Background

The California Arts Council’s cultural districts program aims to assist Californians in leveraging the state’s considerable assets in the areas of culture, creativity, and diversity.  A cultural district is generally understood as a well-defined geographic area with a high concentration of cultural resources and activities.

The mission of the California Arts Council, a state agency, is to advance California through the arts and creativity. The Council is committed to building public will and resources for the arts; fostering accessible arts initiatives that reflect contributions from all of California's diverse populations; serving as a thought leader and champion for the arts; and providing effective and relevant programs and services. Learn more at www.arts.ca.gov

Legislation

With the adoption of AB 189, the state legislature put in place an important new tool for the development, support, and preservation of California’s extensive and diverse cultural assets. AB 189 was authored by Assemblymember Richard Bloom and Co-Authored by Assemblywoman Marie Waldron.

The legislation charged the California Arts Council with establishing criteria and guidelines for state-designated cultural districts, with the following required components of a public program:

(1) Establish a competitive application system by which a community may apply for certification as a state-designated cultural district.

(2) Provide technical assistance for state-designated cultural districts from, among others, artists who have experience with cultural districts and provide promotional support for state-designated cultural districts.

(3) Collaborate with other public agencies and private entities to maximize the benefits of state-designated cultural districts.

Program Development 

In June 2016 the CAC retained the services of consultants Jessica Cusick and Maria Rosario Jackson – experts in public and community arts – as the facilitators of the California Cultural Districts program development process. Over a six month period, the consulting team led a research and development process, which included extensive public input.

The consulting team engaged in a research process over several months which consisted of literature review, document review and interviews. The team compiled information on cultural districts nationally, including program materials and evaluations from several state programs, and conducted interviews with 25 selected local and national experts and thought leaders in a number of fields. Respondents include arts administrators, artists, community developers, and government officials, among others.

Broad participation in public meetings, along with a robust online survey response, provided a clear sense of hopes and concerns regarding state cultivation of cultural districts. Specifically, five public meetings, with over 400 participants, were held in Escondido, Fresno, Los Angeles, Oakland and Redding.

District Certification

California’s cultural districts initiative offers an opportunity to develop a program that is tailored to the nature and circumstances of our large, populous, and diverse state.  Because of the tremendous interest in cultural districts, and the complexity of tailoring a program to adequately support the full range of types of cultural centers throughout the state, the program will be initiated via a two-year long pilot, where a select cohort of designated districts actively engage in refining the final design of the program.  

Applications for the pilot cohort will be solicited in early 2017 with the goal of selecting a small group of 10 to 15 districts that represent the many possible manifestations of cultural centers present in California.  At a minimum the cohort will include districts from urban, suburban and rural locations, as well as districts with an emphasis on cultural consumption, cultural production and cultural heritage.  Further, it will include districts that are at varied points in the life-cycle, from emerging to established.