It Takes a Village

Jay McAdams, 24th St. Theatre



Jay McAdams on why he recently provided public testimony at City Hall in support of the Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles.




Most of us in the arts have become advocates over these past few years, whether we’ve intended to or not.  We’ve had to.  As government arts budgets in California and nationally have fallen like dominoes, we’ve found ourselves clicking the SEND BUTTON to forward the form letter to our Congresswomen, walking the halls of the State Capital hoping to corner our Assemblymen, and standing at the podium of LA’s majestic City Hall to let elected officials know that arts and culture matter now more than ever.  Yes they do.

It’s easy to get burned out by this constant need to save ourselves.  Add then the constant global appeals for disasters like the Japanese earthquake and you can find yourself just wanting to hit delete button and hunker down with some trash TV and comfort food.   Being overwhelmed by the never-ending need to justify the existence of the arts is normal.  But we cannot give up, for it truly takes a village.

At a recent City Hall meeting of the Arts, Parks, Health, and Aging Committee, city council members heard testimony from many city department heads who are struggling to keep what’s left of their budgets.  The head of the zoo told of the necessity of their 18-million dollar budget.  Even while I thought that it is clearly more lucrative to be a giraffe than an artist in LA, I didn’t doubt that the zoo, with more than twice the city’s arts budget, needs every penny they have.  The heads of Recreation and Parks told of the many facilities they are desperately trying to keep open, even in some cases without funds allocated.  Seniors really do need the services that are also on the chopping block.  And the Executive Director of L.A.’s Dept. of Cultural Affairs, Olga Garay, spoke of the cuts DCA has endured and how they’ve managed to keep the grants program alive. 

When I spoke about the need to keep DCA’s budget intact, I reminded the council members that arts dollars are not frivolous.  They are public safety dollars, pure and simple!  I explained how arts organizations like mine work to keep kids out of gangs.  And this is the best bang for the public safety buck anywhere.  Arts organizations like mine are raising money to keep arts education in schools even while most school districts have cut their arts budgets radically.  My organization alone has raised nearly half a million dollars over the past two years, and put that back into our public schools in the form of Arts Education programs.  And mine is not the only one. Many of us are doing that in the Arts Ed world.  I know that.  You know that.  And it’s important that we all keep reminding our elected officials of that every chance we get. 

The truth is that our city and state officials are facing tough choices.  And our senior citizens need the programs funded that help them too.  As do our giraffes.  And our parks.  And it’s easy, when faced with such huge budget woes, for elected officials, no matter how supportive of the arts they may be, to cut the arts for the many other mouths they need to feed.

So next time you find yourself asking if you really need to get up early and hassle with parking downtown for a mere 60-seconds to address your elected officials, who may not even bother to pretend that they are listening to you... just remind yourself that it takes many active voices to keep arts alive in this climate.  While the animals in the zoo have advocates speaking out for them, we artists have to speak for ourselves.  If we really believe that art is so important in Los Angeles, then we need to suit up whenever we can.  It really does take a village. 


Jay McAdams is Executive Director of LA’s 24th Street Theatre. He is also a producer, having produced dozens of theatrical productions over the last 20 years. Jay is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and is a 2011 Leadership LA Fellow.  Among his other leadership training is LA County Arts Commission’s Arts Leadership Initiative, the Annenberg Leadership Institute, and the prestigious Stanford University Executive Program for Non-Profit Leaders, where Jay won a Center for Social Innovation Fellowship.  Jay has also been selected by the US State Department to serve as a Cultural Envoy to El Salvador, where he has performed and taught on three Central American tours.