Fall 2020

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How L.A.’s Creative Economy Can Recover from COVID-19 to a More Equitable Place


Leaders from different sectors discussed the effects of the pandemic and systemic racism on the Creative Economy at a virtual forum hosted by Otis College.

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Otis College Race & The Creative Economy Virtual Forum
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California’s Creative Economy suffered a devastating blow when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down museums and galleries, concert halls, film and television studios, manufacturing warehouses, and other centers of creative industry. According to Adam Fowler, Director of Research at Beacon Economics, over 280,000 jobs were lost in the state’s Creative Economy from February to August this year alone. What’s more, the national conversation about systemic racism, equity, and social justice that erupted after George Floyd’s murder this summer brought to light the many ways in which creatives of color have been particularly hard hit by these socio-economic realities. Otis College, long considered a thought leader on the Creative Economy, hosted a virtual panel discussion on October 22—moderated by Dakota Ortiz, Director of Social Impact at Endeavor—during which leaders from a number of different industries talked about how we can increase opportunities for more BIPOC artists and designers in the Creative Economy, ahead of the release of the 2021 Otis Report on the Creative Economy early next year. “At Otis, we believe in the role of artists and designers to help heal these wounds and help rebuild a healthier Creative Economy,” said President Charles Hirschhorn in his opening remarks. You can watch a recording of the virtual event here, watch the highlight video below, and continue on to read more about some of the topics that were discussed. 

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Mark Ridley-Thomas, Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, 2nd District, on leveraging Los Angeles’s creative resources: 

“We are on the cresting wave of a global pandemic and only weeks removed from protests and response to the killings of unarmed African-Americans that have awakened the consciousness of our nation… it’s amid a tsunami of change that today’s conversation is as timely as it is necessary. There are more than 250 museums here [in Los Angeles] and in the surrounding areas, close to nearly 400 digital media companies, the big five major [film] studios, and close to 20 sporting venues and/or auditoriums. You might say Los Angeles has got it going on. We should fully take advantage of that and leverage it for all the good that it can do. Each and every one of these categories offers an opportunity for underrepresented communities to plug in economically. It’s not simply about economic development, it’s about economic justice. It’s not about opportunity alone, it’s about equity. Therein brings a racial lens to bear as we seek to critique current realities… Diversity is our comparative advantage and our smartest, most effective path forward in making sure we are opening up pathways, real pathways, for those who have been traditionally underrepresented in these industries.”

Adam Fowler, Director of Research, Beacon Economics, on changing the business model of many arts organizations: 

“Looking at the five major sectors that we report on for the Otis Report, you’ll see that the COVID-19 crisis has hit the hardest in fine and performing arts, which includes visual arts, music, theater, and dance. Those business models really depend on live performances, ticket sales, and bringing folks in. Jobs in the arts, entertainment, and recreation have begun to inch back, but still face a long road to recovery. Even with theaters and museums reopening, there’s still a number of questions about consumer behavior in the continuing COVID world that we live in… In the absence of responsive public support and recovery strategies, the downsizing of cultural and creative sectors will have an out-sized impact on our city and regions in terms of jobs, revenues, the level of innovation we see, as well as citizen well-being and the vibrancy of our diverse communities. As we think about what the new normal looks like, and as we look, not only back to the status quo, but to what the future looks like, I think it’s a real opportunity to think differently. A lot of business models [in the arts] were fragile before the pandemic, and that was after over a decade of economic expansion. No public and private solutions should be taken off the table prematurely. Now is the time to think very seriously about the value we place on the arts, as a community and as an economy.” 

Maurice Harris (’05 BFA Fine Arts), Owner of Bloom & Plume Coffee, on the systematic roadblocks for entrepreneurs of color:

“As I've found out, capitalism, generally speaking, does not care about my creativity. It cares about the bottom line. Does [the idea] make sense? Does it make money? Our value system in this country is based on the bottom line. Everybody is looking to make a quick dollar. We are not looking to invest in art unless we can literally see the return on that investment…. I did my coffee shop with my brother, who is a corporate banker. We really worked on our credit. We had a business plan that was pretty solid. I have a pretty successful floral company. But, yet, as we went to about 30 different banks, we got 30 different no’s… What does it look like to give people who are pretty solid, who have pretty solid ideas, and who have proven their value, the opportunities to actually win? We are in an economy that does not give platforms to marginalized people. This country really, really negotiates its relationship with slavery, and just wants to sweep it under the rug, and be, like, ‘Yeah, but look at what we’re doing now? We had a Black president. We did all these things.’ No, we are not dealing with the core issue because, systematically, the people who are at the top are still the people that oppress me… I think we serve an amazing product [at Bloom & Plume]. But yet our runway is so short. And if anybody knows anything about flying planes, you can’t really take off on a short runway. You need a lot of space. You need to be able to get momentum. The way that funds are distributed, the way that grants are distributed, and all the hoops and turns that you have to jump through just to possibly get those, makes it really exhausting… People in power have to get very uncomfortable with their status quo in order to make the necessary changes for people to win.”

Lauren Anderson, Co-Head of Content and Programming for IMDb TV, on not just greenlighting creatives of color, but setting them up with the resources to succeed:

“Investing in talent, creators, shows, and series that don’t look like the shows that have worked before doesn’t mean that these new shows won’t work… The point has been for us that it’s literally about the opportunity, about saying, ‘I want to hear that pitch,’ and this goes for every single person who’s in a position to hear pitches, to greenlight shows, to hire directors, to hire writers, to hire set designers. I want to hear that pitch from this person who’s never made a show before; maybe they have the next big show in them. I’m willing to take the risk on that. The risk is to not do it… And you want to set people up to succeed. If you’re in a situation where maybe this person hasn’t created 10 hit shows in the past, or maybe this person hasn’t worked with this budget before, how do we make sure that they’re surrounded by resources that are going to set them up to succeed?”

Kristin Sakoda, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Arts and Culture, on risking a lack of relevance by not prioritizing equity for all creatives:

“What we’re seeing in the data we track on COVID-19’s impact mostly is focused on the non-profit space. We have seen that the grantees and the others that we support, collectively, have more than 13 million in-person visits and experiences every year. Those have mostly been lost. We’re seeing more than a third of organizations dipping into their reserves, having to furlough or lay off staff. We’re seeing more than 50% of organizations responding to surveys [we’re sending] saying they don’t know if they can survive the COVID-19 pandemic, and yet 80% of them are still trying to do services, still trying to have virtual events, still trying to provide that connection and that entertainment for all of us… What we risk losing is our cultural infrastructure. What we risk in not really ensuring that the arts are an essential part of our recovery is a long road to gaining it back. If we don’t center equity in that work, we risk a lack of relevance. We risk a huge opportunity that is both economic and really seeks justice and investing in all of our creative voice.”

Eletrice Harris, Vice-President, SoCal NOMA (National Organization of Minority Architects), on reversing underrepresentation in architecture:

“Our plight in the architecture services sub-sector goes much deeper than anything created by COVID-19. When looking at our sector from a purely economic standpoint, we may seem to be in a good place, but from an equitable stance, it is way, way behind where it should and could be… In this period of national reckoning over the systemic and historical racial inequality, we have a grand opportunity to raise our sector out of decades of underrepresentation and to address the non-inclusion of Black creatives and all people of color. We at the National Organization of Minority Architects and the SoCal NOMA chapter, in particular, are advocating for the implementation of practices and policies to facilitate a more equitable Creative Economy for all, but especially and specifically for creatives of color. We are making an explicit commitment to racial equity by exploring the barriers that creatives of color face and exploring and promoting strategies that will help them thrive and grow.”

Francis Roberts, Head of Creator Partnerships at Snap Inc., on the democratization of media, especially through social media:

“A lot of these conversations we’re having are really tough. They’re about stuff that’s really hard and that has historically been swept under the rug. What we think about [at Snap] is how do we create a place where we can have these hard conversations in a productive way, in a way that helps move us all along, and in a way that really enables everybody to have a voice, especially those who have historically been discriminated against. When I think about how we do this, I do think that the democratization of media overall really is an opportunity, as opposed to the way it used to be, where there were a few gatekeepers. There is opportunity for more and more people to create their art…. Technology can really enable this in cool and fun ways, and that’s what really makes me excited. It really is about making sure that folks know they can use platforms. We all have phones with cameras and the ability to share our voice with the world. That ability trickles down, I think, to basically dismantling discrimination.” 

You can download the 2020 Otis Report on the Creative Economy at this link. To view and download the two-page snapshot that Adam Fowler prepared for the October 22 virtual forum, please visit this page

Otis College will host the launch of the 2021 Otis Report on the Creative Economy early next year. To sign up for an alert to register for that event, please click here

To watch the entire Race & The Creative Economy virtual forum, please visit otis.edu/race-creative-economy