Tuesday, January 6, 2009

January is L.A. Arts Month

Los Angeles, "...the Venice of the 21st century."
-- Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa

At a press conference held this morning at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, along with a cadre of civic and arts-minded leaders, designated the month of January as "L.A. Arts Month." When I learned about this announcement, I did a double-take. I thought to myself, 'Hmm, where have I seen and experienced such an event before?' And then, like the 'pop' of a champagne cork on New Year's Eve, it hit me! Back in February of 2007, the mayor hosted a similar conference at the Getty Center where he designated March as "Creative L.A." month. The initiative, which exalted the various creative enclaves of this city -- from art to entertainment to science -- delivered a lot of excitement and fan fair on the day it was announced, but now it is all but extinct. I don't even think that there's a website devoted to it anymore (or was there ever?) But there is still an old press release on the Town Hall Los Angeles website -- read it here.

So, where exactly did "Creative L.A." month go? Did anyone celebrate it last year and will it be celebrated this coming March? My hunch is that it was nothing more than one of those politically motivated and meticulously calculated photo-ops, rather than a serious manifesto lauding the importance of L.A.'s creative industries. I think that designating one month of awareness, whether it be for the arts or any other program, over a long period of time, greatly diminishes the spirit of the cause which you are trying to promote. That's not to say that assigning a specific day or month to draw attention to an important cause is bad, but rather an inefficient way of promoting, interpreting and infusing the visual and non-visual arts as a natural phenomenon and integral part of our daily lives. Arts awareness should be designated a year-round initiative, as should Black history, AIDS and cancer awareness, or any other noteworthy cause which, under the present guidelines, gets 31 days or less to make its case.

If Mayor Villaraigosa is truly genuine about his commitment toward promoting the arts in this city, and I most certainly would like to give him the benefit of the doubt, then why is he declaring "L.A. Arts Month" in the last year of his first term? One can't help but question the prioritization of this administration and whether or not it has a truly genuine commitment to the arts? It seems more like a well-calculated public relations move to bolster votes for the upcoming general election in May, rather than a passionate plea to populate L.A's cultural destinations. Sure ticket giveaways and free radio airtime is great. However, art appreciation should be more than just a gimmick to increase attendance and stimulate revenue. It should be treated as a valuable lesson in understanding the diversity of thoughts and ideas through visual and non-visual means -- a process that takes way more than a month, if you want it to really be effective.