Under Night Sky, Saar Shines Bright

(left to right) Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Artist Betye Saar, and LACMA Director Michael Govan at LACMA. Photo by Earl Gibson III / Board of Supervisors

On a cool evening night, set against the late fall sky, Los Angeles County Supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas, hosted a viewing and reception for renowned artist, Betye Saar, to celebrate her exhibit entitled “Call and Response.” In a short program featuring the Director of LACMA, Michael Govan, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, Betye Saar and exhibit curator, Carol Eliel, more than 200 guests were treated to a delightful panoply of Southern California art history, where Ms. Saar has stood at the vanguard.

In brief remarks that highlighted the import of Ms. Saar’s first solo show at LACMA, and her turn in the national spotlight, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said, “As one of the country’s most inventive and influential makers of intimately scaled assemblage, it’s been a long journey in getting to today.” Noting further, “But like the three-dimensional qualities that embody so much of Ms. Saar’s work, her art practice can’t be easily defined. And we are all grateful this day has finally come.”

Ms. Saar, who is 93, has been one of the country’s most inventive and influential makers of intimately scaled assemblage. For more than a half a century her art practice has explored both the realities of African-American oppression and the mysticism of symbols through the combination of everyday objects. For her first solo exhibition at LACMA, works that represent this and so much more are on display.

In an affirmation of this sentiment, Michael Govan, Director of LACMA, said, “she is one of the most significant artists working today, and one who boldly addresses issues of race, gender and spirituality.”

Ms. Saar, known to shy away from the spotlight and let the depth of her work speak for itself, shared a few words of inspiration with those in attendance, ending with simply saying, “thank you all for letting me share how I see things with my art. It’s just my little my view of this great, big world.”

“Call and Response” is now on view until April 5, 2020 at the LACMA Resnick Pavilion.

Betye Saar and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas (center) flanked by Department Directors for the County Of Los Angeles at LACMA. Photo by Earl Gibson III / Board of Supervisors


Moving Educational Equity Beyond the Schoolhouse

Professor Tyrone C. Howard, Director of the UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families and the Black Male Institute at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, discussing report findings. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

UCLA researchers and local education leaders convened at the Wellnest Avis and Mark Ridley-Thomas Life-Learning Center to discuss the release of Beyond The Schoolhouse, a policy report, examining both in-school and out-of-school risk factors that impact Black children’s educational success in Los Angeles County.

Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor of Education and the founder of the Center for the Transformation of Schools at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

In a presentation that included several specific recommendations for local, state and federal policymakers, the report’s authors urge the development of a targeted Countywide strategic plan to address the needs of Black children. These recommendations come in response to findings that despite California’s growing commitment to equity, on virtually every academic indicator – from achievement in mathematics and English to the completion of A-G requirements for entry into the CSU or UC systems of higher education – Black students in Los Angeles County have consistently trailed behind their non-Black peers. Of note is the finding that academic factors alone do not accurately provide a complete picture of the challenges facing Black students over the course of their education.

Students in attendance during the convening.  Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

Black students, more than any other racial or ethnic group, are more likely to experience homelessness, to be placed in foster care, or to have a parent who is incarcerated. Furthermore, many Black students reside in communities and attend schools that are highly segregated by race and income, have less parks and recreation facilities, and contain environmental hazards that negatively impact their health and well-being, including higher rates of asthma and exposure to lead. Ultimately, Black students must contend with a host of systematic external factors that significantly impact their ability and access to quality education.

“Homelessness, poverty, poor health outcomes and other adverse experiences interfere with our children’s ability to survive, let alone thrive,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Our commitment to improving student achievement requires that we do as this important report suggest that we do: go beyond the schoolhouse to the communities where black children and families reside to implement solutions that address accumulated disadvantage and expand opportunity for Black children and youth.”

(clockwise) UCLA Professor Kelly Lytle Hernandez, LA County Superintendent Debra Duardo, LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner, and Dr. Shani Byard. Photos by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

“Where a child lives, whether they have access to healthy food, clean air, quality health care and other services has a profound influence on their academic performance and the quality of schools they attend,” said Tyrone C. Howard, Director of the UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families and the Black Male Institute at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

“Our hope is that this new study will not only make clear the urgency of the situation confronting Black students, but that it will inform and fuel a strategic and comprehensive effort to address the accumulation of disadvantage confronting Black youth in order to improve educational and developmental outcomes” says Pedro Noguera, Distinguished Professor of Education and the founder of the Center for the Transformation of Schools at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. “It is not enough just to improve schools, we must address the out-of-school factors that influence a child’s development. We must do both.”

“The academic achievement of Black and low-income students in California has been a focus for many decades in schools,” says Joseph Bishop, Director of the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools. “Yet our failure to recognize that schools alone cannot address poverty and unhealthy community conditions has made it more difficult for social policies to have a positive impact on the needs of our most vulnerable children.

See Exhibit 5, Beyond the Schoolhouse Policy Report: Overcoming & Expanding Opportunity for Black Youth in LA County

Specific Beyond the Schoolhouse findings include:

• Academic performance and health are highly correlated with where a child lives. Whether or not a child has access to healthy food, parks, clean air, or good health services, has a profound influence on their academic performance and the quality of schools they attend.
• Most of the schools where Black children are concentrated have limited resources despite having high numbers of very disadvantaged students (e.g. students in foster care, students who are homeless, in special education, etc.).
• Childhood hardships (e.g. basic needs not met, parental substance abuse, hunger) are highest for Black students (12%) compared to other racial and ethnic groups.
• The suspension rate for Black students in foster care is 16%, higher than any other group of students.

The full study and recommendations are available online at transformschools.ucla.edu/beyond-the-schoolhouse. The report was a joint project of the Black Male Institute and the Center for the Transformation of Schools at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies. The Hewlett Foundation, The California Endowment, the Broad Foundation and the Office of Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas provided funding for the study.

(left to right) UCLA Professor Tyrone C. Howard, UCLA Professor Kelly Lytle Hernandez, LA County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Wellnest President Charlene Dimas Peinado, Dr. Shani Byard, Senator Steven Bradford, and UCLA Professor Joseph Bishop.  Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

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.”

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.