Child and Family Well-being Center Artist to Depict Local High School Students

In the heart of the Watt/Willowbrook community, on the Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Campus, a first-of-its-kind Child and Family Well-being Center, is being built.  It will include an array of services from a Pediatric Medical Hub Clinic on the first floor, to an Autism Wellness Center on the second floor, and a Family Justice Center on the third floor—all staffed by several Los Angeles County Departments and community-based service providers to maximize collaboration and service integration.

“This is a testament to our commitment to the health needs of our children and a brighter future for all of us,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Sample portrait provided by Artist Floyd Strickland.

As part of this future, the multidisciplinary artist Floyd Strickland, who is leading the civic art installation at the Child and Family Well-being Center, has chosen to include the children of the Watts/Willowbrook community in his installation.  Mr. Strickland, whose work is inspired by classical European portraiture, will paint a series of large-scale portraits to depict local community members, including leaders, youth, and residents throughout the well-being center. His hope is that by displaying portraits of community members in a prominent manner, visitors and residents of the area who enter the Center will see themselves portrayed in a way once exclusively reserved for the wealthy and powerful members of society.

To select who would be featured for inclusion in the artwork, Mr. Strickland and his team worked with students at King/Drew Magnet High School on an essay competition.  The essay winners answered the following questions: What does the Watts/Willowbrook/Compton community mean to you? How can art serve as a vehicle for social justice and equity in your community? Why should you be featured in one of Floyd Strickland’s paintings?

“Today we are proud to announce the honorable mentions and winners,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said in a message to the winners.

LA County Department of Arts & Culture Executive Director Kristin Sakoda congratulates the winners via Instagram video.

The announcement included honorable mentions included Leyonah Jones, Jesus Carrera, and Antonio Carrera and winners Daniel Garcia, Aaliyah Casares, and Rosario Rosales.

“You stood out for your thoughtful responses and will now become part of a civic art legacy that will enrich the Child and Family Wellbeing Center and stand the test of time,” the Supervisor said.

“Congratulations to the MLK Child and Family Well-being Center Essay Competition winners and runners up,” said Kristin Sakoda, Los Angeles County Art Department Executive Director, in a video message to the winners.

In addition to being depicted in one of Strickland’s portraits, winners will receive a cash prize of $700.

The Child and Family Well-Being Center is the latest addition to the MLK Medical Campus, which includes the MLK Community Hospital, MLK Outpatient Center, MLK Mental Health Urgent Care Center, MLK Recuperative Care Center, and MLK Center for Public Health, MLK Medical Office Building, and MLK Behavioral Health Center.

Natural History Museum to Welcome New Community Hub After COVID-19 Crisis

Rendering of NHM Commons, a new community hub for exploring nature and culture and “front porch” for the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County facing Exposition Park. Rendering by Frederick Fisher and Partners courtesy of NHMLAC.


Looking to brighter days, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve plans for the museum’s 75,000-square-foot renovation and addition and released $15 million toward the project, which includes a new entrance to the museum.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas at the current Natural History Museum in Exposition Park.

“I am pleased the County is supporting the NHM Commons Project as an enhancement to the Natural History Museum’s role as the cultural anchor for Exposition Park and an important scientific and cultural resource for all Angelenos,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, 2nd District. “This project will allow for even greater access to the Museum’s collections and the research of its scientists. I expect to see Angelenos engaging and learning to enjoy the nature and culture that is all around them.”

In addition to the County support, the $60 million NHM Commons project has received $9 million from the State of California and another $15.5 million in commitments from foundations and individuals. Two individual donors stepped up with lead gifts of $5 million each: the Annenberg Foundation to name the Wallis Annenberg Lobby, and the Perlstein Family to name the Judith Perlstein Welcome Center. Additional support was received from the Kenneth T. and Eileen L. Norris Foundation, and three anonymous donors.

Barbara Carrasco’s mural L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective will greet visitors to the free NHM Commons, in the Judith Perlstein Welcome Center.

“While being mindful and intentional about where we now find ourselves with the museum closures, we are grateful to the Board of Supervisors for the capital project funding, as well as to the State of California and our generous donors for allowing us to keep an eye toward the future,” said Dr. Lori Bettison-Varga, President and Director of NHMLAC. “By creating greatly expanded opportunities to inspire wonder and discovery, NHM Commons will enable us to activate our collections, exhibitions, and programs, as we serve our diverse communities in exciting new ways. Bringing more of our behind-the-scenes work into the light and providing more opportunities for the public to connect with our research and vast collections, NHM Commons is the next major step in our vision for the next ten years at both Exposition Park and our La Brea Tar Pits site.”

NHM Commons will provide 53,000 square feet of renovated space and 22,000 square feet of new construction. The work will proceed in tandem, with the vast majority of NHM remaining open to visitors. With the NHM Commons project, the ticketing and concierge experience at NHMLAC will be transformed to provide a personalized orientation to the Museum’s exhibitions, collections, gardens, and experiences.

“The themes of this reimagination of the Natural History Museum’s place in the community are transparency and connection,” declares Frederick Fisher, Founding Director of FF&P. “We are honored to collaborate with one of the cornerstone institutions of our home region towards their goal of enhanced engagement with the community. We plan to open the Museum to Exposition Park and reveal its vast treasures and diverse activities.”

NHMLAC’s newest dinosaur “Gnatalie,” the most complete sauropod skeleton on the West Coast, will be also displayed. Renderings by Frederick Fisher and Partners courtesy of NHMLAC.

The Commons will create vibrant indoor-outdoor gathering spaces, replacing opaque exterior walls with a glass façade to give views into the Museum and its collections from the park. Los Angeles- based landscape architects Mia Lehrer + Associates (Studio-MLA) will increase the visibility and connectivity of NHM to Exposition Park and its community by creating gardens that provide much needed shaded spaces for community use and sustainable planting for a resilient future.

Inside, a new state-of-the-art 400-seat theater and multipurpose space will invite audiences to enjoy the best of live performances, film screenings, and special events. New media capabilities will connect NHMLAC scientists in the field with local and remote audiences, and flexible seating will provide space to host a wide array of innovative and free programs for the neighboring community.

As the County continues to experience the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Supervisor added, “We wouldn’t proceed if we did not believe is was prudent to do so.  After all, Los Angeles County is a major regional driver of the state’s creative economy. The County is currently focused on the immediate challenges facing all Angelenos, so when we emerge from this current crisis, it will be more important than ever not to delay having a community hub like this to bring people together with nature and culture.”


Supervisor Honors Korean American Artist Suzy Taekyung Kim

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and the Korean American Federation of Los Angeles hosted a press conference and personalized meet and greet for the local Koreatown community. Suzy Taekyung Kim was recently awarded with a major grant from the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture for a unique public art project that will welcome visitors to a new 21-story County building currently under construction in Koreatown.

“I am extremely honored to be recognized today. I am overwhelmed from receiving so much support and encouragement. I am grateful to Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas for this opportunity,” commented Suzy Taekyung Kim.

This new building will serve as headquarters for the Los Angeles County Departments of Mental Health and Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services. The lobby, where Suzy Taekyung Kim’s artwork will be showcased, will host a peer resource center and walk-in mental health services, utilizing a ground-floor clinic and office space. With access to the Metro Vermont/Wilshire Red Line Station, Los Angeles County residents will be able to access an array of mental health services. The civic art project, entitled Canopy of Blooms uses a base layer of old Korean script which will be sealed and covered by flowers from Koreatown, embracing the fragility and strength of those who will pass through the future lobby.

“For me, this civic art project is a matter of revitalization, investment, and putting something good back into the community and city of Los Angeles. This project is not just about land usage – but about entrepreneurship, fairness and uplifting a culture,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

“DMH embraces creativity and creative expression as platforms for healing so we are grateful for this artwork, heart forward,” said LA County Department of Mental Health Director Dr. Jonathan Sherin. “Its sheer creation and the energy it brings to our clients, staff and space will inspire hope, promote recovery and support wellbeing.”

Suzy Taekyung Kim was born in Daegu, South Korea. She is the recipient of several national and international awards including the Scholarship for North American Scholars. Her works can be found in a select number of private and corporate collections in Canada, Great Britain, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates.  In 2016, she completed a permanent public art commission awarded from the New York City (NYC) Department of Cultural Affairs, Percent for Art Program in collaboration with the NYC School Construction Authority.

Canopy of Blooms is a multilayered painting that celebrates hope and healing. Situated in the grand lobby of the Vermont Corridor Building, this 53 x 10-foot artwork is at the entry point of the Department of Mental Health and Department of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services and warmly welcomes all. The painting reflects the unique identity of Koreatown through the analogy of an infinity loop of blooming motifs native to Los Angeles County. This artwork celebrates multi-generational life stories through the metaphor of natural elements. Throughout the artwork, the cascading waterfall background gradually changes colors mirroring the changing seasons. The imagery starts as a bubbling seed of dreams that become buds of growth, twisting vines, blooming flowers, and, finally, fallen petals and foliage. This change is rhythmic with improvisational elements forming an infinity loop, symbolizing the endless cycle of life. Conceived by Suzy Taekyung Kim, the painting highlights life’s journey through the metaphor of nature’s birth, growth, and death.

“The Department of Arts and Culture’s Civic Art Division integrates art and design in the development of high-quality civic spaces that reflect the diversity of Los Angeles County,” said Director Kristin Sakoda. “We are pleased to announce the selection of Suzy Taekyung Kim for her plan of strong public engagement and her connection between arts and community at this important facility.”

(Left to right): LA County DMH Director Dr. Jonathan Sherin, Korean American Federation of Los Angeles Chairman James Ahn, LA County Departments of Arts and Culture Director Kristin Sakoda, Artist Suzy Taekyung Kim, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Korean American Federation of Los Angeles President Dr. Laura Jeon, Trammell Crow Company Managing Director Greg Ames

Board of Supervisors Elevates Arts as a Justice Reform Strategy

An incarcerated student paints the transformation of a butterfly. Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors adopted the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture’s “Countywide Plan for Elevating the Arts as a Criminal Justice Reform Strategy,” furthering the transition of LA County’s justice system from a punishment-based model to one that embraces trauma-informed and healing-centered approaches.

“Research shows us that the best outcomes for decreasing justice system involvement are achieved through individual and community development efforts, along with opportunities for job placement. These strategies also tend to be much more cost-effective than long-term custody and care,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, lead author of the motion that directed the development of the plan. “The Department of Arts and Culture has an ambitious strategy to not only help individuals re-enter society after their time in the justice system, but to prevent system involvement in the first place.”

The new plan guides the development of countywide infrastructure that expands arts-based programs and services to those impacted—or at risk of becoming impacted—by the justice system. Its core components focus on prevention, community development, diversion, custodial care, and re-entry strategies. The plan directs the LA County Department of Arts and Culture (Department) and Chief Executive Office to assess resources for implementation.

“Arts-based strategies have already shown a wonderful ability to foster resiliency and positive self-images in young people,” said Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, co-author of the motion. “As the County embraces more rehabilitative and trauma-informed practices in our juvenile system, we recognize that it’s important to incorporate innovative arts strategies. As the poet Thomas Merton wrote, ‘Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.’ Let the healing begin!”

The arts also play a unique role in connection to community. In the criminal justice context, incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals suffer additional trauma and isolation as a result of societal stigma. Engaging with arts bring forward the stories, experiences, and emotions of those affected by the justice system to be heard, felt, and embraced by the broader community.

“Arts and culture have the power to promote positive narrative change and connect us to our humanity and the humanity of others,” said Department of Arts and Culture Director Kristin Sakoda. “By investing in justice-impacted youth, individuals, and communities as part of alternatives to incarceration, arts and culture can play a meaningful role in helping the County enhance our systems of care, and build safer, healthier, and more equitable communities.”

Starting in 2014, the Department of Arts and Culture (then the LA County Arts Commission) has partnered with community-based organizations, the Los Angeles County Probation Department, and other County agencies to pilot provide arts-based services for incarcerated and at-risk youth. This work expanded in 2018, when the agency was awarded a one-year, $750,000 grant from the Art for Justice Fund to build support for youth involved or at risk of becoming involved with the LA County juvenile justice system.

“In our cross-sector collaboration with the Department of Arts and Culture, our staff has been trained in arts-based interventions, and we have been able to bring transformation and access to creative career pathways to County juvenile facilities. We are incredibly proud of the work,” said Department of Probation Interim Chief Probation Officer Ray Leyva.

In December 2018, Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl advanced a motion, “Investing in Justice Involved Individuals Through the Arts,” which called on the Department of Arts and Culture to create a Countywide plan to elevate the arts as a criminal justice reform strategy. The Department submitted the plan in September 2019. It advances the Department’s work even further—the new plan supports not just young people, but youth, families, and adults touched by County criminal justice systems. It sets out five goals, including establishing Countywide leadership and coordination of arts-based strategies; expanding prevention strategies; strengthening and sustaining support for justice-involved youth and their families; supporting justice-involved adults; and expanding external partnerships.

Supervisor Honors Entertainment Pioneers For Women’s History Month

(Left to Right) Vanessa Bell Calloway, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, and Kym Whitley. All photos by Aurelia Ventura  / Board of Supervisors

With 2020 being designated as the year of the woman, this year’s Women’s History Month program brought together women pioneers in the entertainment business. In celebration of the accomplishment and contributions of women in history, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas celebrated 2 extraordinary individuals. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors presented scrolls to Comedian and Actress, Kym Whitley; and legendary Actress Vanessa Bell Calloway.

“This month we honor the voices of the past, present, and future. Without the heroic actions of many, we certainly would not be where we are today,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said.

The recognition is part of the Second District’s Women’s History Month Celebration honoring Los Angeles County residents who have made outstanding contributions to the arts and entertainment industry. They include:

(Left to Right) Supervisor Ridley-Thomas and Kym Whitley

Kym Whitley is an actress, comedian, director, producer; entrepreneur, and arts advocate. Born and raised in Shaker Heights, Ohio; Whitley got her big break starring in Shelly Garrett’s popular play Beauty Shop. Since then, Whitley has gone on to receive notable roles in major hit series such as; The Parkers, Moesha, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Raising Whitley and Young and Hungry. In addition to all her work as an entertainer, Kym is a dedicated activist. Her ‘Don’t Feed Me’ campaign, dedicated to her son, is a project dedicated to raising awareness about food allergies for children and adults. Finally, Kym holds an honorary doctorate from UVA — Lynchburg and serves on the boards of both The Jefferson Homes Adoption & Foster Home and The Special Needs Network.

(Left to Right) Vanessa Bell Calloway and Supervisor Ridley-Thomas

Breaking barriers in the entertainment industry, Vanessa Bell Calloway has graced the stage and screen as a television actress and professional dancer. Widely recognized for her critically acclaimed role as Zora Neale Hurston in Letters From Zora. She continued to make her mark in Hollywood by appearing in box office smashes such as; South Side With You, Coming to America, What’s Love Got to Do with, Biker Boyz, Love Don’t Cost A Thing and Cheaper By The Dozen. Vanessa is also a director, producer, and creator. She directed the first episode of her hit series “Saints and Sinners.” When she is not acting, the entertainer can be found spending time with her loving husband Dr. Anthony Calloway and daughters Ashley and Alexandra.

“Many women in history have broken barriers, changed laws and orchestrated some of the most powerful movements in history. They have paved the way so that we and generations to come will have a bright and triumphant future,” commented Supervisor Ridley-Thomas.