by Ramona Pilar Gonzales
In continuing this work, the First Responders Tales Symposium #2: Tales from the Trenches brought Jesus Reyes (Program Manager, Community Partnerships for Center Theatre Group and Creative Artistic Director, East LA Rep), Jenna Delgado (PhD Candidate, UCLA World Arts and Cultures Program), and Pierson Blaetz (Co-Founder and Co-Artistic Director, Greenway Arts Alliance) together to discuss the financial models that allow them to do the work that they do.
Jesus Reyes and East LA Rep have a partnership with LegacyLA, a youth development organization that serves Ramona Gardens, Boyle Heights, and surrounding neighborhoods, which allows them to have a free physical space within LegacyLA’s building in exchange for developing programming for the local community. The drawback, however, as it is with a lot of First Responder (FR) theater organizations, East LA Rep operates and has operated on a minimal to non-existent (at times) budget, which keeps them in a state of constantly treading water. This makes it difficult to consider larger fundraising opportunities.
Jenna Delgado spoke from the point of view of the individual artist - a FR company of one - and her experience working with multiple organizations. She found that there was a complicated understanding of what “engagement with the community” can and could be. For some funding organizations, having an artistic presentation at the end of a project period is enough. There are no set metrics to measure the actual value of the arts programming on the community. With little support from the funding organization to continue to develop programming, which would illustrate the value and impact of the programs on the community, funding is in a constant, tenuous state with threats to program cuts constantly looming.
The Greenway Arts Alliance, founded by Whitney Weston and Pierson Blaetz, is a nonprofit organization develops visual and performing arts education for Fairfax High School and produces theater and film for the local community. Blaetz and Weston founded the Melrose Trading Post as a means to generate revenue to fund Fairfax High School’s theater program. It now funds ½ of the school’s arts programming.
Through a partnership with LAUSD, Greenway is able to employ an alternative artist’s entrepreneurial model - pay yourself first! Because of this partnership with LAUSD, the program is able to receive enough funding to pour most of it into program administration - the structure that holds the program together and will help it evolve and expand.
When an initiative like this has success, as Greenway has, funders want to see the model duplicated and applied to other places that need the services the successful initiative provides. Part of what makes FR organizations like Greenway so successful is that they spend time in a specific community and identify the specific needs, which allows them to tailor programming efforts geared towards that specific community. Each area across Los Angeles has its own culture and set of specific issues that need to be addressed. One model, which may thrive in one area of the city may not do so well in another because each area has it’s own culture and set of issues.
Living in LA, we hear about other companies doing impactful work often times with absolutely no idea how they are able to be successful in the way that they are. In coming together, sitting together and sharing together, rather than thinking of each other as competition, we’re able to gather knowledge and be inspired to think outside of our respective boxes and conceive new models of operations that actually serve the work that we do. In coming together in a space to talk and share about our experience, we also discover a network of support waiting to be of service.