LOS ANGELES — When the pandemic closed the doors of creative spaces in Los Angeles, DSTL Arts developed an innovative solution: a roving art lab. Founder and Executive Director Luis Antonio Pichardo would meet artists where they were, providing them with space and the technology to keep creating.
Although Pichardo's vision for the Mobile Art Lab was pre-pandemic, he needed money to make his dream a reality.
Pichardo received the necessary funding this May after fundraising and receiving a grant for COVID relief and rebuilding from the LA Arts Recovery fund — a $36.1 million collaborative effort between the California Community Foundation and the Getty Trust.
The fund awarded 90 small to mid-sized nonprofit organizations spanning the arts ecosystem with operational support grants between $5,000 to $2 million over a two- to three-year period.
The grant helped him stabilize his payroll, Pichardo said, and extend his reach into the community. The Mobile Art Lab launched in 2017. Back then, it was just a Jeep Renegade outfitted with a large-format printer and scanner. Now, thanks to the Recovery Fund, the project has expanded with the addition of an HC1 travel trailer.
“It’s going to be a resource that I am able to take into communities that were really affected, especially by the digital divide that was made that much worse because of the pandemic,” Pichardo said.
The economic impact of COVID-19 amplified pre-pandemic financial challenges facing Los Angeles arts nonprofits. In LA County alone, more than 100,000 creative employees lost their jobs in 2020, according to Otis College of Art and Design’s annual 2021 report on the creative economy.
The strain on the arts sector was met by even greater support from both organizations and private donors. On June 15, The California Community Foundation, or CCF, announced a $20 million “transformative gift” from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott that's intended to provide sustainability for the region’s arts ecosystem through the creation of the LA Arts Endowment Fund.
“This fund is to make sure that we have the ability to provide sustaining support that is beyond the recovery and rebuilding phase,” said Paula Valle Castañon, CFF director of marketing and communications. “The intention for the LA Arts Endowment fund is the long term.”
The endowment can’t be spent for up to a year, Castañon said, and no definitive decisions have been made as to how the fund will be spent.
“In the immediate short term, our goal is actually to fundraise for the LA Arts Recovery Fund because we still have another $10 million we need to meet to ensure a third year of funding,” Castañon said.
There will be an application and review process for the endowment fund, she said, but she expects the criteria and beneficiaries to resemble the organizations aided by the Recovery Fund.
Inner-City Arts President and CEO Shelby Williams-González said that without the support of CFF, the organization would have faced significant downsizing in operations and program offerings.
“We would have had to shrink our programs offerings to make adjustments, but we didn’t have to do that,” Williams-González said. “[The Recovery Fund] allowed us to go into 2021/2022 with the same amount of schools and in some ways even more offerings than we had starting the 2020-2021 year.”
She sees the Endowment Fund as a “beacon of hope” and symbol of trust in the competency and vision of LA arts nonprofits.
“It speaks to being recognized as something essential in everybody’s life,” Williams-González said. "The arts is essential and we all have to give in some way so that more folks have access to it.”
Another beneficiary of the Recovery Fund, The Japanese American National Museum, or JANM, was a recipient of a donation from Scott directly. On June 15, the museum announced a $10 million gift from Scott, the largest single gift in the museum’s history.
Rick Noguchi, chief operating officer of JANM, said the financial support validates the work the museum is doing and encourages and inspires them to keep making an impact moving forward.
“Overall the purpose of [Scott’s] giving makes a major impact, not only on JANM, but on the other organizations because the intent is really about creating equity within the nonprofit sector for organizations that serve communities of color and low-income communities,” Noguchi said.