In the last several years, the City of Long Beach has encouraged the arts in many forms, from large events such as POW! WOW! down to the simple act of painting crosswalks into rainbows and piano keys. Art appreciation has increased in communities citywide, which creates new opportunities for expanding their presence in Long Beach, according to Ron Nelson, executive director of the Long Beach Museum of Art.
“I think that it’s growth in education that’s happened, the enlightenment of the community. There’s been a large shift with Mayor Garcia and the city council,” Nelson said. “There’s an appreciation that’s really sincere and thoughtful, that I have a lot of respect for and am thrilled to see it in place. In 5, 6, 10, 15 years from now, you’re not even going to know what the place looks like.”
One of the simplest ways to bring art to the city is through the architecture of the numerous projects being proposed for development, Nelson explained. He said the city could benefit from multiple new, architecturally significant buildings. He noted that a renowned architect would bring more positive attention to the city and increase its appeal as a destination.
One of Nelson’s long-term goals for the museum specifically is to expand the campus and incorporate Bluff and Bixby parks. To the east of the museum, Nelson is pushing for Bluff Park to be converted into a sculpture garden from South 36th Place, where it begins, to the museum premises. To the west of the museum is where Nelson envisions campus expansion.
“There are other Craftsman homes within the city that are significant, that could be moved – or in my opinion should be moved and treated as though they are a piece of art and sculpture,” Nelson said. “There are two pieces of property between us and Bixby Park that are currently privately owned. I think if we had two buildings and that property, we could expand our galleries.”
For programs such as POW! WOW!, Nelson said eventually they will expand to the rest of the city, as a majority of the murals have been focused in the downtown and East Village areas, with only one mural of the 2017 event being located in North Long Beach. Nelson pointed out that for the project to gain the attention needed to garner initial success, the locations had to be high profile with national and international artists. However, he said as time goes on, the event will spread and more local talent can be utilized.
With community-based events such as POW! WOW!, Nelson said the goal is to make the arts more accessible to every resident citywide, particularly those in underserved communities. He explained that 11,000 students visit the art museum every year. He noted that Vince Staples, a popular rap artist from North Long Beach, visited the museum while in the 5th grade.
“He still remembers that. He wanted to film a public service announcement . . . inside the museum because of what that meant to him as a 5th grader. The voice he now has is much larger than the voice that we have,” Nelson said. “But that’s exactly the goal for me . . . to grab that kid and make a difference. To have them celebrate what this city is. We’re still not anywhere near where we can be yet.”
Nelson said the Long Beach Arts Council is doing good work and working as best it can with the limited amount of funds available, and he noted the uphill battle it is facing. But he thinks the city could do more. He said the arts should be given a more prominent seat at the table in the form of a full-fledged commission within city hall with the capability of making recommendations to the city council.
If his vision of the commission is achieved, Nelson said he would still want to see the arts council continue to grow and be able to handle more coordination and collaboration between all of the city’s museums. He said he appreciates the council’s efforts in bringing more of the arts to Long Beach.
“I really, really am excited about that vision and knowing what’s coming down the line and the possibilities of what could happen with that,” Nelson said. “There has never been a more exciting time in my time here in Long Beach than what’s happening right now. It’s going to change our city. It’s going to change our future.”