Sunday, November 24, 2013

Exit Interview with Olga Garay-English

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on......................."

Olga Garay-English Bio
Olga Garay-English is the Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), a position she assumed on August 1, 2007. Reporting directly to the Mayor of Los Angeles and managing a $40 million budget in FY12/13, the Executive Director is DCA’s chief artistic and administrative officer. Since her appointment with the City, DCA has been awarded $21 million in funding support from private and public entities.

Prior to joining the City, Olga was an independent producer and performing arts consultant who worked with organizations such as the Lincoln Center Festival, the National Performance Network, and El Museo del Barrio. As Founding Program Director for the Arts for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation (1998 - 2005), Olga was responsible for the planning, design, management, and evaluation of the Arts Program, one of the largest national arts funders in the United States. A total of $145 million was awarded to arts organizations during Olga’s seven-year tenure.

The LA Weekly Theater Awards of 2013 made Ms. Garay-English the Queen of Angels for Special Achievement in theater and for being Ms. Garay-English was named a Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres from the French Ministry of Culture and Communications in 2012 for her significant contributions to the arts. In 2011, Los Angeles Magazine named Olga one of ten “Game Changers,” women who make an impact in LA every day. She received a “Bessie,” the New York Dance and Performance Award, and was named the Cuban Artists’ Fund Distinguished Honoree in 2006. She also received the 2003 “Fan Taylor Distinguished Service Award” for exemplary service to the field of professional presenting from the Association of Performing Arts Presenters. Olga was born in Santa Clara, Cuba, and came to the United States in 1961. She is bilingual in English and Spanish.

Note:  This interview was conducted prior to the announcement that Olga is leaving her post at the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and I asked Olga to comment.

Barry:  The recent change in administration at the Los Angeles City Mayor's Office has resulted in your departure from your politically appointed post. What are your priorities prior to your exit in January, and what are your future plans?

Olga:  My priority is to solidify the many projects, initiatives and grants that are currently active under my leadership by either maintaining a project based involvement myself, re-assigning primary responsibility to another DCA senior staff member, or bringing the project to a close.

For example, as Senior Advisor on Local and International Arts Programs for Councilmember Tom LaBonge, I will continue to work on the year-long celebration of Los Angeles and Bordeaux's 50th Anniversary as Sister Cities, which will take place throughout 2014 with over a dozen cultural exchanges between the two cultural capitals.

I will also continue to work on the Creative Economy Convergence initiative, as Senior Advisor to Otis College of Arts and Design President, Samuel Hoi.  Otis' annual Report on the Creative Economy of the Los Angeles Region, in collaboration with the California Arts Council, will now have a state-wide scope. I think this will be a welcome and intriguing expansion that will better inform us how local and state-wide entities can work together to solidify California's role in the world's creative economy.

As of this writing, DCA has secured more than $23 M for its programs during my six year tenure (vs. the $21 M I reported since we can now count funds we secured for RADAR LA Festival of International Theater and a few other corporate grants).

Also, we have decided not to move forward with the Fellowship program we were to launch in partnership with the British Council and the LA County Arts Commission.  My staff felt that without my stewardship on getting the program off the ground and without any assurance that future funding would be available once a successor is named, it was not viable to launch a new initiative.

In addition, though it would be premature to name them, other projects locally, nationally and internationally are already bubbling up, and I am keeping open to other possibilities.

I want to ensure that I leave DCA as secure and focused as possible by consolidating existing partnerships and ensuring funders that the Department will follow through on its diverse commitments.  My hope is to leave the Agency in a more robust position and ready to meet future challenges.  And I think the arts community of Los Angeles will demand that DCA continue on this upward trend.  A great city deserves a great local arts agency.  We must, as commmitted Angelenos, ensure that our government continue to invest in the cultural community.

Here is the Interview:

Barry:  Under your leadership the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs has raised over $21 million in additional public / private support.  How did you do that?

Olga:  Our success, I believe, is due to the partnerships DCA/LA has established, within the City family as well as with outside organizations, that have made sense in addressing various challenges / opportunities in our community. For example, one of the issues that is perennially identified as being problematic for the City is the lack of affordable housing for artists; addressing this is crucial to maintaining LA’s place as a cultural capital. Working together with The Actors Fund and Artspace, two of the country's leading developers of affordable housing for artists, as well as the California Institute for the Arts (CalArts), which wants to expand its footprint Downtown, in addition to City Departments such as Planning and Housing, and Council District 14 Downtown, we have successfully raised nearly $700,000 in grants for Planning and Pre-development work related to the creation of the Downtown Cultural Quarter (DCQ) Creative Enterprise Zone. The DCQ will be anchored by the Downtown Arts Center (DAC) mixed-use affordable housing project, the CalArts campus and other for-profit creative businesses and non-profit arts and educational endeavors. This includes an accelerator / incubator being planned by Otis College of Art and Design as well as student housing being planned by SCI-Arc, one of the country's leading architecture schools. In all, this robust group of collaborators is planning to revolutionize the way artists and other creatives interact with our Downtown core.

Barry:  There has been a marked shift in increased arts funding to cities and decreased funding to states, and City and County agencies seem to be doing remarkably well in terms of funding - at least as compared to the states (which haven’t yet recovered from the cuts of the 2008 economic crisis).   Do you think those trends are now permanent or merely reflective of the current times?  Does that mean that more of the power and influence is shifting to the city and county agencies that once was with the state agencies?

Olga:  As former House Speaker Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local." The fact that most states still rely on General Fund appropriations to support their State Arts Councils is particularly troubling in fiscally difficult periods. Local Arts Agencies, such as the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, often receive specific, formula-driven appropriations from Tourist Tax Revenues and Percent for Public Art Programs. As such, when the economy upswings, as is the general trend right now, there is an automatic increase in our revenues due to more robust business and leisure travel expenditures as well as more public and private real estate developments.  Keeping to political observations, this one attributed to JFK, I strongly believe that "a rising tide lifts all boats." So figuring out how to best secure the economic health of our state arts agencies will better secure the viability of the local arts agency field.

Unlike metro areas like Philadelphia and Northern California, Los Angeles doesn’t have a base of large foundations supportive of the arts.  How have you applied your prior experience in running the Duke Foundation Arts Program, your familiarity with foundational philanthropy and your network of contacts to account for that in Los Angeles?

It is difficult to say why certain areas of the country have a better developed philanthropic sector than others. But the country is a patchwork, with some areas (particularly older more established cities like Philadelphia and San Francisco as you point out) having an impressive philanthropic ecosystem while others have a more anemic sector). But that is reality, so it is more effective to work with the resources available in your sphere in the most creative way possible. Being able to identify a challenge or opportunity in your community that may be of interest to a national funder and then putting together a partnership team that will enable you to address it significantly is always attractive to a funder. Being able to articulate your vision and why it makes sense for your community is a must. I always visualize how a peer review panel will respond to the project I am trying to get funded. After all, their job is to whittle down the applicant pool and find the few projects that they think have the most chance of succeeding. My job is to make the vision so compelling that panelists will feel confident in awarding grant dollars. Also, I believe in engaging the grants staff at the philanthropies you are approaching. It enables me to better hone in on what the funder is trying to accomplish and typically leads to a more targeted ask. Lastly, I always call to get panel comments after the funding decisions are announced - whether DCA was recommended for funding or not. The insights you get from that exchange are invaluable in refining the ask the next time.

 Los Angeles is both a city and a county, and has separate public arts agencies for each.  While the geographic territories are distinct, there is a lot of cross over and spill over at least in terms of the mobility of the area’s residents.  To what extent, and how, do you cooperate and collaborate with the Los Angeles County Commission on the Arts?  Do you and Laura Zucker partner on anything specific, and how has that relationship worked out?

Laura has a very strong grasp on the local and national arts environments and keen insights as to how address the needs of the arts community in proactive ways. The Los Angeles County Arts Commission (CAC) serves as a convener of other municipal arts agencies. Through CAC’s leadership, LA arts funders, executive directors, program officers, and other staff meet approximately every month to share information, address field wide concerns, and learn from each other.

DCA and CAC have worked together on a number of specific projects. For example, we are now working with the CAC and the British Council to launch a program for emerging arts leaders who have participated in the CAC’s Arts Internship Program and have been working in the arts field from three to seven years. Through a competitive, peer reviewed process, six former interns will be chosen to travel to the UK where British Council colleagues will offer a series of experiences that will provide participants with an in-depth understanding of a range of issues in arts management and leadership practice, as addressed by fellow practitioners in the United Kingdom. The program will consist of visits to leading UK arts organizations, seminars with British cultural leaders and arts professionals, and opportunities to see high quality performances and exhibitions. This represents a high level opportunity for our best emerging arts managers to engage expand their networks and universe. DCA could not have accomplished such an enterprise on its own and is excited about the partnership with both CAC and the British Council.

Barry:  What do you see as the major obstacles in providing more direct services to artists in Los Angeles, and how are you addressing those challenges?  How can we better serve working artists?

Olga:  A number of studies have posited Los Angeles as a major arts capital. Relevant to this question in Ann Markusen’s 2010 report for the Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI) that hails Los Angeles as “America’s Artists Super City.”  Professor Markusen observes that, “successful artistic livelihoods, studies show, require lifelong learning, validation, access to financial and physical resources (including space to work and equipment), health insurance, business skills, and networks that help expand markets or land jobs (Jackson, 2003). In Los Angeles, these are especially pivotal and yet underinvested in.”

The sheer number of artists that make Los Angeles home makes serving them a very challenging proposition… especially in difficult funding climates. In addition to providing direct funding support to individual artists through our respected COLA Individual Fellowship Program, which turns 20 next year, we provide artists in residence support in all 15 Council Districts and, in a program I started upon arriving here, through our Cultural Exchange International Program, which provides international residency opportunities of a minimum of two weeks and a maximum of three months to chosen applicants. Further, we work collaboratively with arts service and advocacy organizations such as Arts for LA, the Center for Cultural Innovation, the Dance Resource Center, the LA Stage Alliance and others, funding them to better serve individual artists through a variety of proactive programs. Yet it is still not enough and we constantly strive to be more intelligent and more creative in our quest to serve individual artists.

Barry:  Los Angeles has one of the more sophisticated, active and successful local advocacy arms of any metro area in the country.  How do you and the DCA work within that framework?  What hasn’t the Arts For LA structure yet been able to accomplish that is high on your priority list?

Olga:  I am a big fan of Arts for LA. Executive Director Danielle Brazell and her team have done amazing and strategic work in promoting the arts and arts education for our diverse community.  I routinely credit Arts for LA as saving DCA during the darkest period of the City’s fiscal crisis.  Arts for LA galvanized the arts community, which came out in droves, in support of DCA’s work.  And smartly, now that the worst is hopefully over, Arts for LA continues to engage the City family positively by having annual “LA Arts Days” in City Hall that bring together elected officials, their Arts Deputies, and our City’s arts advocates to better inform each other on their goals, aspirations and realities, and to celebrate the important work being undertaken in Los Angeles by artists and creatives.

Arts for LA’s primary challenge in accomplishing its goals, and by extension DCA’s goals, I believe, are primarily a resource issue. By any measure, it is a small (some would call it lean and mean) operation that needs more stability. But DCA’s ability to substantially help could undermine Arts for LA’s efficacy as an arts advocate during tough times. It is better for us to fund its educational and professional development activities rather than to muddy the waters by supporting its advocacy efforts. One of the primary goals Arts for LA wants to accomplish for DCA is to have the City significantly increase grants funding. It is an uphill battle but one best accomplished by having Arts for LA truly independent as an advocacy organization and not perceived as an arm of DCA. By the way, naming Danielle Brazell to WESTAF’s (really Barry’s) list of the Fifty Most Powerful and Influential People in the Nonprofit Arts was spot on.

Barry:  As the head of one of the major arts agencies in the country, and as a Latina woman what is your position on the increasingly accepted proposition that too much funding (public and private) has, for too long, gone to the very largest (and largely Euro-centric) arts organizations, and too little has gone to multicultural, emerging, smaller and more vanguard arts enterprises?  How do you think a more equitable allocation of our scarce resources might be accomplished?

Olga:  This has been an ongoing battle (or debate depending on where you sit) that has been taking place for dozens of years. This axiom is especially true during fiscally challenging times when organizations of color and alternative arts organizations more often fail than do mainstream arts organizations. It is not a level playing field by any means. And just as funders are complicit in helping create this ecosystem, they must be just as complicit in turning the situation around.

For example, when I was hired to be the founding Program Director for the Arts at the Doris Duke Charitable foundation (DDCF), I was told that grants had to be of a significant size (typically, grants were $500,000 to $3 million), this meant that the majority of organizations of color and avant-garde arts organizations would not qualify for Duke support since their annual operating budgets would not adequately support receiving a grant of that size. I knew, however, that those were the very types of organizations that Miss Duke supported while she was alive.  I therefore convinced DDCF leaders to support vital organizations such as the National Performance Network and the National Dance Project (of the New England Foundation for the Arts), which could justifiably receive multi-million dollar awards and then re-grant them in smaller chunks to deserving small to mid-size organizations including artist run ensembles.  Further, we sought out organizations of color such as the Caribbean Cultural Center and 651 ARTS in New York City and contemporary arts presenters around the country, such as the Portland Institute of Contemporary Art and jazz-specific organizations, such as the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation, to receive multi-year matching endowments that were restricted to artistic endeavors. These endowments were never meant as a stabilization strategy, since Miss Duke’s will was about supporting individual artists, but to provide reliable revenue streams for grantees to commission new work, support community based residencies, and other research and development efforts that directly benefit individual artists.

Barry:  At the Duke Foundation, and in Los Angeles, you have a long history of active involvement in supporting arts performances and touring and presenting in general.  Why do you think audiences continue to shrink and where do you see paths to address that decline?  What is at the root cause of the decline?  What has to change?

Olga:  There are many theories on why there has been a steep decline of audiences at our performing arts institutions. I think it is an unfortunate convergence of many factors. Lack of arts instruction in our schools, lack of public transportation options, increased competition for decreased free time, costly ticket prices, and the list goes on. Yet sometimes I attend a performance and see how a community comes together and the excitement that is generated by witnessing a live performance. That gives me hope. We need to capture people’s imaginations in more engaging ways and make them feel welcomed and appreciated at our venues, but without numbing down the work.

Sometimes you see all of these factors come together and it is a joy. The LA Phil, for example, has managed to capture this spirit and is now taking their zest for classical music to LA’s disparate neighborhoods through their Youth Orchestra LA Program. It is inviting young people throughout the city to learn to play and love music. As their website explains, “through Gustavo Dudamel’s Youth Orchestra LA (YOLA) program – inspired by Venezuela’s revolutionary El Sistema – the LA Phil and its community partners provide free instruments, intensive music training, and academic support to students from underserved neighborhoods, enabling every child to contribute using their full potential.” It is a model to be emulated by others in the field interested in building tomorrow’s audiences.

Barry:  Do you think the arts infrastructure is overbuilt - i.e., too many arts organizations given the demand and the available support?  What is the solution?

Olga:  No. I think it is the lack of support available that needs to be addressed. I do a lot of work with institutions and colleagues in other developed countries. These countries acknowledge the role the arts and culture play in developing a national character as well as a sense of self. I think we need to, as a country, become more attuned to how the arts and culture define us as a people and to make this work a national priority instead of an afterthought.

Barry:  What’s the last big programmatic risk you took that didn’t work out well for you, and do you have any regrets?

Olga:  As in most communities, Los Angeles’ arts organizations tend to cluster in specific areas of the city instead of having representation throughout the City’s significant footprint. Areas such as the San Fernando Valley and South LA are underserved by DCA and have scant arts nonprofits we can work with and provide support to. To address this imbalance, I proposed establishing an “arts ombudsman” in those areas. The problem is that I included this in a proposed budget which, due to the City’s recent awareness that it was facing a $500 million deficit (in FY 2008/09) was doomed to failure. My regret was not getting more buy-in from the elected officials representing those communities. Because I was pretty new on the job and did not have the relationships I do now at City Hall, it was a premature idea since I did not have the votes. Of course I regret that tactical error, but now that the economy is on the mend, we may try to revive that concept.

Barry:  As of this writing, the NEA continues without a named successor to Rocco Landesman as Chairman?  If the White House called you tomorrow and said the President wants you for that job - walk me through the first three things you would do after your Senate confirmation.

Olga:  Kiss my husband, Dr. Kerry English (we have only been married two years so we are still on our honeymoon), who is a huge supporter of the arts; convene the NEA staff, which has been on a roller coaster since the culture wars of the early 90’s, and celebrate their dedication to the field; and begin one-on-one meetings with elected officials to continue getting individual buy-in for the work of the agency.

Barry:  A large portion of your budget is TOT income and allocated to public art programs.  Would some of those funds be better spent in other kinds of support for artists and arts organizations, or is the current strategy in place the right one for LA and for the times?  If so, why?

Olga:  Just to be clear, DCA is supported by three primary revenue streams from the City of Los Angeles. The Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) provides 1% of the 14% TOT collected by City of Los Angeles hotels. The 1% allotted by ordinance to DCA, which typically ranges from $9 million to $12 million. These funds support our annual grants program; our 25+ arts centers, theaters, and historic properties; City-wide programs managed by DCA such as Music LA and various festivals; and all our full time and part time salaries and fringe and overhead expenses.  Additionally, DCA uses 1% of the Arts Development Fees (ADF) from private developers for our Public Art programs as well as 1% of public development fees, which are also used for Public Art programs.  So in effect, the TOT funds used by DCA, through its grants programs as well as instructors fees at its arts centers, directly support artists and arts institutions (Public Arts Commissions, which are significant in our annual budget, also provide 10% to 20% of all project funds to the lead artist(s), making these Public Arts dollars an important support system as well). The goal is to shift more of the TOT dollars to our grants program and away from staffing and overhead costs. As the economy improves and TOT revenues increase, we are hoping to devote said increases more and more to our grantmaking activities.

Barry:  You talked about the Broadway Arts Center project in a blog for AFTA last year.  Where is the project currently at?  How do you think it will ultimately impact the arts in LA?  Will the impact be limited to downtown, or will it have a larger impact across a bigger geographical territory?

Olga:  We are now calling it the Downtown Arts Center (DAC) since the site selection process being led by our primary partners, Artspace and The Actors Fund, has led us to realize that finding a lot the size needed on Broadway, where most properties are owned by individuals, is going to be quite challenging financially – especially now that the economy is improving. As such, we have decided that we need to expand our search to encompass all of Downtown LA. We have been meeting with government officials, for-profit developers and non-profit community development corporations trying to find the site and the financing structure that fits the needs of the DAC and our other major project: expanding the Downtown footprint of CalArts. These two efforts will be the anchors for the larger Downtown Cultural Quarter Creative Enterprise Project being designed by Pritzker Prize winning architect Thom Mayne and his firm, Morphosis Architects.  Their charge is to create a roadmap, including zoning and code recommendations to the City, which will result in more creative for profit companies and arts and education concerns moving to a more welcoming Downtown. I believe that a strong, vital and alive Downtown core will have an impact across the greater Los Angeles area and result in outcomes we cannot even imagine currently.

But to more directly address the second part of your question, DCA just was awarded another NEA Our Town grant that will directly impact outlying areas though it will be piloted in the Downtown adjacent Arts District. Our Town funds will support the Artists’ Affordable Housing Partnership (AAHP), a program to provide immediate affordable artists’ housing and create a replicable strategy for use in other communities in LA and beyond.

Though they have been around for many years, 80/20 developments, where 80% of rental units are market rate and 20% are designated affordable, have traditionally not been accessible to the arts community, due to lack of familiarity with the program.

In 2008, HR 3221 clarified Low Income Home Tax Credit regulations to specifically allow a preference for "those involved in artistic or literary activities.” Many developers of affordable housing, as well as the arts community, however, are largely unaware of this provision, and its benefits have not been fully realized; deliberate brokering needs to occur between affordable housing developers and the arts community. The AAHP will develop resource materials to increase developers’ awareness of the artists’ provision (HR 3221) as well as educate artists on how to accurately complete the needed financial qualification documents and other application materials. A website will be maintained to promote affordable housing opportunities to artists and the broader creative community. DCA plans to use the materials, protocols, and curricula developed in other City of LA regions, such as Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley, both of which have 80/20 projects coming on-line in the next several years. there is interest from cultural affairs departments in Pasadena and Santa Monica, two neighboring separately incorporated cities, to replicate the program.

Barry:  Management skills, entrepreneurial skills, listening skills, fundraising skills, people skills, visionary skills - all of these and more help arts administrators successfully navigate ever more difficult pathways in running arts organizations.  Which of these or other skills do you think are the most important, and why?

Olga:  They should all meld together, but it is rare for an individual to possess all of these skills. In my case, developing entrepreneurial skills, along with fundraising skills, but based on constant interaction (listening) to the field, has been key. These are crucial underpinnings to not only developing a vision but being able to articulate it to partners and funders and other key allies so that the vision can be turned into reality. These are important elements when you are looking for true leaders.

Barry:  Having now been both a foundation and a public agency funder - what advice do you have for your former foundation program officer colleagues?  What would you tell foundation program officers that they need to think more about?

Olga:  When I became the Program Director for the Arts at DDCF in early 1997, I set out to develop a program that I would have liked to have in place while I was working in the field as Director of Cultural Affairs for Miami Dade Community College. Right before I left Miami, I was coming to the end of a multi-year grant from the Ford Foundation titled “Internationalizing New Works in the Performing Arts.” I was able to work with Ford to establish a modest endowment for the Cultural Affairs Department. This allowed us to start each fiscal year with approximately $60,000 in our account to match grants, initiate projects, or simply as much needed cash flow. It was such a relief not to have to start each year with a blank slate, as was the custom at the College. That stuck with me as I segued into being a Program Director at a major US foundation. Coupled with Miss Duke’s instructions to support artists with the creation and public performance of their work, but bound by the Foundation’s decision to make large grants, I came up with the idea to help the country’s most excellent performing arts presenting institutions, which are extremely under-endowed compared to museums and symphonies, to establish or grow their endowments. But we restricted the way the interest earned could be deployed so that it would be used directly on artists, as Miss Duke had stipulated in her will. So the lesson is to keep constantly in contact with the field so that the programs created by foundations deal with the real issues grantees must constantly tackle; that is my recommendation.

Barry:  To what extent do you think arts organizations are too often isolated in their own silos and miss opportunities to work together for some greater good?

Olga:  This is a quandary faced by all types of organizations (universities, city government, the tourism industry) and not just arts organizations. In an overworked and under-resourced environment, it is easy to become siloed since we are forced to do more with less and in order to do so have to become like heat seeking missiles, (i.e., totally focused on what we need to accomplish).  However, it is extremely important – especially when times are difficult – to force ourselves to look around and invite other people to the table. Through combined efforts and diverse knowledge bases, one can tackle much more complex issues with a greater degree of success.

Barry:  Jeff Bezos from Amazon walks into your office and says you can have a million dollars to launch your best arts entrepreneurial idea.  What is it?

Olga:  This is an idea that we wanted to pitch to the Bloomberg Mayors’ Challenge Program last year.  However, the City chose another department (cities could only present one proposal to the Bloomberg program). Our basic idea is as follows, “to establish LA’s Broadway Cultural Quarter Creative Enterprise Zone, transforming Downtown into a thriving 24/7 hub, marrying adaptive reuse and cultural overlay ordinances.”

We figured that a major adaptive reuse initiative had been successfully deployed in downtown Los Angeles in the late 1990s turning historic buildings into residences and hotels (and resulting in investments of more than $6 billion over the last 15 years, according to the national trust for historic preservation). Yet the strategy has never been utilized to help Downtown building owners invest in turning unused upper floor space into attractive studio and other work spaces to specifically attract and nurture creative businesses. DCA proposed to couple an adaptive re-use ordinance with a Cultural Overlay Ordinance, two successful urban revitalization strategies, using proven methods in innovative and more impactful ways, thus making it cost-effective and attractive for landlords to invest in their unused spaces to make them more inviting for creative businesses and arts and education nonprofits, which in turn would lead to a revitalized urban core. We are still trying to effectuate this plan even without specific outside funding. However, having $1 million from Bloomberg or Bezos, for that matter, would make it happen much more expeditiously.

Barry:  Looking back to when you were just starting in the arts, what is the one thing you wish someone had told you?

Olga:  Though people extol the value of being connected to community, it is often necessary, in order to increase one’s effectiveness, to move from the place where you are grounded to take advantage of a work opportunity that will allow you to have more impact.  It took me a long time to learn that, but being named Program Director for the Arts of DDCF, though it meant leaving Miami, my home, allowed me to envision and implement programs on a macro scale that would never have been possible had I stayed in Miami.  Being given that national platform eventually put me in line to become the Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. So getting out of your comfort zone, is sometimes the best way to challenge yourself to become more effective.

Barry:  Is too much emphasis still being placed on the arts using the economic benefit argument in advocating for support?  Conversely, is too much emphasis placed on the “intrinsic value” of the arts argument?

Olga:  In my mind they are both critical aspects of our field and, depending on who your audience is, it is important to articulate both arguments equally skillfully.

Barry:  How do you motivate your staff and the organizations your agency supports?

Olga:  The senior staff at DCA has, almost to a person, been with the Department for ten or more years. They are experienced Arts Managers in their own right and so treating them as such is important to me, and I think is appreciated by them. It has been a difficult few years for the Department, given the economic challenges faced by the City, which thankfully are now being righted. Layoffs and early retirements have had a major impact on the way DCA conducts business. Obviously, this has been a stressful time for all. But ultimately, I am a driven person and spend a great deal of time on the job and then thinking about the job. I expect my colleagues to do the same, and they have rallied to the occasion.

In terms of the organizations DCA supports, I am constantly present at diverse programs and functions throughout this vast City. And being present is half the battle. This means many nights and weekends spent attending events. But our colleagues appreciate that DCA is in the  house, and I think that it comes back in spades. When the future of the Department was at risk and over 6,000 Angelenos wrote, sent emails, and made phone calls, then packed City Hall to demand that DCA be a part of our City services, it was clear that the work of the department was prized by our constituents and that was a clear indication that art matters.

Thank you Olga.

Wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving with family and friends.

Don't Quit.