Education, Arts & Culture

Expanding Local Agency Advances Arts, Culture, and Creativity for the People of LA County

The Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture, formerly the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, becomes an official, and new, County department. The agency’s longstanding work will continue uninterrupted, including grant funding for hundreds of nonprofit organizations throughout LA County; commissioning works of art for public facilities and managing the County’s civic art collection; implementing the initiatives of the LA County Arts Education Collective, which works to ensure all students in the County receive quality arts education; and researching and evaluating, then making accessible, findings in and about the local arts and culture sector.

Now, the newly established Department, abbreviated as Arts and Culture, will also elevate its work in building infrastructure and increasing access to career pathways in the creative economy; innovative cross-sector work and collaborations with County Departments (such as the Creative Strategist Artist in Residence program); and implementing the County’s Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative, known as CEII, a cultural plan with a progressive suite of recommendations to strengthen diverse, equitable, and inclusive access to arts and culture for everyone in the County.

“Arts are essential to our humanity, and a key part of healthy vibrant communities,” said Kristin Sakoda, Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture Executive Director. “Here in Los Angeles County, it is critical that the local arts and culture ecosystem be supported—from our formidable museums and presenters, to the small non-profits and the community initiatives—so we can ensure a thriving sector and creative local economy. As a County Department, we will be able to elevate and expand our work to reach more people, more deeply, increasing access to the arts and building cultural equity. We will advance arts, culture, and creativity advancing for everyone in the County.”

The LA County Arts Commission was established in in 1947 to support local music performances. Its role has grown to support diverse art forms and function as a full-service arts agency. Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl co-authored the historic motion that transitions the Arts Commission into a stand-alone County department in May 2018, a recognition of the vital role of arts and culture in one of the largest and most diverse counties in the country.

“In its previous iteration, the Arts Commission has been a small but mighty undertaking, excelling in its work to increase access to the arts, to innovate in areas of grant-making, and to create career pathways for people in underserved communities. As Los Angeles County’s creative economy grows ever more potent by the day, I am excited for what is to come as it begins a new chapter as the Department of Arts and Culture,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, lead author of the motion that enabled the transition.

The 15-member Arts Commission, an advisory body appointed by the Board of Supervisors, will continue to advocate the work of the new department. “I am proud to be an and advisor and ambassador for this department’s wide-ranging work throughout Los Angeles County,” said Helen Hernandez, Arts Commission President. “I was involved in the development of CEII, and I want to see that initiative continue to be implemented—everyone in Los Angeles County deserves access to arts and culture.”

Avis & Mark Ridley-Thomas Life Learning Center Opens

Avis Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas at the Grand Opening. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

The Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic unveiled the Avis & Mark Ridley-Thomas Life Learning Center not far from Exposition Park, where  transition age youth, ages 16-25, can  access high-quality mental health and social services to foster their emotional well-being and physical health, achieve lifelong economic stability, and build strong connections to positive support systems.

Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic President and CEO Charlene Dimas-Peinado. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

“The Avis and Mark Ridley-Thomas Life Learning Center is named after two pillars in our community. The LLC symbolizes hope and a brighter future for our youth and young adults. It’s also the right time for us to focus our attention on the social and environmental concerns impacting them and make a meaningful difference,” said Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic President and CEO Charlene Dimas-Peinado.

Rendering for the Avis and Mark Ridley-Thomas Life Learning Center

“Avis and I are honored, beyond measure, to be the namesakes of the new Life Learning Center,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “These are our young people and they deserve to be lifted up and supported. We believe this reimagined center will be a life-changing and welcome addition to this community and it will complement the many new developments along the Vermont Corridor.”

Community Room at The Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

In Los Angeles County, there are approximately 1.4 million transition age youth. Many of these young adults transition into adulthood successfully; however, an estimated five to ten percent are challenged due to a number of negative circumstances – poverty, housing insecurity, substance abuse, physical abuse, exposure to or a victim of violence and/or are members of marginalized groups based on race, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Often, young adults in South Los Angeles are more vulnerable and socially isolated which can jeopardize their long-term success.

The Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic is a nationally acclaimed community-based provider of holistic, innovative, and evidence-based behavioral and mental health services for children, young adults and families in Los Angeles. LACGC has assisted high-need families in historically underserved communities since l924. Each year, LACGC serves over 4,000 individuals at three community-based centers, 30 school-based sites, and directly to clients through field-based programming.

A Progress Report on Child Welfare Reforms

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the Empowerment Congress hosted a retrospective look at the Blue Ribbon Commission on Child Protection’s landmark report, The Road to Safety for Our Children, on the fifth anniversary of its release.

Blue Ribbon Commission 5 Year Anniversary Roundtable DiscussionThe Board of Supervisors empaneled the Commission after the tragic murder of eight-year old Gabriel Fernandez in Palmdale. On April 18, 2014, the Commission, chaired by Dr. David Sanders, released 66 recommendations in the following six domains:

  • Prevention
  • Safety
  • Permanency
  • Well-Being
  • Global Impact; and
  • County Administration.

For stakeholders who attended the event in Exposition Park, it was a chance to look back at the progress in implementing the Commission’s reform recommendations.

Blue Ribbon Commission 5 Year Anniversary Roundtable Discussion

Amazing Grace

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas hosted the Los Angeles premiere of Amazing Grace, a critically acclaimed documentary about the 1972 live recording of Aretha Franklin’s gospel music masterpiece of the same name.

Sabrina Garrett Owens, a niece of the Queen of Soul, attended the premiere along with more than 400 other people at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, the same church where the documentary was filmed 47 years ago.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas; Amazing Grace documentary producers Allan Elliott and Tirrell D. Whittley; and Sabrina Garrett Owens, a niece of Aretha Franklin. Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

“Like Johann Sebastian Bach’s church of St. Thomas or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s church in Salzburg, New Temple Missionary Baptist Church is amongst the holiest of holies in the music history,” said Allan Elliott, one of the producers of Amazing Grace. “We want to thank our friend and partner, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, for making sure future generations can come and worship at the mecca of gospel music, New Temple Missionary Baptist Church, the home of Amazing Grace.”

Ahead of the premiere, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson sought to honor both the choir and the church that co-starred with Franklin in that legendary performance.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas nominated the Grammy Award-winning Southern California Community Choir for a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, while Councilmember Harris-Dawson urged the Los Angeles City Council to designate the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church as a Historic-Cultural Monument.

“The Southern California Community Choir is one of the most gifted and inspirational gospel choirs of our time,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “Their performance on the Amazing Grace album is timeless and has changed so many lives. I am proud to do my part to honor their work so that future generations can remember their legacy.”

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas with the Amazing Grace documentary producers, members of the Southern California Community Choir who sang with Aretha Franklin in 1972, and Councilman Curren Price. Photo by Diandra Jay/Board of Supervisors

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas nominated the choir to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, which administers the Walk of Fame. Their performance with Franklin, under the direction of the Rev. James Cleveland and the Rev. Alexander Hamilton, produced the best-selling gospel music albums of all time. The choir has also performed with Elton John, Arlo Guthrie and Kansas, and won a Grammy Award for Best Soul Gospel Performance in 1975.

The New Temple Missionary Baptist Church provided the backdrop for Amazing Grace, not to mention a seat in the audience for the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger, who sang and danced along with the crowd. The structure was originally developed as a theater and stores in 1932 but underwent several alterations, including an addition designed by the legendary African American architect Paul R. Williams. It was converted into a church in early 1958.

In his motion urging the Los Angeles City Council to initiate the process of declaring the church a Historic-Cultural Monument, Councilman Harris-Dawson described the church as an icon to be celebrated in African American and Los Angeles history. “This is yet another example of how South Los Angeles is a beacon of culture then and now,” Councilman Harris-Dawson said.

Women’s History Month: Michele Siqueiros

In celebration of Women’s History Month, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas presented a scroll to Michele Siqueiros, the president of The Campaign for College Opportunity.

“We all know that education is the key to success in life and Michele is committed to ensuring that our youth are prepared for the future,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Not only does she advocate for college access and success, she is leading by example as a first generation college graduate.”

“I’m proud to stand on the shoulders of trailblazers like the Supervisor and am grateful for this recognition,” Siqueiros said.  “I promise to continue fighting to ensure all students have the opportunity to attend and succeed in college – just like I did.”

As president of The Campaign for College Opportunity, she works daily to expand college access and help California students achieve success.

Under her leadership, she has strengthened the campaign by raising more than $21 million, championing major budget appropriations, and securing historic higher education legislation. She continues to produce reports addressing issues such as the lack of diversity among college leaders and faculty, the powerful return on investment for spending by the state in colleges and universities, the need for major improvements to close ethnic gaps, as well as reforming remedial education at colleges.

Siqueiros graduated from Pitzer College with a Bachelors of Arts degree in Political Science and Master of Arts degree in Urban Planning from the University of California, Los Angeles.

In 2010, she led a transformative movement that resulted in an easier process for students to transfer from any Community College in California to the California State University system through the “Associate Degree for Transfer Program.”

Siqueiros was appointed in 2019 by Senate Pro Tem Leader Toni Atkins to the Student Centered Funding Formula Oversight Committee — a committee charged with making recommendations to the Legislature and the Department of Finance on higher education related measures.