New Santa Monica Arts Commissioner Michelle Edgar speaks at a gathering held at the Viceroy on Aug. 22. Credit: Jerrit Clark

Santa Monica’s rich tradition as an epicenter of the arts is being passed on to a fresh voice in the community.

Michelle Edgar has stepped into the position of an Arts Commissioner for the city. A resident of the Los Angeles area for over a decade, Edgar took the chance to move to her “happy place” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When I first moved to L.A., the Santa Monica Pier, concerts, the culture in Santa Monica always drew me,” Edgar said. “I knew it was a matter of time before I moved (here), now I’m (here), and I’m looking to really lay my roots in the community and create some impact.”

Edgar has been making her impact felt in the arts and entertainment world on both coasts. A piano player from a young age, she studied at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, eventually developing programs in the city through her non-profit, Music Unites. Her efforts in Los Angeles included spearheading an orchestra program in Compton.

In Los Angeles is where Edgar combined her philanthropy work with her professional ambitions in the music industry, becoming an agent with ICM Partners in 2016. She developed relationships with A-list stars such as Mary J. Blige, Anderson.Paak and Rick Ross, and now desires to parlay those experiences into fresh arts fare for Santa Monica.

“I realized I had this kind of interesting convergence of my skill sets and I knew that there was more I could do … I want to do something to give back. I want to do something that serves,” she said.

To best serve the city, Edgar applied for the Art Commissioner position, with a co-sign from friend and State Senator Ben Allen helping to facilitate conversations about the role with City Council. Now in the position, Edgar recognizes that her servitude comes at a “critical time” for Santa Monica, a time to begin planning for major events such as the World Cup in 2026 and the Olympics in 2028.

“Santa Monica is the epicenter of arts and culture and it couldn’t be better timing to spotlight and celebrate artistry and creators that move culture,” she added. “We are uniquely situated with our diversity across cultures and art forms. Creating this kind of platform brings the community together celebrating our city, while propelling innovation in arts and cultural experiences … opening a new realm of possibilities.”

The first of those possibilities to become a reality was a series of Salsa dance lessons at the Pier. After a successful first run in the springtime, Salsa nights will return to the Pier next month.

“Michelle approached the Pier Corporation last winter with a request to add Salsa dance lessons to our monthly Locals’ Nights and we agreed to give it a try,” Pier Executive Director Jim Harris said. “What started out as a modest addition quickly grew into one of the most popular and spectacular parts of our series, and that’s really 100% due to Michelle. I expect that the Arts Commission will greatly benefit from her dedication and diligence toward making good things happen.”

Making things happen has required making herself known in the community, something Edgar accomplished through several gatherings in August. Events were held at both the Santa Monica Proper Hotel and the Viceroy, attended by city officials and other stakeholders.

For Edgar, the events and her continuing discussions will help to shape her arts and culture vision for the city.

“I think there needs to be a learning and understanding of what has been created in the past, what’s worked, what hasn’t, and then take that wealth of knowledge and … (connect) it to my background and my relationships from the entertainment space,” she said.

Those relationships include a hope that local entertainment businesses will “ignite” in their passion for Santa Monica arts. Edgar has begun the process of developing partnerships with local companies like Universal Music Group, Bad Robot, Red Bull, Lionsgate and Activision.

Local creatives are also encouraged to lend their voice, with Edgar theorizing that connective conversational meetings in the vein of “Inside the Actor’s Studio” can make local artists part of the puzzle.

“I hope that becomes something that can really grow because the best things happen when it’s organic,” she said. “(We can] really celebrate the culture, artistry and people of our city.”

Her passion for the city’s culture comes from personal experience, knowing the power that arts and entertainment can bring to any individual.

“As a trained concert pianist, that was my everything, that was my outlet, and I know the power of art and music,” she said. “It’s the most powerful universal language that unites us all.”

Thomas Leffler has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism from Penn State University and has been in the industry since 2015. Prior to working at SMDP, he was a writer for AccuWeather and managed...