Los Angeles stands in an interesting place culturally. Its strengths – its huge entertainment industry, the size and diversity of its population, the generosity of key philanthropists – have helped it to a position of global significance, yet its decentralised nature means that it lacks the tools that other cities have used to drive cultural policy.
“Not so much a melting pot, more of a collage of cultures.” (Tomi Sher Hurtado, Artist)
Los Angeles is complex. The metropolitan area is the most densely populated place in the USA, with nearly 7,000 people per square mile. But despite its enormous area and large population, it does not have a single, central hub of activity. Instead, Los Angeles is made up of beaches and mountains, and 88 individual cities, whose inhabitants speak more than 200 languages. For such a decentralised place, identity matters.
“Los Angeles has a very special opportunity in front of it and, in many senses, is at the beginning of a renaissance.” (Juan Devis, Senior Vice President Content Development and Production at KCET Link)
Its hybrid nature could be LA’s biggest asset in the global economy, where connections and flexibility will be key to cities thriving in increasingly volatile economic times. The self-styled entertainment capital of the world, LA is in a good position to reinvent itself as the main content provider for the new media of the coming century, just as it was of the last. With such a diverse population, Los Angeles could become a lab for change and experimentation.
“Ageing infrastructure, like many cities in the US today, may make it difficult to do many things.”(Amanda Daflos, Director, Innovation Delivery Team, Mayor’s Office, City of Los Angeles)
But the city faces a number of challenges. The rising cost of housing, is pushing people out of their home communities. The city is divided by demographics and socioeconomics, perhaps made worse by its sprawling structure. Growth has also put tremendous strain on the transport network and poor transport makes doing business in the city more costly and complicated than it should be. But new investments in public transit have the potential to cross boundaries and bring people together like never before. Events like LA’s popular CicLAvia and efforts to renew public lands along the LA River reflect a growing interest in and willingness to improve the region’s rich natural environment.
“A culture of thriving, home-bred neighborhood arts needs to be given full bloom. Other things follow—including economic revitalization, public safety, and life-affirming issues like jobs, housing, and health.”(Luis J. Rodriquez, Poet Laureate, City of Los Angeles)
Culture also contains the potential to bring the city together in other ways. Raising the profile of LA’s vibrant cultural traditions can help to release the untapped power of LA’s diversity, reflecting new voices and preserving those of the past, evolving new ways of engaging communities.
Culture will also play a large part in the continued growth in tourism, and the jobs and spending it generates. LA sees 40million annual visitors, generating $15.4billion in direct spending, and nearly half of them engage in some kind of cultural activity. One in five choose to visit specifically for that reason, generating $5.6million in 2012.
For many visitors, Los Angeles and Hollywood are synonymous. Yet the Getty Museum is the second most popular attraction in the city. The city’s physical infrastructure for culture is extensive, with downtown’s internationally famous Disney Concert Hall, and an enormous range of dance, music, theatre, visual arts, literature and films on offer throughout the region. Major new investment is still being made: the new Broad Museum, featuring an extensive modern art collection in a 120,000 square-foot space, opened in 2015; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art plans to demolish and redesign the main museum campus, at an estimated cost of $650million.
Because donations to cultural enterprises are not as well established as in New York, a lot of pressure is put on foundations and government agencies to fund LA’s vibrant arts ecology. A growing number of partnerships between the public agencies, the private sector and civil society, notably Arts for LA, the region’s non-profit advocacy organisation, provide additional support.
This spirit of collaboration exists between institutions too, crossing disciplines and genres as well as the for-profit and non-profit sectors. Long-standing local arts institutions are activating spaces and opening them up through participatory arts, even as grassroots cultural activities occur in small venues and public places across the region. For example:
- Pasadena’s AxS Festival is a two-week citywide celebration of art and science featuring exhibitions, performances, educational activities and a conversation series across 24 venues.
- The annual Hollywood Fringe festival, a free, community-produced event, sees more than 200 productions take place in 20 venues, including Hollywood arts spaces and unexpected places, such as restaurants and clubs.
- At the Music Center and the new Grand Park, the focus is on the creativity of amateurs, essentially transforming the performing arts centre into a civic cultural centre using the arts to build community.
Recognizing the value of the arts as a vital tool for civic problem solving across a range of issue areas, the Arts Commission recently launched a new grant program – Community Impact Arts Grants – that will provide financial support for exemplary arts projects produced by nonprofit organizations whose primary mission is outside of the arts. From attracting tourist spending, to binding together diverse and fragmented communities, culture is a central part of life in LA and the city is keen to build and expand its full potential in the coming years.
Perspectives on the city taken from World Cities Culture Report 2015
Interviewees: Juan Devis, Senior Vice President, Content Development + Production KCET Link (broadcaster); Yuval Sharon, Artistic Director, The Industry (performing arts); Luis J. Rodriguez Poet Laureate, City of Los Angeles; Ernie Wooden Jr., President and CEO, The Los Angeles Visitors and Convention Bureau; Amanda Daflos, Director, Innovation Delivery Team, Mayor’s Office, City of Los Angeles; Tomi Sher Hurtado, Artist
City data: Key facts
Geographical area: 10,510 sq. km
Total population: 9,818,605
Total national country population living in the city: 3.18 %
Working age population: 6,040,948
Number of households: 3,241,204
Foreign born population: 35.60 %
Education level - with degree level or higher: 29.20 %
Average income per capita per year (ppp): 27,915
GDP (ppp) (million): US$ 747,306
Creative industries employment: 5.40 %
Read more at worldcitiescultureforum.com