Cultural Affairs Town Hall – Art is Not a Luxury

“The only way to survive a crisis is to expand.” When the leader of the Actors Gang, the notable Tim Robbins, stood at the podium at the Mike Balkman Council Chambers on Jan. 10 to address the Culver City Cultural Affairs Commission, he spoke from recent experience. The Actors Gang was one of a dozen organizations to speak to the “Town Hall” meeting, and each organization offered their list of annual accomplishments, modestly playing down the past year’s challenges.

Since this was the evening after the City Council have voted to withhold funding the Summer Music Series, the sense of crisis was still very fresh in the room. There was no one in this crowd who did not understand the potential impact of the closure of redevelopment. Certainly there was no one willing to ring down the curtain.

Starting with the delightful and very emphatic video from Otis College, “Creative Economy” ( ) brought out several important points; that the local economy rates one out of every eight jobs as creative, that the impact of film, art, music, theater and dance is what makes California (and the Los Angeles area in particular) what it is, and most interestingly, that “creativity cannot be outsourced.” What our artists do cannot be done by a machine or another worker in a developing country for half the wages.What we do here is unique.

Robbins pointed out that this was the Actors Gang’s 6th year in Culver City. “The most significant changes in our organizations came from our relationship with Culver City. In the coming year, we’ll keep expanding our theatrical educational out-reach, continuing our teen poetry workshop “Get Lit” and our production of “1984”  opens in February.” Not bad for a company that was told last year by it’s own board that it was too broke to produce anything. That report spawned the WTF Festival.

The many other organizations that spoke to the commissioners were just as enthused about working with our city, and equally creative in trying to navigate hard times. The Los Angeles Women’s Theater Project, Vox Femina, Culver City Public Theater, ReDiscover Center, the Mayme Clayton Museum, the Kirk Douglas Theater, the Wende Muesum, the Culver City Historical Society and the Helms Bakery District all talked about their voluminous and often triumphant accomplishments of the previous year. To consider that all this art and culture goes on in our city is to recall why we are considered so hip in the first place. We really are.

It’s not a facade. It’s not a scrim or a set. Culver City is a place where unique art flourishes because it has the most important thing that art needs – audience.

Of all the organizations that came to chime in, none of them could begin to compare to the list of accomplishments from the city itself, for the Cultural Affairs Department. The exquisitely astute Susan Obrow cataloged the estate of 2011 – From “The Secret Life of Swimmers” to SpeakEasy, from the Invaders installations at Indiecade to the Ampersand sculpture twinned at the Venice Biennial, from the Summer Music Series to the Music in the Chambers – the city itself is a producer of art on an exceptional level.

The only way to survive a crisis is to expand. In the coming year, we will need more art, not less. We need art that allows us to see with fresh eyes, we need music that will open not just our ears but our hearts, we need dance and sculpture, we need museums and theaters. The verb is not “want,” it is “need.” Art is not a luxury, but the most essential need that humans beings have.

It’s also what makes Culver City a destination, a locale, and a mecca.

At a school board meeting two years ago, when budget cuts were being discussed, the estimable Janice Pober spoke to the topic. “Pope Julius could have said to Michelangelo- You know, things are tight right now, let’s just paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel white.”

If we decide that we just can’t afford it, who knows what 21st Century Sistine Chapel will be missing? We will have to get creative, even more creative than we have been, but I have every faith in Gayle Smashey and her commissioners, and even more belief in Susan Obrow and her outstanding staff. Getting venues, booking performers, reviewing proposals – you can look at all that fun stuff, and know that administration is not just a science.

It’s an art.




The Actors' Gang

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