"It’s very important for us to know how we’re serving the community and what their needs are." —Matt Agustin
Arts Education Research Associate Matt Agustin grew up in Lakewood, California, which is nestled against Long Beach and other gateway cities to Orange County—he is proud of and will never give up his "562" area code. He says that Filipinx-American families love pop music, basketball, church, and food—and his was no different. There was a lot of music, drawing, Catholic school, and sports in his youth, right alongside a natural interest in math and numbers. He went on to major in math, at the University of California, Riverside, and was headed towards a possible career as an actuary. However, thanks to a growing interest in urban design, transportation, and community, he would later obtain his Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning at the University of California, Irvine, with the goal of understanding more about what communities need in terms of design, transportation, arts and culture, and identity.
Before joining the Department of Arts and Culture, he worked at Advancement Project, California, working on research and data projects that informed racial inequities in public health, education, and government spending, across the state. He joined the Department of Arts and Culture’s Arts Education Collective and Research and Evaluation teams in 2015, and immediately began work on the development of the Arts Education Profile. To address a lack of baseline knowledge about what kind of arts education is happening in LA County public schools, the department surveyed all 2,000+ schools in the county and thanks to a significant response rate we were able to conduct a detailed analysis about arts education in the region and published our findings in 2017. Matt directed the development of the Arts Ed Profile online tool, as well, where anyone can look up what arts education is happening in a school or district. This project continues to be valuable to the county in understanding where arts education is happening and more importantly, where it’s not happening. "We saw that the quality and amount of arts education was not equitable," Matt said. "The analysis showed that schools with more students of color may not have the same opportunity for arts instruction as schools with more white students."
He contributed to the Creative Career Pathways Field Scan, which provides detailed recommendations on how to create better pathways for young people in LA County to have a career in arts and entertainment industries. He recently contributed to Creative Wellbeing: Arts, Schools, and Resilience Evaluation, an important contribution to research indicating that that arts-based, healing-informed approaches can be vital to adults and youth. Matt works directly with much of the department’s data from our programs and community members. He says he’s constantly impressed by grantees and community members’ enthusiasm about answering surveys and engaging in focus groups. "It’s very important for us to know how we’re serving the community and what their needs are," he added.
According to Director of Research and Evaluation, Bronwyn Mauldin, Matt’s superpower is his skill for wrangling quantitative data. "He runs quality assurance on all our datasets, he keeps them clean. It’s the data equivalent of copy editing, and he’s a master at it,” she said. “His second superpower is how calm and rational he is even under the toughest circumstances."
Matt’s ability with quantitative information and urban planning intersect now when our department analyzes our work geographically, as our department’s resident GIS analyst. "LA County is so massive, and arts and culture varies widely across communities in the region, so it’s really important for us to use GIS to know where our grant dollars are being distributed and where community members are engaging with our programs."
He says his perception about culture and community has evolved in his years at the Department of Arts and Culture, thanks to working with incredible staff and colleagues. "I get to know our civic artists, teaching artists, the bright young people from our arts internship program. It’s one of the best parts of the job, getting to know them and being exposed to more art. I love that." Matt calls the San Gabriel Valley home with his very sociable six year old malti-poo Zoe. You may run into him at your local coffee shop or watching basketball anywhere that has a television.