The fine art of saving jobs

October 27, 2009 

Against the vast backdrop of the federal stimulus program, $420,084 may not seem like such a massive sum.

portaitbyrymanBut to Tiffany Gallindo, it’s huge. It means she can keep her job on the front lines of the Ryman Arts program, working to bring a free visual arts education and college guidance to gifted Los Angeles high school students, many of them low-income.

It means that Samuel Jang gets to continue his work as production manager for the Southwest Chamber Music Society, including helping to put together ambitious upcoming tours to Mexico and Vietnam.

And it means that Kenton J. Haleem of the Hollywood Entertainment Museum can bring back a position recently put on “hiatus”—a program manager in the organization’s media arts training program for at-risk kids.

All three organizations recently were singled out for grants of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds from the National Endowment for the Arts. The cash infusion comes thanks to the efforts of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission and the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, which together were able to preserve 21 positions in 16 arts organizations.

“The arts are a huge economic engine for our whole region,” says Laura Zucker, executive director of the County Arts Commission. “This is an important employer,” Zucker says, noting that the 300-plus arts organizations that are funded by the county employ more than 21,000 people.

And the importance of the organizations can be measured in more than just paychecks.

At Ryman Arts, a small nonprofit using donated studio space on the USC campus, they’re feeling the economic pains of students and recent alumni first-hand.

“Their calls and needs have been more urgent: Can we point them to more scholarship opportunities because they can’t take on more college loans? Can we arrange for them to stay after class to draw, because the electricity has been turned off at their apartment?” the organization said in its application for the grant. “Can we write another recommendation letter for a college application because they don’t have an art teacher at school?”

On the front lines is Gallindo, handling the phones, shepherding student applications, working to bring the aspiring artists and their work into the fold.

“I actually went to an arts high school,” says Gallindo, a dancer who attended Los Angeles County High School for the Arts and had been working at an insurance company before joining Ryman. “It changed my life and it opened doors. To be a part of something that is providing that opportunity to kids today is very rewarding.” (View recent student artwork on Ryman’s Flickr site).

Ryman artwork by Century City student

Ryman artwork by Century City student

The grant “just gives us a huge sigh of relief,” says Ryman’s executive director, Diane Brigham. “With the downturn, I had to lay off another position entirely… We’re [now] a four-person organization. And I’m really glad we’re not a three-person organization.”

At the Southwest Chamber Music Society, there’s a similar mixture of excitement about upcoming projects—and concern about how to carry out an increasingly ambitious mission in an economic downturn.

On the plus side, the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Department is sponsoring Southwest as it travels later this year to represent the U.S. at the Guadalajara FIL Arts Festival. Even more complex is next year’s State Department-sponsored Ascending Dragon Music Festival and Cultural Exchange, which will include music festivals, educational programs and administrative workshops in the U.S. and Vietnam.

“This is what we’re calling a transformative year for Southwest Chamber Music,” says Executive Director Jan Karlin, “and we needed to bring in someone to manage it.”

Vietnam, from Southwest Chamber Music

Vietnam, from Southwest Chamber Music

But because Southwest is “seeing a substantial decrease in most of our funding sources,” the federal stimulus funds were needed to pay Jang’s salary, the organization said in its application. He will not only to help manage the upcoming tours but also holds considerable responsibilities for Southwest’s musical and educational outreach throughout Los Angeles County.

Jang, whose background is in financial systems analysis and who served on Southwest’s board as treasurer before joining its staff, says he is relishing the change in perspective that comes with his new position.

“Having come from the financial services world—one of the casualties of this recession—it’s a really eye-opening opportunity for me,” he says. Working with “staff, musicians and audiences puts a more human face on this organization. Just last week, I coordinated the start of our music educational program at Keppel and Pasadena high schools.”

Across town, the Hollywood Entertainment Museum has been trying to help a new generation write its own kind of history, as 75 high school students—many of them dropouts, on probation, or otherwise “at risk”—learn the ropes of entertainment industry trades. The museum’s educational arm, the Hollywood Media Arts Academy, which is a collaboration with L.A. County Office of Education and the Probation Department, combines core academics with elective classes, including animation, dance, film production and acting.

The federal grant “can’t come soon enough,” says Haleem, the organization’s director of education and development, who says the group’s program manager had been placed on “somewhat of a hiatus.” Now that there’s money to rehire, he says, “I’m hoping she’s still available.”

“Things are tough right now,” he says. “I think that is the story of the nonprofits right now.”

Students taking part in filmmaking course sponsored by the Hollywood Entertainment Museum

Students taking part in filmmaking course sponsored by the Hollywood Entertainment Museum

In all, the NEA gave out 630 direct grants totaling $29.7 million, with $4.45 million going to California, including funds provided to the city and county commissions.

To view a full list of the county and city grants, click here.

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