Through her work as executive director of the Arts Council for Long Beach, Griselda Suarez emphasizes the importance of embracing all art forms from different Long Beach artists. “For so long people thought the Arts Council only focused on visual arts, and now we really want to open that up through our artists’ registry to different mediums and genres,” she said.


In that spirit, the Arts Council for Long Beach’s main art space in downtown, The Collaborative Gallery, opened its current “Stories of Boundaries” visual art exhibition in August with an interpretive dancer as well as a local jazz band.

Griselda Suarez, executive director of the Arts Council for Long Beach, stands beside a mural from the Collaborative Gallery’s current exhibition, “Stories of Boundaries.” The exhibit is on display through September 28 at the gallery at 421 W. Broadway. “The Collaborative Gallery is a dedicated space for artists that are on our artists’ registry,” Suarez said of the gallery space. “The artists’ registry was launched earlier this year in March. It is a place where artists can build their profiles and showcase their work.” (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Brandon Richardson)


Not only does Suarez, a literary artist herself, want to showcase different mediums of art, but also artists of different levels and backgrounds. Downtown has a growing busking community that Suarez wants to highlight as well. Busking is performing on the streets and accepting donations from the public. “You can have an artist who, even if they were a dancer, could just pull up to a corner or storefront and start doing their art form and that would be accepted and welcomed,” Suarez said. “I think that a healthy arts environment is when both [busking and non-busking artists] can exist.”


The council has a number of projects to present the eclectic nature of Long Beach’s art community, including the annual State of the Arts to be held October 12 in partnership with Mayor Robert Garcia. “Our theme this year is taking on an arts revolution in the sense that we’re really looking forward to celebrating, honoring and helping our residents imagine a city full of the arts,” Suarez said. “[We look forward] to looking at artists and organizations that transform our creative landscape in Long Beach.”


Suarez stressed the importance of civic engagement in all aspects of the council’s decision-making and event planning in order to be inclusive of the city’s various communities. To this end, the Arts Council launched an open discussion in partnership with 2nd District Councilmember Jeannine Pearce, the East Village Association and the Downtown Long Beach Alliance at East Village Arts Park this past June. “We had an open conversation evening where we invited people to share their ideas on how the park can be used,” Suarez said. “We look forward to implementing some of those ideas.”


Another goal the council wants to achieve is creating even more partnerships with businesses. “Working with the business improvement districts has really been the first step toward creating more partnerships with businesses, and it has helped tremendously,” Suarez said. “Then there are some businesses in Long Beach that just really want to support the Arts Council, and they have stepped forward because they see the importance of art in their businesses spaces. . . . It’s exciting that more and more people are using us as a resource and are seeing the opportunities that the arts could bring to their neighborhoods.”


The Arts Council also features an artist registry consisting of individuals from different cultural backgrounds who present a wide range of art categories, including folk, literature, performance and visual arts. Artists who live in Long Beach as well as artists who work in Long Beach but do not live in the city are all eligible to be on the registry.


“Just like how we have city workers who don’t live in Long Beach but work for the City of Long Beach, we have some neighboring artists who dedicate their time to the city here and are very much involved,” Suarez said. “So we’re highlighting their work.”


The Collaborative Gallery features a variety of individuals from the artist registry. The current exhibition displays work from artists who received the council’s 2017-2018 Professional Artist Fellowship award. Those awarded the fellowship are considered the artists of the year, according to Suarez.


Professional development and exposure opportunities like the Professional Artist Fellowship are made possible by funds from the city’s Percent for the Arts program. Mayor Garcia proposed reviving the program in 2016, and it was unanimously approved by the Long Beach City Council. It took effect in 2017.


The program assesses a 1% fee on new capital improvement projects that cost more than $100,000 to fund art projects in the city. Funds are managed by the Arts Council’s board, which is currently examining the best ways to spend funds that were generated for the current fiscal year.


A press release from the city manager’s office this past July stated that the Arts Council, along with other major art organizations in the city, will receive increased arts funding from the General Fund for the proposed Fiscal Year 2019 budget. Suarez said the city projected $170,000 from Percent for the Arts funding alone.


The Arts Council, in collaboration with the city manager’s office, shaped policies and procedures of the Long Beach Percent for the Arts Committee but is still in the process of forming the committee itself, according to Suarez. Until the committee is formed, the council will continue to work on responsibly using funds for programs like the Professional Artist Fellowship, she said.


Suarez emphasized the importance of funding the arts, “I understand that there are many services and many priorities within our cities; I’m here to say that arts and culture are a foundation for a better life, for building close-knit communities and for expression.”