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The End of the Arts Commission

Without dedicated public funding for the arts, local artists must find other ways to keep arts part of the public discussion.

It was a big week in Sierra Madre politics. One . Two others got into a surprising and unsettling . And the City moved forward with plans to disband the .

Honestly, at the beginning of the week I thought the last item would get more attention. Then we were upstaged by the first two issues. And I say we were upstaged, because I went to the City Council meeting this week and spoke in favor of retiring the Commission and advocated for a new structure for City sponsored arts efforts.

I certainly did not do this lightly. I served on the Arts Commission for four years. My term just recently expired in June, and I chose not to ask to be re-appointed because I had come to believe that my time could be better used elsewhere. I am incredibly proud of the work I did with the Commission and of my fellow Commissioners both during my term and from previous incarnations of the board. They were and continue to be an illustrious group of artists and arts advocates and educators who have contributed at great deal of time, talent and creativity to the city. I learned and grew as a community volunteer, and I am grateful.

The Arts Commission achieved a number of milestones that should be celebrated. It created directories of local artists, fostered connections between artists and businesses, held events like the Open Studio Tour, brought and the Recreation Center, and guided the creation of the – an emerging nonprofit organization bringing local artists together to advocate for their own opportunities and activities. The greatest achievement of the Arts Commission was the drafting and ratification of the Cultural Arts Master Plan, a very well researched and well crafted document outlining the community’s priorities for and interests in promoting the arts and artists.

But for the last two years the Arts Commission has had very little to do except curate the visual art shows in City Hall, because the Arts Commission is an unfunded commission. In one year during my term, we Commission was given a $3,000 budget by the City Council. That was the only time the Commission was ever given any specific funding, and there is no dedicated Arts department within the City.

So at Tuesday’s meeting, after lengthy discussions with and the support of past and current Arts Commissioners, representatives from other arts organizations in town and patrons of the arts, I advocated for the dissolution of the Arts Commission and the creation of an Arts Advisory Committee to the Community Services Commission. The Committee could still curate the shows in City Hall and advise the Community Services Commission on any issues related to or the inclusion of art into other community services, events, classes, programming, and long term strategic planning. The Committee and the Community Services Commission as well would still be guided by the Cultural Arts Master Plan and still have the resources of a very vibrant artist community at their disposal in order to encourage opportunities for the promotion of arts and local artists.

I said to the Council that I did not look at this as a defeat or a disappointment. It is a natural evolution and that past Arts Commissions have brought the institutional promotion of arts in the City light years forward in a way that I am extremely confident will be continued by other organizations, businesses and artists in town.

Councilman Joe Mosca, who is leaving the Council, disagreed with me quite pointedly, saying that he felt that as “an artist colony” it was important for Sierra Madre to have a standing body overseeing the promotion of arts in the community. He implied we should have worked harder to find new things for the Commission to do. Unfortunately, Councilman Mosca, who was the Council liaison to the Commission, was rarely able to attend our meetings and witness our growing frustration over our lack of resources and support.

The Community Services Commission has resources. It has a department and a staff. It has a budget. It has a whole building. And the arts should be a part of that. The arts should be a part of everything we do in town, not isolated and compartmentalized. The Community Services Commission should work to ensure that at least one member of their Commission is a professional artist because the arts are a community service. Community Services oversees the classes offered through the Recreation Center and the Youth Activities Center and they should be offering really interesting arts classes, maybe something a little more sophisticated and career building that lanyard making in Kersting Court.

So again I say that this is a good move that will encourage change and growth and maybe new interest in promoting the arts by non-artists. Artists might need to be a little more involved and aware of the activities of the City and more vocal in advocating for policies and programs that benefit them as well. Because calling Sierra Madre “an artists’ colony” is not about isolating artists and leaving them to their own devices to come out and decorate town. It is about celebrating the arts and proclaiming our creativity in everything we do here.

James Cochran October 18, 2011 at 07:57 PM
Joe Mosca didn't attend a commission's meetings even though he was the city council liaison? Now there is a stunner.

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