Coronavirus Recession Inspires Unprecedented Commitment to LA County Arts Funding

Photo courtesy of 2019-20 LA County Organizational Grant Program grantee, LA Music and Art School.

As the coronavirus continued to curtail the regional economy, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion to provide an additional $3.6-million for arts organizations.  On the heels of a historic antiracism motion, this motion addresses systemic inequities in the arts. Co-authored by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and approved by the Board of Supervisors, the motion will expand the Organizational Grant Program through additional funding for arts organizations during one of the most challenging economic environments of the twenty-first century.

“The Organizational Grants Program has been a key part of the County’s efforts to provide underserved communities more equitable access to the rich and diverse arts opportunities that Los Angeles County has to offer,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said. “This critical investment will boost the recovery of the region’s creative economy and help ensure that all of Los Angeles County’s residents share in the invaluable benefits of the arts.”

“The disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have deeply affected arts organizations in many of the same ways as other commercial businesses,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. “With this motion, we are finding ways to continue to provide support to our local arts nonprofits and making sure that the healing power of the arts continues to be available to County residents in these troubled and stressful times.”

Despite several years of strong growth, the pandemic and resulting economic downturn has negatively impacted many arts organizations. A survey by Americans for the Arts finds that 29 percent of the County’s non-profit arts organizations are “extremely likely” to make temporary or permanent reductions in staff; and 33 percent expect the financial impact of the pandemic to be “extremely severe.” A substantial percentage of the County’s arts organizations are in danger of permanently closing, leaving the long-term health of this sector in doubt and setting back hard-earned progress in making arts opportunities more accessible to disadvantaged communities.

“The Los Angeles region’s arts and culture sector is facing an unprecedented set of challenges right now. At the same time, the sustainability of our arts organizations is critical to the recovery, health, and wellbeing of the diverse communities that we reflect and serve,” said Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture Director Kristin Sakoda, who recently announced the department had been recognized with four Achievement Awards from the National Association of Counties. “If funded, this motion will be the first major grants increase to the incredible array of LA County arts organizations in over a decade, and it advances another recommendation of the Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative, a significant achievement. I am grateful for the leadership and vision of the Board of Supervisors in recognizing the vital role of our County’s arts and culture organizations.”

Photo courtesy of Lula Washington Dance Theatre.

“The Lula Washington Dance Theatre strongly supports the motion by County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl to increase funding for the County Department of Arts and Culture’s Organizational Grant Program,” said Lula Washington Dance Theatre Executive Director Erwin Washington. “The added funding will give arts organizations more support to rehire laid off workers and to bring great arts programming back to the County.”

“For the Korean American Music Foundation, the Organizational Grants Program has helped our youth orchestra meet its financial obligations the past few years, serving the local community through the two to three concerts that we put on annually.  We strongly recommend that the Organizational Grant Program continues to grow and sustain the local youth and arts community, and as we’ve seen through the recent COVID-19 and civil rights unrest, we can truly see and appreciate that music does heal. Music can unite and get us through all the tough times,” said Korean American Music Foundation General Manager Gene Kam.

Photo courtesy of Contra-Tiempo, a multi-lingual dance company, and a grantee of Los Angeles County.

“As a longtime grantee of the County, we’re excited to hear of the Board of Supervisors’ continued support for artists and a more equitable and just distribution of this support across the county,” said Contra-Tiempo Founding Artistic Director Ana María Alvarez. “In a time of much uncertainty there is one thing that is clear—artists and arts organizations are actively envisioning and creating a future filled with more love, equity, justice and hope. It’s inspiring to know that the board is committed to supporting this future for Los Angeles.”

According to the motion, the County cannot afford the cultural and economic consequences of allowing community arts organizations to close their doors. As a critical part of the region’s economy, demonstrated by several years of substantial growth of the creative sector, and as a provider of arts and culture programs to underserved communities, these organizations are a key part of the solution to the current crises facing residents of the County.

The 2020 Otis Report on the Creative Economy finds that nearly 1 out of 5 jobs in Los Angeles County supported by the arts and creative economy with $67 billion in labor income and $203 billion in total creative economy output.

“The importance of the Arts and the Creative Economy as a source of job creation cannot be understated—it represents one of our greatest opportunities for the future,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “So this is not only an investment in the individuals working at arts organizations, this is a prudent investment in the future of our creative economy and the regional economic forecast at large.”

(Left to Right) Jeffrey Perkins of Otis College, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Mei-Lee Ney of Otis College, Amir Whitaker of the ACLU, Otis College Student Juan Carlos Cruz, Foshay Learning Center Student Alysha Boone, Otis College Student Daisy Rosas, and Beacon Economics’ Adam Fowler at the Mark Taper Auditorium for the release of the 2020 Otis Report.

Ensuring Equitable Access to Education

Following Governor Gavin Newsom’s statewide declaration of a State of Emergency as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tony Thurmond, issued a statement to all fifty-eight County Boards of Education advising schools to close for the remainder of the year.

In response, schools across the state scrambled to move students and teachers to online-based curriculum learning—the process itself revealing obstacles and inequities that will be a feature rather than just a bug of remote learning. As a result of an uneven distribution of access to digital devices and the internet, this crisis has laid bare the economic and racial disparities that persists and preclude equal access to the essential public good of education.

The Los Angeles County Department of Public Health recently released reopening protocols for K-12 schools, providing guidelines informed by public health experts for school districts that decide to reopen. Despite the release of suggested protocols, Thurmond continues to advise against schools opening physically in the Fall of 2020 and LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner announced that distance learning will continue as COVID-19 case incidence worsens. Many other educational institutions from school districts to universities and colleges have all announced similar intentions.

As the pandemic persists, the need to keep students on track developmentally grows ever more urgent. Recently, Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Mark Ridley-Thomas co-authored a motion to obtain additional support and resources from the state for students, especially the most vulnerable students such as students with special needs, students in low-income households, non-English speaking students, and homeless and foster youth students. These vulnerable students were measured to have much lower rates of online participation, according to a study conducted by the Los Angeles Times.

“We are directing the County Chief Information Officer and various County departments to identify how to best establish expanded access to cellular and Wi-Fi in County unincorporated property to help minimize the digital divide that disproportionately affects communities of color,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas about the motion’s efforts to expand accessible connectivity.

“The communities experiencing increases in COVID-19 cases and unemployment due to extended closures are the same communities that are negatively impacted by distance learning,” noted Supervisor Barger.

The motion requests the state to provide additional support to students with clear guidelines for: distance learning educational requirements, equitable access to technology, access to safe community resource centers for those who do not have an environment conducive to learning, contingency plans for distance learning disruption, and to ensure the continued operation of childcare centers while adhering to public health mandates.

The proposal also includes establishing partnerships among the Los Angeles County Office for the Advancement of Early Care and Education, Office of Education, Department of Mental Health, and youth-focused community based organizations to communicate available resources, address the full range of needs of children, and explore other alternatives to site-based learning.

Alternatives to site-based learning have been gaining traction as resuming normal instruction soon seems unlikely. “Pods” and “microschools” offer potential sustainable alternatives to adapt educating and caregiving to the home environment. These alternatives are flexible to the needs of families and allow for safe socialization and in-person teaching.

“We know that learning is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor, so we must be attentive to the gaps in resources to serve the social, emotional, and intellectual needs of every child. This motion seeks to address the barriers families and children face in this critical moment,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“We must help children return to a sense of normalcy and equip them with the tools they need to learn and socialize even under the constraints of the pandemic,” Supervisor Barger said.


The Empowerment Congress Hosts Conversations Centered on Resilience

Founded in 1992 to encourage constituent engagement in the governmental decision-making process, the Empowerment Congress is centered around the values of intentional civility, reciprocal accountability, and participatory democracy. Despite these turbulent times, the Empowerment Congress carries on its mission to educate, engage, and empower through virtual forums.

Two recent installments of these virtual gatherings, ArtScape LA: Transformation Beyond Crisis and Uprising 2020: What’s Next?, provided opportunities for panelists and community members to discuss moving forward through the multilayered crises society is facing.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, founder of the Empowerment Congress and longstanding advocate for the arts and the creative economy, provided welcome remarks for the ArtScape LA discussion.

“In this difficult time the world is facing, it is more imperative not to forget about the sustainability of the arts and how beneficial they are to our respective communities. They humanize our respective communities—in other words, the arts matter,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas speaking to how communities can emerge stronger and more resilient harnessing the critical component of art in the healing of our society.

“I’m proud of the fact that the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture has championed the Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative for this very purpose. The conversation of equity didn’t just start three months ago. This initiative has led to a placement of creative strategists within key County departments to help address complex social challenges,” highlighted Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “Together, we can develop thoughtful ways to sustain artists and artist organizations that do some of the most critical work in our communities.”

Panelists who joined the ArtScape LA discussion include the Empowerment Congress’ Arts and Culture Committee Co-Chairs Marie Kellier and Trevor Davis, Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture Executive Director Kristin Sakoda, Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs General Manager Danielle Brazell, and LACDAC Director of Grants and Professional Development Anji Gaspar-Milanovic.

The panelist discussion touched upon the current state of the arts sector, resources for artists and arts organizations, advocacy opportunities, and collaboration strategies. The panelists shared resiliency strategies that were particularly mindful of COVID-19 public health concerns. A notable point of the discussion surrounded the ways artists are supported to facilitate difficult dialogues and inspire social imagination during this pivotal moment for evoking widespread social change.

The theme of resilience, healing, and equity were carried through the second virtual Empowerment Congress forum. Uprising 2020: What’s Next? offered a debriefing opportunity on the topics of local and nationwide police reform and protests.

In opening the conversation, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas quoted an excerpt from Professor Cornel West’s 1993 book Race Matters: “To engage in a serious discussion about race in America, we must begin not with the problems of black people but with the flaws of American society—flaws rooted in historic inequalities and longstanding cultural stereotypes. How we set up the terms for discussing racial issues shapes our perception and response to these issues.”

“You will have the opportunity to translate what you have learned into actions so that you can, beyond the front lines, be change agents in your personal and professional pursuits in your own communities,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, reminding discussion listeners and participants that this conversation should serve as the catalyst to personal action beyond the panel discussion.

The featured panelists in this discussion included the Los Angeles City Civil and Human Rights Department Executive Director Capri Maddox, Crossroads Equity & Justice Institute Founding Director Derric J. Johnson, and Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission Executive Director Robin Toma.

Panelists discussed their respective institutions they represent and how the virtual attendees can support their efforts toward equity and justice. Other topics include policing and misconduct, public safety, providing equitable socioeconomic opportunities, creating accountability for acts of hate, the state of Los Angeles following widespread protests, and much more.

Uprising 2020: What's Next?

Uprising 2020: What's Next?

Posted by Empowerment Congress on Monday, July 13, 2020

The online forums hosted by the Empowerment Congress are a beacon of hope in guiding communities through challenging times by continuing the work of dismantling systemic racism and pursuing justice and equity. These discussions serve as a reminder of the power of conversation and how progress can still be made even under isolating circumstances. To learn more about the Empowerment Congress and its upcoming events, please visit

Debbie Allen’s Dance Academy New Performing Arts Center Breaks Ground

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined entertainment icon Debbie Allen at the groundbreaking ceremony of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy’s (DADA) new Rhimes Performing Arts Center in Mid-City.

The groundbreaking marks the beginning of construction on the Rhimes Performing Arts Center which, at approximately 24,000 sq. ft., will include a performance space with a seating capacity of 200, classroom space, and dance and production studios. Last year, The Board of Supervisors approved a motion allocating $300,000 from The Los Angeles County Development Authority (LACDA) Renovate Program towards street and other right-of-way improvements adjacent to DADA’s new facility. Eligible improvements included the installation of a network-capable bus stop, e-mobility docking stations, a parklet to create a safe and attractive place for community gathering, and lighting in the public right-of-way.

“The arts matter. This new facility is based on hard work, two decades of labor, two decades of investing in children and families. A place that dancers can freely express themselves and advance their skills,” said Supervisor Ridley-Thomas. “I am proud to be a part of this new endeavor and to see what they’ve achieved. This is really important, particularly in this time of heightened stress. Arts communicate justice, arts communicate peace, arts communicate the possibility for a better world.”

Known for her dynamic energy, creative talent and innovation, Debbie Allen is a force to be reckoned with. An internationally recognized director, choreographer, author, dancer and actor, Debbie Allen continues to aspire through her philanthropic projects and her dance academy.

“The Supervisor is a dream come true. He has done so much for us, and I cannot thank him enough,” said Debbie Allen. “I am happy that he was able to be here with us today to celebrate this moment, and that he’ll be with us the remainder of the way. We love him.”

Founded in 2001, the DADA is a non-profit organization that has provided comprehensive dance instruction and cultural enrichment programs to youth and adults across South Los Angeles for over two decades. DADA teaches over 800 students on site with 60-70% on scholarship, serves 15,000 community members through its outreach programs, and impacts 30,000 audience members locally with millions worldwide.

DADA provides services to over 3,000 participants annually at its existing building along the Crenshaw Corridor, and with the new facility, DADA hopes to expand its services to 9,500 participants annually.

For more information and updates on Debbie Allen’s Dance Academy, please visit

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas Celebrates Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

As one of the world’s most diverse regions, Los Angeles County is home to more than 1.6 million Asian Americans and Pacific Islander Americans (AAPIA) who create it vibrant and lively communities of. In recognition of the immeasurable contributions of all those of Asian heritage the Board of Supervisors has declared the month of May as Asian Pacific American Heritage Month.

“Today we commemorate the outstanding achievements of all Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, from the physically taxing job of cultivating farmland and laboring in fisheries and factories, to the back-breaking work of building the transcontinental railroad and much of America’s infrastructure,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. “We thank you for the sacrifices and injustice you’ve endured, and for your contributions to make this County a great one.”

Building on a rich history, AAPIAs have been honored for their bravery and service in the US Armed Forces—more than 30 Asian Americans have been awarded the Medal of Freedom. One of the most dedicated units in US military history, the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, comprised of second generation Japanese American soldiers who served in World War II. Also, the Navy Fireman First Class Telesforo de la Cruze Trinidad, a Filipino, received the Congressional Medal of Honor for rescuing two men after a boiler exploded on board San Diego on 21 January 1915.

While, they have helped in building the foundation of America, they have also taken their place as captains of industry, leaders of government, and social movements, including, among many others, Chinese American fashion designer Vera Wang; Indian American business executive Indra Nooyi, former Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo and one of the first women to lead a Fortune 500 company; and Korean American judge Herbert Choy, the first Asian American appointed to the federal bench.

Unfortunately, although there have been great advancement there also has been incredible sacrifice. AAPIAs continue to face much of the same discrimination they have experienced throughout American history. Recent reporting has shown an increase in discrimination against AAPIAs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, a frequent challenge faced by marginalized communities who are commonly scapegoated during crisis—a painful reminder of the necessity of knowing AAPIA history and heritage.

In connection with this month’s celebration of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, the Los Angeles County Library is hosting a Virtual Film Festival where it will showcase a film from its online streaming services that residents can watch at home. All month long, The Smithsonian American Art Museum will be highlighting several California-based artists and Japanese American cultural leaders of the twentieth century.

To learn more information about the history of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, please visit: