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Supervisors vote to form arts advisory board

LOS ANGELES — The county Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Nov. 10 to establish an arts advisory board tasked with finding ways to diversify the leadership, staffing, audiences and programming of major regional arts institutions.

Supervisor Hilda Solis, who proposed the push toward more diversity, highlighted the central role the arts play in Los Angeles County.

“One out of every seven jobs in the county is being generated by an arts-related field,” Solis said, citing a report by the Otis School of Design.

She also pointed to a study by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation finding that minorities are significantly underrepresented in top arts positions, 84 percent of which are filled by white applicants.

While there has been a move toward gender equality, there is no comparable pipeline for minority candidates — who mostly work in security and facilities jobs — to access leadership positions, the study found.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who co-authored the motion, said the advisory board would be “a first step to consider the issue of cultural equity.”

Both Ridley-Thomas and Solis said they hoped Los Angeles could take the lead in a national conversation about the role of the arts.

New York City announced a similar effort earlier this year. This summer, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs surveyed nearly 1,000 arts institutions on the diversity of their staffs and boards for a report due at the end of this year.

Solis said Los Angeles County could learn from New York’s study of best practices, as well as from “our own arts organizations.”

Many “mainstream, traditional organizations” would like to broaden their reach but would like some help, Ridley-Thomas told his colleagues.

“It’s not enough to mount an occasional exhibit,” Ridley-Thomas said, adding that he wanted to make sure the advisory board would work to encourage more young people to pursue the arts as a career.

Actor Esai Morales talked about how the arts had offered him a broader perspective when he was growing up in New York.

“The arts, for me, opened windows, opened windows to my heart, my mind, my soul,” Morales said, “and opened windows that I could climb out of the situation I was in so that I was not just a product of my neighborhood, but a member of the larger community, the human race.”

Leaders of several Los Angeles-based arts organizations said they welcomed the county’s interest.

Michael Govan, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, said he was proud to be in Los Angeles County, where arts are so highly valued and “seen as a way to leverage not just our economy but our society.”

The advisory board will be tasked with identifying best practices and working closely with peers in New York City. A report of preliminary findings and possible funding sources is expected in 90 days.