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.

Undesign the Redline

Undesign the Redline exhibit kickoff reception. Left to Right: Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, Undesign the Redline Consultant Mary Lee, Designing the WE Co-Founder Braden Cooks, and Enterprise Community Partners VP Jacqueline Waggoner. Photo by Leroy Hamilton courtesy of Enterprise Community Partners

A new interactive exhibit traces the history of housing discrimination across Los Angeles and the United States.  Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined Enterprise Community Partners (Enterprise), Los Angeles Trade Tech College (LATTC), Designing the WE and Wells Fargo to present Undesign the Redline.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas shares lessons learned from Undesign the Redline. Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

“It is incumbent upon us all to approach the errors of our past with a lens toward a brighter future,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “This exhibit ‎helps us imagine what our community can look like. It motivates us to pursue bold change to implement our collective vision.”

Created by social impact firm Designing the WE in partnership with Enterprise, the interactive exhibit uses narratives, maps and other documents to trace how government policy, known as “redlining,” created racial segregation and disinvestment in communities from the 1930s to present-day. The exhibit combines historical artifacts, storytelling, photographs and activities to illustrate redlining’s roots and lasting repercussions.

Redlining has limited people from housing opportunities and their associated benefits, including the choice of where to live, whether to rent or own, and wealth generated by homeownership. Today, the growing threat of displacement caused by increasing housing instability is impacting these same neighborhoods.

Dance to kickoff the new exhibit.  Photo by Martin Zamora / Board of Supervisors

Undesign the Redline puts into perspective the local community landscape and the history of Los Angeles, including the stories of:

• The history of Watts as a visionary plan as a “free city” of blacks and other disenfranchised groups;
• Bunker Hill Redevelopment and urban renewal;
• Limited Diversity in Lakewood;
• The Federation of the High Cost of Living, which was formed to explore how rental costs could be lowered.

“Undesign the Redline sheds light on how the explicitly discriminatory housing practices of redlining continues to influence the design and growth patterns of Los Angeles today. But learning this history inspires us to change that legacy and encourages us to transform our communities,” said Jacqueline Waggoner, VP and Southern California market leader, Enterprise.

The exhibit is now on display at LATTC’s Magnolia Hall until March 31, 2019.

Black History Month: Rev. Dr. Alexander Hamilton

In celebration of Black History Month, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas presented a scroll to the Reverend Dr. Alexander Hamilton, who arranged the late Aretha Franklin’s Grammy-Award winning gospel album Amazing Grace, among many other stellar musical achievements.

Rev. Dr. Alexander Hamilton with, L-R, Lady Alicia Hamilton, Supervisors Kathryn Barger, Janice Hahn, Mark Ridley-Thomas, Hilda Solis and Alan Elliott. All photos by David Franco/Board of Supervisors.

“I commend you for a long-lasting and outstanding career in the music industry, and for all that you have done and continue to do in the lives of musical artists all over the world,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

In accepting the honor, Dr. Hamilton said, “As long as God gives me a finger to play with and a mind to think with, he’s got me and I’ll be making His music as much as I can.” He was joined by his wife, Lady Alicia Hamilton, as well as several friends and choir members. He said he has made a lifetime of conducting God’s music through them.

Dr. Hamilton has played, conducted and arranged scores for numerous music icons, including Lola Falana, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Lou Rawls, The Staple Singers, Sammy Davis Jr., Liza Minelli, Natalie Cole, Etta James, James Cleveland, Bessie Griffin, Shirley Caesar and Mahalia Jackson. He also co-wrote the gospel hit He’s A Miracle Worker with Edie Kendrix.

On the big screen, Dr.  Hamilton can be seen directing the choir in Amazing Grace, which documented the recording of the Queen of Soul’s 1972 platinum selling album. The film’s producer, Alan Elliott, said of Dr. Hamilton: “His work is a monument to himself, to God, to the community of Los Angeles, and to the world.”

On February 7-18, Amazing Grace will kick off the 27th Annual Pan African Film Festival at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas encouraged everyone to see it, saying, “It is a musical experience that takes you to a different level.”

Dr. Hamilton began his career at the tender age of 9 years old.  As a child, he was a student of the late Hall Johnson, a well-known musical writer and arranger.

For 45 years, Dr. Hamilton served as the director of The Voices of Inspiration community choir, The New Generation Singers, and the Immanuel Gospel Community Choir. Dr. Hamilton and The Voices of Inspiration Choir have recorded several albums, including Glory, Hallelujah!, God Can, and Praise Him Till. Under his direction, The New Generation Singers recorded and released an album entitled Safe in God’s Love.

Currently, Dr. Hamilton is the Pastor of Philadelphia Church Fellowship of Los Angeles.