And So It Begins (Ho Ho Advocacy Season)

Danielle Brazell, Executive Director of Arts for LA



Executive Director Danielle Brazell previews Advocacy Season, when planning and funding decisions are made at all levels of government.





The good, the bad and the ugly. This blog post starts off dire, but please don’t despair.  I promise to not only share some good news, but also provide a few tangible things you can do today to advocate for the arts and arts education in your community.

Tuesday was a catastrophic day for public education in the state of California. Budgets were submitted to local school boards in accordance with state law. On the same day, Gov. Jerry Brown announced the elimination of school bus funding as part of a package of "trigger cuts" in state programs that will go into effect in January, due to a shortfall in state revenue for the current fiscal year.

Currently, the LAUSD arts education branch is slated for a $14 million dollar reduction in 2012-13. This 75% cut will eliminate previously-restored arts teacher positions and reduce the number of days of arts instruction provided at elementary schools.

The cuts in public education are fueling widespread public debate, a few lawsuits, and talks of several ballot measures that seek to fix the revenue side of California’s educational system. Stay tuned because, while these trigger cuts and budget proposals are widespread and dire, they are by no means final. 

Last week, we heard reports of the City of Los Angeles’ $72 million dollar budget deficit. The LA Times reported that CAO Miguel Santana has called for reductions of $4 million to the Los Angeles Police Department, $1.7 million to the city attorney's office and $1.3 million to the Bureau of Street Services. He also said that an additional $20 million in cuts need to be identified for this year’s budget. 

As the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs no longer receives general fund allocation and is entirely dependent on the Transient Occupancy Tax (i.e. 'hotel tax') allocation, it is our understanding that the Department will be exempt from these cuts. However, if the last several years are any indication, we must all continue to monitor the budget process very carefully to ensure the resources from the TOT are allocated in the manner in which the ordinance is intended.

This morning, news from Capitol Hill brought a draft of a bill that would reduce the FY 11-12 National Endowment for the Arts appropriation by $9 million, from $155 million to $146 million.  While this is only draft legislation and is certainly the high end of the scale, budget appropriations for the NEA will undoubtedly be reduced. Even as I write this, news of a mid-year deal is announced. We do not yet know what that means for the NEA.

As you can see, there is a tremendous amount of preliminary cuts on the table (“preliminary” being the operative word).  Advocates working internally as well as externally are carrying the message to retain cultural infrastructure at the local, state and Federal level.  Internal advocates are those who are working within government, while external advocates are folks like you and me: outside stakeholders who are deeply commitment to a healthy, vibrant Los Angeles.

Keep in mind that these proposed cuts come on the heels of several great things that are happening in our region. 

Now here’s the good news!

Congratulations to advocates working in the city of Pomona on their successful effort to shepherd in a public art and mural ordinance. The effort did not happen overnight.  It took several years to develop the ordinance, and to vet it through the Arts Commission, the Planning Department and the City Attorney. Then, advocates carefully and methodically presented it to City Council with well-spoken, informed stakeholders, including developers, residents, business owners and arts providers.  The first motion passed 6-4 and then 6-1 after the second reading.  This is a huge win for the residents of Pomona.  We are thrilled to add you to the Cultural Policy Map! 

Arts for All, the regional effort to restore arts education in Los Angeles County, has reached a tipping point. Now, 49 of the 81 Los Angeles County school districts (and one charter school management organization) have (or will soon have) a board adopted policy and plan to implement arts education for every student.  This is significant because policies are the laws that protect and support resources.  These policies and plans guide school board officials and administrators in strategic resource allocation for maximum impact.  With over half of the school districts in Los Angeles County now with arts policies and plans, the snowball effect is ready to take hold.

Thanks to advocates working in the City as well as community leaders, the City of Los Angeles is one step closer to solving the mural crisis issue. Once known as the mural capital of the United States, as you may know, the City of LA has had a broken mural ordinance for close to ten years.  SPARC, one of the leading stakeholder groups advocating for the restoration of the mural ordinance, has said they applaud the City for its willingness to bring forward a new measure that will once again allow new mural production in the City. Several other organizations, including the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, have been involved in planning and providing feedback on the ordinance.

Still in draft form, the new ordinance prohibits the use of mechanically produced or computer generated prints or images. SPARC does encourage the use of these new technologies to produce murals, as long as they are directly affixed to an exterior wall of a structure and utilize durable materials to last through a five-year period.  SPARC is also encouraging muralists to advocate for the inclusion of the California Art Preservation Act (CAPA) and the Visual Artists Rights Act (VARA) in the ordinance.  CAPA and VARA provide artists' rights protection, utilizing a case body of precedence that addresses many of the questions regarding artwork and private property, and work for commercial advertising vs. non-commercial artwork.  SPARC recommends advocating for adoption of sound policies already in place at the Federal level that will protect both the integrity of the mural as well as the artist.  On January 12, 2012, the City of LA Planning Commission will hold another informational meeting about this issue. Click here to get more information.

As you can see, there is no shortage of issues relating to arts, culture and arts education.

That’s why we need you - informed, engaged and at-the-ready advocates, prepared to take action for what is important to you, your children and your community.  But where do you start? 

Last month, my colleague Camille authored a fantastic blog on things you can do today to be an arts advocate, before the crisis hits. Advocacy is a verb, a practice and an art.  The more you do it, the better you’ll become.  In addition to Camille’s list, here’s a few that I’d like to add:

1.) Identify one person in your organization who can be the advocacy point person and let us know who that person is (click here to contact us).

2.) Sign up to join one of our regional advocacy teams.  We are gearing up for winter and spring workshops and we want you to join us!

3.) Initiate a Thank you campaign – no ask, just a "thanks for investing in us" sent by stakeholders to council members.

4.) Register to vote and put voter registration materials in your lobby (we have these materials and will bring them to you; contact [email protected]).

5.) Recruit a friend to be a advocacy buddy.

I’m seeing a sea change in they way in which public officials are responding to the voices of arts and arts education advocates.  Keep up the great work and know that your efforts are making all the difference.


Collegial inspiration

Thank you, Danielle, for sharing some of the inspiring work being done by our tireless colleagues, despite the bad economic climate.  I think we all need to remember that we can't assume anything these days and that seemingly entrenched programs/services can disappear.  I like the "next steps" at the end of your blog and the small efforts of many of us can make a difference.   It really is up to us to be heard!


Sandy Seufert, Music Center