(Pictured Above)Artist Lauren Halsey in her studio.

LA County Department of Arts and Culture Receives $1.75 Million Grant to Invest in Diverse Artists in Public Art

Andrew W. Mellon Foundation supports new Civic Artist Initiative with professional development, fellowships, and project opportunities for artists

The LA County Department of Arts and Culture has received a multi-year grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to implement an innovative artist development initiative to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field of public art in LA County. The $1.75 million grant will fund implementation of a new Civic Artist Initiative with multiple components including small-scale project commissions to support temporary art and performance-based practices; the development of a year-long fellowship for artists to gain one-on-one support and a budget to complete their first public art projects; and a suite of free professional development workshops and events geared toward meeting the needs of a wider range of LA County artists at various skill levels.

The Department of Arts and Culture, through its Civic Art Division (Civic Art), provides leadership in the creation of high-quality civic spaces by commissioning original artworks at public facilities across LA County, integrating artists into planning and design, and encouraging innovative approaches to civic art and access to artistic experiences for residents and communities. This work is grounded by the 2017 release of the Cultural Equity Inclusion Initiative (CEII)—that same year, Civic Art began to assess its existing artist recruitment practices to better support and reflect the diverse artists working in the County.

The new initiative proposes to address key barriers to entry in the field of public art found in Civic Art’s research and identified directly by curators, artists, and practitioners. The result is a series of strategies that aim to address historic and structural barriers—particularly for diverse and underrepresented artists including artists of color, artists with disabilities, indigenous artists, LGBTQIA artists, self-taught artists, artists of non-traditional mediums, and emerging artists—and increase access to technical expertise, career networks, and project opportunities critically needed to promote access and career advancement in public art.

Programs will be in areas such as portfolio development, marketing and business practices for artists, learning how to work with project collaborators, designers, fabricators, architects, and attorneys, and assistance navigating the Civic Art application process. The model aims to integrate professional development and networking strategies with access to the practical and conceptual tools for strengthening an artistic practice the field of public art.

We are excited to leverage this generous gift from the Mellon Foundation to remove barriers that LA County artists face, said Department of Arts and Culture Director, Kristin Sakoda. The LA County Department of Arts and Culture has a long history of professional development support for nonprofit arts organizations. This initiative is a bold next step to increase opportunities for individual artists and support greater diversity, equity, and inclusion in the County’s cultural sector and civic spaces.

As the 2020 Otis Report affirms, LA County is the epicenter of the creative economy, into which we must continue to build more accessible pathways, said Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. This grant brings national attention and funding to the cultural sector of LA County, supporting the work of our Department of Arts and Culture to provide professional development, and expand civic art in the creative industries for all to benefit and enjoy. We welcome that.

Equity is at the heart of LA County’s Cultural Equity and Inclusion Initiative, our roadmap to ensuring that we do all we can to level the playing field in the Arts and this grant will allow us to more effectively uplift and empower the voices of our local artists, said Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. Our lives are enriched when we tap into the creative energy and talent of our grassroots community artists. This generous grant will benefit all LA County residents.

Los Angeles County is among the largest and most diverse counties in the United States. Yet historically the landscape of public art in LA County has not reflected the area’s rich diversity, said Mellon Foundation President Elizabeth Alexander. The exciting new Civic Artist Development Initiative will help ensure that artists who represent the County’s richness and heterogeneity contribute to its public art landscape, and will make that work accessible to a wider public.

To further maximize the benefits of this program for artists, the Department of Arts and Culture plans to leverage its role to partner with program guest speakers, mentors, advisors, and organizations. In developing the initiative, the Department sought input directly from individual artists, curators, and practitioners, as well as individuals at institutions including the LA County Museum of Art, the USC Roski School of Art and Design, Frieze LA, the California African American Museum, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs, The Broad, and the Hammer Museum. Programs for the new initiative are expected to begin in Fall 2020.