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Los Angeles councilman plans to create emergency grants for artists

Funding from development fees would be used to help artists and non-profits by the pandemic instead

David Ryu

Councilman David Ryu of Los Angeles’s fourth district—which runs from Sherman Oaks south through Griffith Park and into Miracle Mile, the home of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art—has announced legislation that would take the more than $1.2m that his district holds in arts development fees and quickly convert the money into emergency artist grants. Such funding comes from the owners of private development projects valued at $500,000 or more, and are typically used to pay for either a single site-specific artwork or to create city-wide cultural initiatives that benefit the general public. The proposed legislation would convert these funds into grants that would be allocated to artists and arts nonprofits operating within the district, and would be used to commission works that can be viewed digitally during the current need for social distancing.

"Artists need support and people need art. That’s what this programme will do," Ryu says. "Artists and arts nonprofits are hit particularly hard right now. They already exist on a shoestring budget — and working from home isn’t easy if you run an art gallery or dance class or film festival. We are at risk of losing these arts nonprofits forever if we don’t find ways to help them."

"Our creative sector is going to experience significant changes because of this pandemic - there’s no sugarcoating it," Ryu adds. "But here’s the good news: People will always need art and culture in their lives. Artists will always need to create. Expression is fundamental to being alive. We just need to help transition it into a digital space." In an open letter to the department of cultural affairs, Ryu specified that the programme should be made "as simple as possible with an online application in multiple languages and a rolling application process scored around social equity until the funds are fully dispersed.”

The nonprofit Arts for LA endoreses Ryu's plan in another letter addressed to Mayor Garcetti, which has nearly 150 signatories from all over the Los Angeles culture map. “One-in-six of all jobs in Los Angeles are in the creative sector, and the chronic undercapitalization of the sector’s infrastructure means that artists and arts organizations operate in extreme precariousness,” the letter reads. “At this very moment, creative industry workers, many of whom rely on ‘survival jobs’ in service or teaching, are fighting to keep food on their tables, while small arts organizations are doing their best to keep their doors open. Emergency funding is needed for artists and arts and cultural organizations to continue promoting, celebrating, and sharing LA’s cultural richness.”

The letter notes that this “also leaves open the opportunity for all other Council Offices to follow suit”—should the rest of the city’s districts act in kind, that would unlock more than $10.9m in art development funds which could be converted into city-wide grants.

Ryu next plans to get the legislation schedule for discussion during the next council meeting, "and hopefully getting broad support from inside City Hall like we did among artists," he says. "Los Angeles is a creative capital. Finding support is not the problem — the challenge is finding ways to amend our laws and our thinking to make this possible."