TALK IS CHEAP

When it is convenient, and when we want to puff up our collective ego, we brag about the arts in Santa Monica. We are such an art community. We are all in for the arts.

Except we’re not, really, are we? When it comes right down to it. Our money’s too often not where our mouth is, on important stuff. Tuesday night our City Council did the right thing, for arts and Pier businesses on city land, who pay rent to the city, who have been devastated by the closings brought about by the pandemic. Most have had zero income for more than a year and don’t know at this point when that will end.

But they had to fight against an unexpected, two months early staff report that was all wrong, and that many, including Council members, felt was muddled and confusing. A report that proposed a mere three months of rent forgiveness for those arts and Pier businesses, with the balance to be made up immediately after, in effect doubling or tripling their rent at a time when they will be trying desperately to just recover their business.

CITY STAFF OUT OF CONTROL

It was yet another clear example of it, the tail trying to wag the dog, operating, it would appear, on individual agendas that make no sense for the good of the community. And often at odds with what the Council, ostensibly their employer, has indicated their priorities are. Oh sure, there are plenty of accomplishments in the arts that our City staff could point to. But there are way too many grievous errors and omissions for us to call Santa Monica a city of the arts.

Too bad. We should be known that way. The City pushes that narrative, sort of, but not too hard because there are too many recent embarrassments for it to ring true.

Cultural Affairs dragged their feet on support of Make Music Day, then funded counter to purpose, after initially starting the ball rolling, We nearly saw the destruction of the Chain Reaction sculpture, through misinformed studies and lack of City support. There was recently the installation of a half a million dollar art piece in the new City Annex building where you can only see it from the outside if you are standing on one specific spot. We lost the famed Millard Sheets mosaic mural to Orange County — a few on City staff decided it wasn’t worth the effort and expense, even though the building owner was generously offering to cover the $300,000 cost of removal and preservation, but City reps did not bring it to the attention of the Arts or Landmarks Commissions for six weeks after they knew the deadline, until it was too late (heads should have rolled on that blunder, but then, we didn’t even fire out Police Chief on June 1). Two important murals on school property were destroyed, Muir Woods and a Cesar Chavez mural at Samohi — not in the City’s control but within our purview to at least speak out on behalf of preserving public art.

WE’RE 43% ARTS PEOPLE HERE!

According to a 2007 City study titled “Creative Capital, Culture Community Vision,” 43% of Santa Monica’s adults make all or part of their living in arts-related fields. That’s extraordinary. That‘s six times the national average. And it’s nothing new. Look at our history of the last hundred years or more.

What a resource! People, creative people! You have to attract that, and nurture it, you can’t manufacture it. It feeds on itself if it is a known, supported community. What a potential economic engine — the Arts! It’s clean. No pollution, no skyscrapers, no huge manufacturing plants, no noise. It feeds the souls of both maker and consumer.

Imagine the kind of tourism we would have if we were known as the City of Arts: smaller numbers of millions but coming with the intention to spend locally on more than a hotel and a meal. Why, in this once-in-a-century post-pandemic time of reinvention, what a perfect time to truly become the City of Music, the City of Arts.

Instead, what does staff give us? A premature, confusing report blindsiding the arts community and City Council alike, that also recommends hiring three more City Planning staffers, at a cost of a million dollars a year. Because we must, must reinvest in development, and that requires more plan checkers and approvers. That’s either insanity, or some hidden agendas that we need to purge.

Much praise goes to Council members Kevin McKeown, who spoke up early in the meeting to opine that three months’ rent relief was kind of crazy, it should be six, nine months or a year. (I’m with him.) Gleam Davis made the motion that passed, granting nine months relief to our two theaters, City Garage and Ruskin Group, six months to other cultural and Pier businesses and three to six months to galleries. Kristin McCowan pointed out a couple of times how confusing the staff report was, and that was echoed by others.

Now, that’s the way I like to see our City Council advocate and act, for the arts, but how about reducing the roadblocks to that good behavior.

NICOLE RECOMMENDS: — TONIGHT!

DAKHABRAKHA LIVE(STREAM) TONIGHT — DakhaBrakha is a genre-bending quartet from Kyiv, Ukraine. I was fortunate to see them open for Tuvan throat singing stars Huun-Huur-Tu at UCLA’s Royce Hall several years ago, and was impressed by their poise and theatrical stage presence.

Their music is a colorful fusion of international instrumentation that blends contemporary avant-garde with Ukranian folk, jazz, animal sounds, and some things so indescribable you just have to hear them for yourself. DakhaBrakha will be performing live through UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance website tonight at 7 p.m. PDT.

Link to view performance: https://online.cap.ucla.edu/videos/dakhabrakha

Link to digital booklet: https://cap.ucla.edu/archive/programnotes/note.php?n=313_FINAL_HP_DakhaBrakha_2021_Webpdf.pdf

Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 3,000 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at therealmrmusic@gmail.com