurman Jackson. “This is my first time watching a play like this, and it touched my heart. I want to find more plays to attend.”

Even the younger members of the audience were able to grasp the cultural and historic significance of the play. “I learned how people struggled back in the day,” said Marvin Williams, a student at Falcon Youth and Family Service.

“Arts as activism is incredibly relevant to today’s society and A Raisin in the Sun is incredibly relevant to reflect on what is happening in our community today and hopefully make an effective change,” said Alicia Green, director of education and community outreach at A Noise Within, which produces world-class performances of classical theatre and runs education programs committed to inspiring diverse audiences of all ages.

“I hope that in some way people can see themselves reflected on stage,” she said. “Whether it is a dream deferred or a dream recognized, I hope that everyone can recognize something in themselves that they are able to change for the future.”

After their curtain calls, the cast took questions from the audience.

Diversity in local arts institutions and programs is important to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, who has sponsored eight other theater productions in the past, including Rodney King at the Bootleg Theater, Through the Looking Glass at the Kirk Douglas Theater, and Aladdin, in two languages, at Casa 0101.

Cast of A Raisin in the Sun on stage at A Noise Within. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

A Community Conversation on Children, Youth and Families

Child welfare leaders recently came together with the community to discuss how to best serve vulnerable children and families in Los Angeles County.

Among the panelists was Shari Walker,who shared her inspirational story about being a former foster youth who is now studying to be a social worker. Department of Children and Family Services director Bobby Cagle, Acting Department of Social Services director Antonia Jiménez, and Office of Child Protection executive director Michael Nash were also on the panel.

Community-based organizations hosted resource tables to recruit foster families, court-appointed special advocates, and mentors for youth and families.

Held at the Mark Ridley-Thomas Constituent Service & Training Center, the event was the first in the Empowerment Congress Committee Cafe Series. It will be followed by a discussion on cannabis on May 9.