- Los Angeles is known as the global capital of the entertainment industry but also has developed systems of hyper-local arts production that reflect the diversity of the region.
- Extreme decentralisation means that partnerships and collaborations are central to cultural life in the region.
- Private philanthropy is extremely important, both to capital projects and operating support for arts organisations.
City data: Key facts
Geographical area: 10,510 sq. km
Total population: 9,818,605
Total national country population living in the city: 3.18 %
Working age population: 6,040,948
Number of households: 3,241,204
Foreign born population: 35.60 %
Education level - with degree level or higher: 29.20 %
Average income per capita per year (ppp): 27,915
GDP (ppp) (million): US$ 747,306
Creative industries employment: 5.40 %
Los Angeles (LA) has deep roots in Latino culture. Founded in 1781 by the Spanish government, it was part of Mexico from 1821 until 1848, when California was ceded to the United States of America. It became a city in the late nineteenth century, transformed by the arrival of the railways and the discovery of oil.
Yet perhaps the greatest impact upon the city came with the arrival of the film industry in Hollywood in the early twentieth century. For almost a century, Los Angeles has been known as the global capital of the entertainment industry. In addition to film, it is a major player in TV, music, design and publishing, and today the creative industries are the fourth-largest economic sector in the region. Although the city was once considered a ‘cultural desert’ when it comes to high culture, this has changed over the past forty years: LA is now home to world-class art collections, major concert halls and more than 200 museums.
Los Angeles is extremely decentralised, with the Greater Los Angeles area sprawling across five counties. Unlike many cities, there is no single centre around which economic and cultural activity clusters. Within Los Angeles County alone there are 88 municipalities, among them the City of Los Angeles itself, Beverly Hills, Pasadena, Santa Monica, Long Beach and West Hollywood, as well as unincorporated areas controlled directly by the county. This means that there is no single cultural strategy, as each municipality creates its own policy. There are, nonetheless, county-wide institutions that help to ensure a more coherent approach: the LA County Arts Commission, funded principally by local government, makes grants to arts organisations and provides cultural leadership, while Arts for LA is an independent advocacy organisation.
Cultural policy in LA municipalities often focuses on tourism, economic development and marketing. In 2015 the region hit a record high of nearly 46 million tourists who generated almost 20 billion USD in direct spending. Tourists are drawn in part by LA’s festivals and parades: Pasadena’s Rose Parade, held on New Year’s Day, includes marching bands and floats decorated in flowers, and attracts 700,000 spectators and is seen by more than 50 million people on television nationwide. LA is also home to several of the entertainment industry’s most important awards ceremonies – the Oscars, Emmys, Golden Globes, Grammys – as well as industry trade fairs and film festivals.
Due to the region’s decentralisation, partnerships and collaborations are an essential part of LA cultural life. For example, in 2011 the Getty Museum launched Pacific Standard Time: Arts in L.A. 1945-1980, a collaboration of more than 60 cultural institutions and 75 galleries across Southern California, including work by over 1300 artists and a range of exhibitions, performances, concerts, and film screenings. According to the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation, this project generated $280.5 million in economic output in Southern California. It is being followed by PST LA:LA, a new series of thematically-linked exhibits in 2017-18 that will emphasize modern and contemporary art from Latin America.
Private philanthropy is also central to culture in LA. The Getty Museum, a leading tourist attraction and one of the most visited museums in the world, is based around the private collection of – and an exceptional endowment from – the oil tycoon J. Paul Getty. The Walt Disney Concert Hall, which opened in downtown Los Angeles in 2003, was substantially funded by the Disney family. And the Broad Museum, a new 50,000 square foot contemporary art museum which opened in 2015, was financed by philanthropist Eli Broad.
LA’s extreme decentralisation is matched by its social diversity: in 2014, 48% of LA County was Hispanic or Latino, with 14% Asian, 8% Black, and only 27% non-Hispanic White. Despite tensions associated with changing demographics, this ‘majority-minority’ culture gives the region a unique cultural vibrancy.
Gentrification is transforming some neighbourhoods in LA: for example Boyle Heights, an almost entirely Latino neighbourhood whose proximity to downtown LA is putting it on the map for developers. Residents have banded together to take a radical stand against gentrification. Their targets include PSSST, a planned 5000 square foot arts space with inclusive aims, raising questions about balancing urban renewal against the needs of long-term residents.
Environmental issues are urgent for LA. Long known for its car-centred development – and for the consequent traffic and pollution issues – the region has recently had significant success in combating smog, although its public transport system still requires investment. More recently, a historic drought has led to water shortages and wildfires. Global climate change will continue to have particular impact on LA and its success .
These issues are being addressed in the CURRENT:LA Water Public Art Biennial, funded by Bloomberg Philanthropies, which included outdoor installations across the city focusing on water and drought. Meanwhile major infrastructure improvements are being made around the Los Angeles River: architect Frank Gehry’s firm will be working on a revitalisation project to transform 52 miles of the river, including new paths and parks as well as improving water reclamation.
Los Angeles is a vibrant, diverse and decentralised city whose cultural reputation has expanded beyond the film industry to embrace a range of new cultural institutions. Its cultural policy focuses on collaborations and partnerships that draw strength from government, philanthropists, business and nonprofit organisations, using culture to create new ties across the area. While LA still faces major challenges – from gentrification to the impact of climate change – its cultural life has never been so healthy.