The Creative Capital of the World

The Creative Capital of the World
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Art education has become a priority for Los Angeles.

According to a report of the Otis College of Art and Design, Los Angeles leads the nation in the creative sector of the new economy. It is they said, the "Creative Capital of the World " with one of every six people employed in a creative field, and generating over $ 120 billion dollars annually in gross revenue.

Perhaps, says Otis it's " the city's strong network of colleges and universities, (and) its growth of new digital industries that attract skilled workers' ... forecasting a '10 percent increase in employment for digital artists from now through 2013. That includes animators, digital effects artists and motion graphics artists." No doubt it's also the caring non-profit sector offering a number of art education experiences for Los Angeles's young people.

LA knows better than most regions, that its future increasingly depends on the "creative sector" for jobs, wealth and well being; and that the future of its economy requires more young people to have the new thinking skills the workplace demands.

Although the funding is not yet in place, and it isn't clear where it will come from, LA is forging ahead with city and county financial support, grants, contracts and philanthropy where it can get it.

P.S. ARTS, for example, vigorously attacks the high school dropout rate in the County--almost as high as 50%--by providing yearlong arts education to kids in underfunded school districts that otherwise would not have access to the arts. It has philanthropy to thank but obviously--given the poverty in the region--if it had more money it would do more.

To date, P.S. ARTS serves more than 15,000 students in more than 30 underserved schools across Los Angeles County and California's Central Valley; literally, "tens of thousands of students attending underfunded public elementary and middle schools in our community.... and nearly 4,500 children through... strategic partnership programs."

According to Kristen Greer-Paglia, executive director of P.S. ARTS, "the children in our community need the arts now more than ever." According to a recent report, "More than 1 in 5 California children live in poverty."

Inner-City Arts, for example, like P.S. Arts has also taken on the effort to be sure the poorest are not falling between the cracks by providing after school programs, in cooperation with LA Unified, for elementary and middle school students, and on weekends.

While there several programs to provide art and art based learning experiences to the poorest of the poor, it was the LA Unified School District, representing 670,000 students and 46,000 teachers, that in the face of budget cuts and financial uncertainty, resolved to make "Arts Education a Core Subject" and further--to add to their commitment and resolve-- that funding will not deter them.

But as Greer-Paglia of P.S. Arts points out, while more money would certainly help so too would more collaboration between organizations like hers, working together to better serve the larger region, something she says, the county's "Arts for All" initiative might undertake.

The blueprint for the regions' initiative comes from Arts for All, a 10-year old country initiative committed to art education embraces that same objective for every district and been working to make "art part of the core curriculum." As a result of unique cooperation of governments, businesses, schools and other institutions and individuals--more than 100 partners in all-- Arts for All has played a unique position in the area and frankly, helped give birth to the urgency and advocacy for arts education in the region.

The leading advocate is Arts for LA, a private /public partnership that opened it doors in 2006 with over 30 arts & cultural organizations joining as member organizations, and today boasts widespread support form Boeing, the California Community Foundation, the Department of Cultural Affairs Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors through the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, and hundreds of member organizations and individuals.

Danielle Brazell, executive director, has raised the level of discussion about the vital role of the arts and art education in the region. She and her staff know the issues and the politics surrounding arts education and are working with artists and art organizations to make things happen.

The vision of Arts for LA is to "foster civic engagement, stimulate economic activity, and increase cultural empathy, and thus play a crucial role in sustaining thriving communities. LA." While success is vital to the region and the state of California, and in turn a nation that depends on the success of Hollywood and Silicon Valley, LA is still behind many other cities, and the state behind other states, when it comes to funding.

Several campaigns to raise money for the county have been launched in the last few years and while heartening, they don't make a dent in the 1.5 billion dollars education cuts suffered the last three years by LA Unified alone.

LA's experience is typical throughout the state. Theatre Bay Area executive director Brad Erickson, part of an art advocacy group lobbying the state recently pointed out that funding for the arts in California is woefully inadequate compared to some other states. For example, while New York is spending $5.46 per resident on the arts, and Minnesota $11.48, California spends ( or gets if you will) about .13 according the Craig Watson of the California Arts Council (CAC). In other words, he said, while some states can afford a box or two of crayons, California can only get one single crayon...or maybe not even a whole crayon.

Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian from Sherman Oaks, California wants to up the ante by $75 million a year. His bill (AB 580) would fund the California Arts Council which has been active throughout the state in pursing a "Blueprint for Creative Schools" and art education in general. Sadly, the bill never got out of the appropriations committee but Brazell remains hopeful about state funding, and funding for LA.

As Nazarian has said, "As the creative capital of the world, where we have Hollywood and the technological creativity in Silicon Valley, and where we have some of the best arts institutions housed within our state, it's unfortunate that as a government we're not reflective of the talents we offer."

The California Arts Council (CAC), the California Alliance for Art Education (CAAE), the County Superintendents Association (CCSESA) and the Department of Education (DOE) know how important art education is to the future of LA, and the entire State and are working to create a "Blueprint for Creative Schools."

Now all they need is the money to make things happen.

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