Los Angeles, CA

Out of the museum, into the city

The first time I met Danielle Brazell, the General Manager of LA’s Department of Cultural Affairs, it was ostensibly to talk about her role and aspirations for the department. I assumed she would promote her agency’s agenda, but the conversation quickly flipped. She began to ask me questions, and they were incisive: Should LA strive to have a cohesive design aesthetic? What can her department do to make it easier to apply for arts grants? What are the barriers arts organizations face from the city?

Standing at nearly six feet tall and usually clad in a stylish dress and the black-rimmed eyeglasses typically found on architects and gallerinas, Brazell cuts a striking figure among more staid government bureaucrats. As we talked, the cacophony of the restaurant began to fade. She scribbled notes on the paper tablecloth (which she later ripped and took back to the office). She asked follow-up questions. She prodded. And most importantly, she listened. I felt heard.

This is a skill Brazell likely learned not just as LA’s leading arts advocate, appointed by Mayor Garcetti in 2014, but also honed for years as a performance artist. Brazell’s path to arts advocacy began in Los Angeles’s public housing and has led to running a $42 million portfolio of facilities and programming to support arts and cultural activities. The Department of Cultural Affairs’s purview is broad, and includes the oversight of public art, arts education, grantmaking to artists, and community arts programming.

While LA’s arts infrastructure has grown exponentially in the past decade, most of that investment has been centered on museums and cultural institutions, such as The Broad in Downtown LA, the expansion of the Hammer Museum in Westwood, and the imminent debut of the Marciano Art Foundation in Windsor Square. Brazell applauds LA’s increasing global visibility for the visual arts, but worries there is a simultaneous disinvestment at the community level, especially in low-income neighborhoods.

Brazell believes her department’s responsibility is to help sustain homegrown local creative communities, nurture local talent, and assist in building professional resources. “Part of our job as public stewards is to have systems in place that are fair and transparent,” she says.

Brazell also envisions more public art programs like last year’s CURRENT: LA Water Biennial. The show’s pieces, created by 13 artists and artist teams, explored our city’s relationship to water. Unlike most biennials, which are typically curated in a central location, CURRENT:LA inverted the model, electing to spread the artworks across the city and across communities. Ultimately, Brazell’s mission is to “recalibrate the way hyperlocal culture thrives.”

Continue reading at: la.curbed.com

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