Promoting Diversity in Bioscience

A recent report from BIO (Biotechnology Innovation Organization) highlighted the challenges facing the life science sector with only 4% of total employment African American and 5% Latino.  At the executive and board level, the percentage drops to just 1% for African Americans and 3% for Latinos. Women are another group that is poorly represented with just 30% at the executive level and just 18% at the board level. But strategies and solutions to improve diversity in bioscience was the topic of the day at Amgen’s Black Employee Network 2020 Black History Month Panel at the Amgen World Headquarters.

The panel, featuring Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Harvard Dean of Diversity and Community Partnerships Dr. Joan Reede, was moderated by Community Access, Recruitment, and Engagement (CARE) Research Center Founder Jonathan Jackson.

(Left to Right) Community Access, Recruitment, and Engagement (CARE) Research Center Founder Jonathan Jackson, Harvard Dean of Diversity and Community Partnerships Dr. Joan Reede, and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. Photo by Aurelia Ventura / Board of Supervisors

“Recognizing the importance of diversity is particularly important to the future of any a biotech company,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas who has pioneered LA County’s efforts to boost the region’s bioscience industry.  “Policies that achieve inclusion is good for a company’s bottom line and long-term growth prospects.”

Recently, Los Angeles County launched a new program to train hundreds of new workers for the rapidly growing bioscience industry. The Bio-Flex Initiative offers pre-apprenticeships and registered apprenticeships that could lead to employment opportunities in some of the County’s leading bioscience companies.  The South Bay Workforce Investment Board has partnered with Compton Unified School District and Torrance Unified School District to expand the impact of the Bio-Flex Initiative to high school students.

“You have to be consistent,” said Harvard Dean of Diversity and Community Partnerships Dr. Joan Reede. “You have to understand that you are talking about interfacing systems.”

“If there’s a message to be derived from Black History Month, it is ‘Keep pushing and don’t look back,’” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Increasing Investment for Diverse Artists in Public Art

(Left to Right) Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, LA County Arts Department Director Kristin Sakoda, LA County Arts Commissioner Pamela Bright-Moon, and LA County Arts Commissioner Eric Hanks at “Pieces Together,” Lawrence Argent’s 20-foot high 110-ton granite puzzle piece at the main entrance to the MLK Community Hospital in Willowbrook during a tour of public art in the Second District.  All photos by Henry Salazar / Board of Supervisors

The LA County Department of Arts and Culture has received a multi-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to implement an innovative artist development initiative to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field of public art in LA County. The $1.75 million grant will fund implementation of a new Civic Artist Initiative with multiple components including small-scale project commissions to support temporary art and performance-based practices; the development of a year-long fellowship for artists to gain one-on-one support and a budget to complete their first public art projects; and a suite of free professional development workshops and events geared toward meeting the needs of a wider range of LA County artists at various skill levels.

The Department of Arts and Culture, through its Civic Art Division (Civic Art), provides leadership in the creation of high-quality civic spaces by commissioning original artworks at public facilities across LA County, integrating artists into planning and design, and encouraging innovative approaches to civic art and access to artistic experiences for residents and communities. This work is grounded by the 2017 release of the Cultural Equity Inclusion Initiative (CEII)—that same year, Civic Art began to assess its existing artist recruitment practices to better support and reflect the diverse artists working in the County.

(Left to Right) LA County Arts Commissioner Eric Hanks, LA County Arts Department Director Kristin Sakoda, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and LA County Arts Commissioner Pamela Bright-Moon in front of Dominique Moody’s sculptural collage “Healing Home” inside the MLK Outpatient Center.

The new initiative proposes to address key barriers to entry in the field of public art found in Civic Art’s research and identified directly by curators, artists, and practitioners. The result is a series of strategies that aim to address historic and structural barriers—particularly for diverse and underrepresented artists including artists of color, artists with disabilities, indigenous artists, LGBTQIA artists, self-taught artists, artists of non-traditional mediums, and emerging artists—and increase access to technical expertise, career networks, and project opportunities critically needed to promote access and career advancement in public art.

Programs will be in areas such as portfolio development, marketing and business practices for artists, learning how to work with project collaborators, designers, fabricators, architects, and attorneys, and assistance navigating the Civic Art application process. The model aims to integrate professional development and networking strategies with access to the practical and conceptual tools for strengthening an artistic practice the field of public art.

As the 2020 Otis Report affirms, LA County is the epicenter of the creative economy, into which we must continue to build more accessible pathways, said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. This grant brings national attention and funding to the cultural sector of LA County, supporting the work of our Department of Arts and Culture to provide professional development, and expands civic art in the creative industries for all to benefit and enjoy. We welcome that.

We are excited to leverage this generous gift from the Mellon Foundation to remove barriers that LA County artists face, said Department of Arts and Culture Director, Kristin Sakoda. The LA County Department of Arts and Culture has a long history of professional development support for nonprofit arts organizations. This initiative is a bold next step to increase opportunities for individual artists and support greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in the County’s cultural sector and civic spaces.

Equity is at the heart of LA County’s Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative, our roadmap to ensuring that we do all we can to level the playing field in the Arts and this grant will allow us to more effectively uplift and empower the voices of our local artists, said Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. Our lives are enriched when we tap into the creative energy and talent of our grassroots community artists. This generous grant will benefit all LA County residents.

Los Angeles County is among the largest and most diverse counties in the United States. Yet historically the landscape of public art in LA County has not reflected the area’s rich diversity, said Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander. The exciting new Civic Artist Development Initiative will help ensure that artists who represent the County’s richness and heterogeneity contribute to its public art landscape, and will make that work accessible to a wider public.

To further maximize the benefits of this program for artists, the Department of Arts and Culture plans to leverage its role to partner with program guest speakers, mentors, advisors, and organizations. In developing the initiative, the Department sought input directly from individual artists, curators, and practitioners, as well as individuals at institutions including the LA County Museum of Art, the USC Roski School of Art and Design, Frieze LA, the California African American Museum, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, The Broad, and the Hammer Museum. Programs for the new initiative are expected to begin in Fall 2020.

Local Bioscience Leader Honored for Black History Month

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas stands with Dr. Susan Windham-Bannister, a life sciences innovation executive named as BioSpace’s Top Ten African American Leaders in Bioscience. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors.

One of LA County’s best kept secrets is that it is home to a growing bioscience industry that directly employs 90,000 people (indirectly another 100,000) and generates $42.5 billion in economic activity. In the booming bioscience industry, African Americans make up a disproportionately low percentage of leadership positions in the life sciences industry, as demonstrated by several recent studies, including a 2017 study by MassBio. A 2017 study by Nature Biotechnology found that African Americans made up 13% of the population but held only 3% of executive positions at biotech firms.

In honor of Black History Month, BioSpace has highlighted 10 top African American leaders in bioscience who have prominent roles in the bioscience industry.

Susan Windham-Bannister was one of the top African American bioscience leaders making a difference who was honored by BioSpace.  From 2008 to 2016, Windham-Bannister served as founding president and chief executive officer of the $1 billion Massachusetts Life Sciences Initiative. Her role was to develop, implement and lead the strategy for the investment initiative. Biomedical Growth Strategies is a boutique strategy advisory firm serving the life sciences industry. She received a BA from Wellesley College, a PhD in Health Policy and Management from the Florence Heller School at Brandeis University, and a Doctor of Science from Worcester Polytechnic Institute. She was a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School and as a Fellow in the Center for Science and Policy (CSAP) at Cambridge University, England.

Windham-Bannister has been instrumental in the regional bioscience efforts spearheaded by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.  She was featured as a panelist in the 2018 Bioscience Summit where she discussed LA’s Bioscience Ecosystem and retaining bioscience companies in the region. She currently serves as Chief Strategy Officer at BioLA.

Trailers from the Governor become a Safe Landing for Homeless Families in South LA

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Councilmember Curren Price, St. Joseph Center President and CEO Va Lecia Adams Kellum stand in front of the trailers alongside partners in the Safe Landing for Families-Broadway project. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Councilmember Curren Price welcomed the arrival of the first 10 trailers sent by Governor Gavin Newsom to Los Angeles County to help alleviate California’s homeless crisis.

Previously used by first responders to the Camp Fire in Northern California, the trailers are being repurposed to temporarily house 10 homeless families with children who are currently living on the streets – in cars or dilapidated RV’s – or in rented motel rooms in South L.A. The trailers are the centerpiece of a project called Safe Landing for Families-Broadway.

“State government is doing more than ever before to combat homelessness. This first wave of trailers to Los Angeles County is part of our state’s broader effort to deploy more resources directly into communities,” said Governor Gavin Newsom. “California is treating homelessness like the crisis it is and it’s going to take every level of government stepping up to do their part. I appreciate LA County leaders for providing land and putting these critically needed resources to work.”

Interior of the trailers. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas filed the Board of Supervisors motion to request the trailers from the Governor and to develop the Safe Landings for Families-Broadway project. Councilmember Price filed the Los Angeles City Council motion to expedite the lease for the project site, an LA City-owned parking lot at Broadway and 85th Street.

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Just three weeks after identifying a site for the trailers, we have the manifestation of collective civic action. The State of California, LA County and LA City, working shoulder-to-shoulder with the nonprofit, philanthropy and private sectors, as well as residents and volunteers, have created a safe landing for families transitioning out of homelessness. This is what a crisis response can and should look like.”

“With the addition of this location, families will now be offered a fresh start to get back on their feet and on track to building a better future. We’re not only transforming their lives, but restoring their dignity,” said Councilman Price. “We understand the magnitude of this humanitarian crisis and we need to examine every possible solution from different angles. We must continue to work collaboratively and expeditiously with our partners if we are to solve the crisis of our generation.”

One of LA County’s Measure H-funded nonprofit partners, St. Joseph Center, deployed street outreach teams to identify the families who would move into the trailers. At the project site, it will provide the families with wraparound services and connect them to longer-term affordable housing.

Interior of the trailers. Photo by Aurelia Ventura/Board of Supervisors

“We are so excited to be part of this innovative solution for homeless families from the local community,” St. Joseph Center President and CEO Va Lecia Adams Kellum, Ph.D. said. “We look forward to working with them and providing the wraparound services they need to get permanently housed and back on their feet. It’s an honor to be a partner in this important first step to getting homeless families to a place of health and stability.”

Over the last few weeks, LA County’s Chief Executive Office and Public Works Department, in coordination with LA City’s Department of Water and Power and other agencies, expedited the installation of electricity, water and sewage connections at the site, as well as other improvements to make it a safe, secure and welcoming environment.

“The LA County Board of Supervisors has engaged every County agency in its effort to provide a safe landing for the region’s homeless,” LA County Public Works Director Mark Pestrella said. “One of the most significant challenges for our unsheltered neighbors is living without access to the elements of basic human need: safety, shelter and access to clean water. Together, we have equipped 10 RV trailers with power and sewer connections; heat; and a safe, clean water supply. LA County Public Works is proud to be part of the state and regional partnership that is providing a Safe Landing for Families.”

Caltrans delivers the trailers to the Safe Landing for Families-Broadway site. Photo Credit: Caltrans District 7.

To help ensure that Safe Landing for Families lives up to its name, the real estate development firm Trammell Crow Co., along with ConAm Building Co. and Unisource Solutions, donated a trailer for the St. Joseph Center staff to use as an office at the site. Meanwhile, the California Community Foundation donated funds for a playground, dog run and patio area.

“This project is an example of how – in just three weeks – the State, the County, the City, and the private sector can come together and make a difference for 10 families,” Trammell Crow Senior Managing Director Brad Cox said. “That comes from a collaboration, a partnership, a recognition that this problem is not going to be solved in a silo. It needs to be solved with each of us taking individual ownership, having our companies take ownership, and making a difference so that we can solve and address this problem. We are so pleased to be part of this project, and we thank you for the opportunity.”

On Saturday, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, Councilmember Price, St. Joseph Center and United Way of Greater LA will host a Community Day with about 50 volunteers and residents from surrounding neighborhoods to prepare and beautify the site. This includes installing landscaping, equipping the trailers with basic necessities, and creating welcome baskets for the families who will move in.

Later this month, Caltrans will deliver the second batch of 10 trailers to Safe Landing for Families-Exposition, which will be in the parking lot of a former LA County Probation building on Exposition and Crenshaw Boulevards.

The 10 trailers at a Caltrans facility prior to being driven to South LA. Credit: Mayra Vasquez/Los Angeles County