Much like it has done throughout the pandemic, the Arts Council For Long Beach didn’t let art take a back seat and opted to present its State of the Arts 2021 virtually.
Founded in 1973 by the City of Long Beach as the Public Corporation for the Arts, the Arts Council has evolved into an organization that helps create a thriving arts scene in the city. Their mission is to “foster creativity and culture, enliven communities and enable a thriving creative economy.”
The Tuesday, March 30 virtual presentation represented that mission to local audiences tuning in through Facebook Live–brimming with musical performances and other visual art forms.
Hosted by entertainer and personality Jewels Long Beach, the hour-long event garnered enthusiastic interaction from its 60+ plus viewers who engaged through comments often cheering on other artists.
In a presentation by Executive Director Griselda Suarez, it was revealed that in the first few weeks of the pandemic, art partners reported a loss of over one million dollars from program-related revenue.
Additionally, organizations reported a loss of $4.28 million from cancelled fundraisers and contributions after a spring and summer of closures.
“As an arts council we continued our regular work,” Suarez said in the presentation noting that the Arts Council annual grant program awarded over $240,000 to artists.
Wanting to keep art alive during the Safer at Home order, the Arts Council held over 80 virtual events totaling over 10,000 views.
“We knew that this was just not enough,” Suarez said. “We understand arts funds aren’t merely supporting a performance or a visual arts experience. Arts grants are an investment in real change and positive growth within our city.”
As of 2021, the public art map located on the Arts Council website had 816 total entries and 500+ art kits were distributed to schools and parks in 2020.
By the end of summer 2020 the Arts Council raised over $50,000 in private funds for individual funding to artists and performers who needed it most, the executive director noted. An additional $35,000 in micro-grants was also awarded.
According to the presentation, there were $1.525 million in grants to support arts and culture during the pandemic.
One of the art organizations affected by pandemic closures was International City Theater (ICT). Its Artistic Director Caryn Desai lamented the general loss of jobs, artists, teachers and some of the ICT staff as well as losses in earned revenue such as ticket sales when theaters went dark in early 2020.
“We had to rethink things,” Desai said of their programming, making mention of the Summer Youth Conservatory with a focus on acting and playwriting that had to take place online.
Also taking place online in Nov. 2020 was “Daisy,” a timely play about politics that Desai cast in February.
See related: International City Theatre’s ‘Daisy’ stuns with clarity and insight
“The loss in serving in what our mission is to entertain, educate and provoke thoughtful dialogue through live professional theater is the hardest part to accept,” Desai said.
Offering a glimmer of hope, Desai noted that she has committed to ICT’s 2021 season whether virtually or “hopefully soon in person.”
Bringing virtual entertainment to viewers, the Arts Council showcased some of the artistic talent found within its registry with performances by the Tatiana Tate Quartet, Jennifer Kumiyama’s rendition of “A Journey to the Past” and a culminating dance performance by The CRayProject.
Before ending the program, the Arts Council took time to reflect on the 2020 uprising that took place due to the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police and how art was used to uplift during this time.
“On May , honey we erupted in protest about social injustice, systematic racism, police brutality, and so much more that is going on in our country,” Jewels said. “The people of Long Beach and our artistic community took to the streets.”
Jewels acknowledged the boarded up businesses and buildings that were turned into murals throughout the city by local artists noting that steps are being taken to preserve those pieces of art.
“These protest panels are a very unique look into our feelings at the time. Amazing panels with Black legends, with social justice figures, with children holding flowers, with rainbows splashing across town.”
Photographer Jose Cordon also known as deadendbrigade was one of the artists hired by the Arts Council to create art that would uplift during this time.
“Many of us weren’t out there for the money,” Cordon said of the opportunity. “It felt more like a calling, like an obligation, it made me think of the Great Depression when artists were called upon, and they were out there working. We were the messengers and the conveyors, of some kind of message of hope to uplift people.”
With this same kind of hope, Suarez reflected on a 2020 full of challenges and looked forward to a new year of possibilities.
“2020 was a year that redefined us, we worked harder at advocacy, we worked harder at finding grants and we worked harder to connect artists to the community,” she said. “We all needed some illumination in our lives, some moments to relieve stress. And now artists and performers are ready to recuperate our lives, to help us heal and become stronger. This year 2021, we look forward to seeing you in the streets, in the neighborhoods, at the galleries and museums.”