This post is part of our Inside Artist-Municipal Partnerships blog salon.

This summer the LA County Arts Commission (LACAC) kicked off the artist-in-residence Creative Strategist Initiative. One of seven recommendations from the Cultural Equity & Inclusion Initiative that were funded by the LA County Board of Supervisors in 2017, the AIR Creative Strategist Initiative places individuals with artistic expertise in County departments to assist in the implementation of special County projects. Creative Strategists are placed as artists in residence (CS-AIR) for a minimum of 12 months, and work alongside department staff. Together, the department and CS-AIR collaborate with project partners and community stakeholders to effect change and impact a specific project or initiative.

Cycle One’s Creative Strategists are embedded in two departments: the LA County Library, to create lifelong learning opportunities for local communities, and the Registrar-Recorder’s Office, to help ensure equal access to voting for over 5.2 million voters.

Brown Bag Art Challenge engagement event exploring what a community-oriented voting event should feel like; facilitated by Creative Strategist Maria Lamadrid embedded in the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s Office.

The Arts Commission implemented extensive field research and months of conversations with these departments to prepare for artist placement, uncovering critical lessons through the process.

Do deeper assessment of department readiness to work collaboratively with an artist.

“Trust the artist-driven process” does not easily translate to non-arts staff nor governmental management styles. We learned quickly that departments often work within a performance matrix with set timelines for goals and milestones. The framework that was established for the CS-AIR was intentionally set to allow the artist to get grounded in the department’s program without an explicitly stated end product or art deliverable. The different styles required Arts Commission staff to serve as translator; in some instances, emphasizing that an artist’s unique creative process is meant to organically infiltrate the department’s systems by using a different lens through which to look at things.

Define the chain of command for department review and approvals.

Transparency in governmental institutions is pivotal to the work we do. The artist must have a clear understanding of the channels of review and approval, policy, and human resource considerations. Clarity on departmental protocols are critical in the implementation of the artists’ work. For example, our artist proposed a lunch-time activity and due to union rules, the activity had to clearly state it was voluntary, on the employee’s own break time, and not sanctioned during work hours. In addition, any fliers had to be reviewed and approved by the Human Resource division of the department.

We also learned it is critical to identify additional team members who can serve as a secondary point of contact to support the department Liaison designated to work with the artist in residence. The department Liaisons located in upper management have other priorities, which means they have limited time and availability to adequately serve as the connector and decision maker to the artist.

Offer clear guidelines on government policies.

While the artist is contracted by the Arts Commission, s/he is placed in the department as a consultant and reports to the department Liaison who serves as the gatekeeper and collaborator. County human resource policies and procedures such as the County Policy on Equity, Ethics, and Sexual Harassment apply to the consultant, and establishing an understanding of how policies will be adhered to should be clearly defined in the Memorandum of Understanding between the host Department and the Arts Commission. In addition, the Human Resource manual should be provided to the artist as a resource during the onboarding process and any training provided.

These are lessons learned that will be taken into account as we begin the next cycle of the Creative Strategist Initiative. This is an iterative process, ever evolving during this three-year pilot project.