State of the arts: Joint Committee on the Arts assembles voices on creative economy and creative space issues

The California Arts Council was at the state Capitol on Wednesday as artists, arts agencies, organizations and advocacy groups gathered for a seat at the table of the Joint Committee on the Arts. Joint Committee Chair Senator Ben Allen and other committee members listened intently and asked questions as various panelists expressed their views on the state of the arts in California.

At the top of the agenda was the newly released Otis Report on the Creative Economy of California, with special attention paid to the addendum white paper addressing the need for safe and affordable live-work spaces for artists. The turnout and the passion was so great, we’d thought it best to let the attendees speak for themselves, with a sampling of quotes below. You can check out the full hearing in the Senate media archive.

On the Otis Report:

“The [Otis Report] challenges the existing understanding that the arts are side activities to the ‘real’ economy. … It asks the question, what would it look like to put the economic output of creativity connected industries front and center in our economic and political initiatives?”

“It’s my hope that cities and counties throughout California can leverage the Otis Report to encourage further investments in art education, economic development and cultural planning.”

“If we could touch the invisible or some of the soft statistics, these statistics would be even higher and more productive for you to look at, I think, as a major, major engine of the economy.”

Bruce Ferguson, Otis College of Art and Design

“Artists don’t conform to the way that the government likes to collect statistics. I would say that the numbers in here are undercounted.”

“Activities based on creativity are essential components of a robust, healthy and growing economy.”

Kimberly Ritter-Martinez, Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation

On the value of the arts:

“The question is, how can we in the United States immerse ourselves so fully in arts and culture but place so little value on artists, when other countries place their arts and culture in higher regard?”

“Part of why California has been able to be the economic juggernaut that it is—the sixth largest economy in the world—has so much to do with the creativity that exists here, and the fact that so many business want to be in this creative place. For that, I am eternally grateful to our creative industry, our creative economy.”

Senator Ben Allen, Joint Committee Chair

“Being someone in education now for the past 25 years, I can tell the difference when I walk in the school whether there is a robust arts program or not. Without seeing the classrooms, without seeing what’s on the walls, there’s a feeling in the way the kids bounce through the halls.”

Donn Harris, California Arts Council Chair

“All of these different groups now understand what we as the arts sector can do, and it has fundamentally changed our relationship with the city. … This one project, with each of these agencies, it helps meet each of their discreet missions. And that’s magical. And that’s one of the things that you can do when you use the creative process to address a problem.”

“These programs matter. Arts matters. It has powerful potential to change our communities.”

Michelle Williams, Executive Director, Arts Council Santa Cruz County

“Certainly cities and developers have been using artists for ages to stimulate growth, so we need to find ways of protecting them as well.”

Teri Deaver, Vice President, Consulting and Strategic Partnerships, Artspace

“If this is what we value, we need to put a little more wood behind the arrow.”

Ron Vidal, Oakland artist and firefighter

On artist displacement:

“We really do have a challenge. There are a lot of artists out there that are struggling to do their work, and do it in a way that doesn’t break the bank. But ultimately, how do we do it in a sustainable way? …. Nobody should have to choose between having a roof over their head and having a place to make a living.”

Senator Ben Allen, Joint Committee Chair

“The community is feeling it. It’s a very public conversation. It’s a challenge for organizations like Self Help Graphics who are undercapitalized, and have historically been undercapitalized, to continue to support the community in a moment where they’re under so much pressure. It feels like a very personal attack on the community, this idea of displacement and being pushed out due to high rents.”

Betty Avila, Associate Director, Self Help Graphics and Art

On artist housing:

“Controlling real-estate, or art space, is critical to the long-term sustainability of the arts. No space, no art. No art, no good.”

Ron Vidal, Oakland artist and firefighter

“Our first obligation, especially at a state level, is to enact legislation … that will allow a sustainable model for our low-income live-work communities.”

Jonah Strauss, Oakland Warehouse Coalition

“What can we do to ensure that we have affordable housing? One is preserve what we have currently. There is a lot of displacement happening—can we extend rent stabilization and tenant protection rights to artists that are living, perhaps, in nonconforming, nontraditional housing situations in light industrial areas? Can we create special use permits in areas that have existing communities that can be put toward safe spaces that are in some of these more industrial areas?”

Teri Deaver, Vice President, Consulting and Strategic Partnerships, Artspace

“The energy, activity, and economic development created by [the Warehouse Artist Lofts] community of mostly low-income artists has exceeded even my own expectations.”

“We created a platform for artists to build a community and to do what they do best—imagine, create and inspire.”

Ali Youssefi, Vice President, CFY Development Inc.

On the aftermath of the Ghost Ship fire:

“The wider DIY community across America is under threat.”

Sinuba Solomon, Oakland artist

“We’re past the raw impact of the [Ghost Ship] fire. It was immediate, it was visceral. … But now we’ve moved into committees and proposals and policies and rules, and so now it’s about enacting change based on what is the way forward, as opposed to the urgency of the response.”

Ron Vidal, Oakland artist and firefighter

“Regardless of how aggressive the city is, we have some very reactionary landlords who go after the tenants in no uncertain terms. So we’ve had this wave of evictions. … The Oakland warehouse scene is dying.”

Jonah Strauss, Oakland Warehouse Coalition

On safety issues:

“If you don’t have a safe place to be in, you can’t function as an artist. … I mean safety from eviction, safety from fire, safety from crime, and economic exploitation, and long-term affordable work-live.”

Thomas Dolan, Oakland architect and artist

“There’s this issue of life safety people keep talking about. It’s like, of course we want to be safe, but there’s this other form of safety that’s just being able to exist as yourself, completely free. Representing your gender, representing your race, representing your history.”

Sinuba Solomon, Oakland artist

Lastly, an eloquent and simple summary for a complex problem, from the author of the Otis Report’s addendum on the artist housing crisis, Artspace’s Teri Deaver:

California’s creative economy is booming (and it’s our duty to help it stay that way)

In case you missed it: Some big deal data was dropped this morning.

For the last four years, the California Arts Council has supported the generation of a report, developed by Otis College of Art and Design and its research partner, the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation. The Otis Report on the Creative Economy of California takes a deep dive into California’s creative industries; more specifically, into their impact on our state’s economy.

Artists are often an overlooked contributor to our state’s GDP. But it’s no coincidence that California leads the nation in creative jobs and stands alone as the sixth largest global economy in the world. And this year’s figures back up that relationship, putting the money where our muse is.

A snapshot of some relevant findings:

  • California’s creative economy generated 747,600 direct jobs, nearly 270,000 more than the second ranking U.S. state for creative occupations, New York.
  • From 2010 to 2015, direct wage and salary employment in California’s creative industries increased by 88,600 jobs to 747,600, an increase of 13.5 percent.
  • Creative occupations often require high levels of education or skills training, with close to 50 percent of those examined requiring a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Property taxes, state and local personal income taxes, and sales taxes directly and indirectly generated by the creative industries totaled $16.7 billion across all of California.
  • The total income reported by arts-related nonprofits in California was $7.8 billion.

So, what do all these numbers mean? It means the arts matter—for wealth as much as health. It means California is awesome—skilled, diverse, imaginative, altogether unique. It means that creativity is an enterprise in and of itself, woven into the fabric of doing business in our state, not as an accent for an already flourishing economy.

It also means that in order to maintain our position as the nation’s nerve center for creativity, we need to invest in our artists that give our state its identity. With rising real-estate costs, an artist’s ability to secure an affordable, appropriate and safe place to live or work presents an enormous challenge. The Ghost Ship fire in Oakland was a harrowing reminder of the reality facing California’s artists, often sacrificing safety for the sake of their work.

This year’s report features an addendum tackling the issue of artist housing, offering solutions for the future. It’s our duty to support the workforce that supports us, and keep the welcome mat out for the creatives to come.

Check out the full report, including the addendum, at www.otis.edu/otisreport.