It was standing room only at the Arts Council for Long Beach’s annual State of the Arts event this morning, where approximately 250 art enthusiasts, supporters, leaders and elected officials came together to celebrate the arts. Held at Liberty Art Gallery, the former home of Wille’s Tin Shop at 435 Alamitos Avenue, the event took place on the organization’s 40th Anniversary and in partnership with Mayor Robert Garcia’s Office.

After an outdoor continental breakfast sponsored by TGIS Catering and live music by Long Beach gypsy jazz band Hedgehog Swing, attendees gathered inside to hear arts-related news announcements from Mayor Garcia and Arts Council leaders.

The Mayor gave an inspiring speech espousing his support for the arts through funding, commission appointments and partnerships. In a nod to the Queen Mary Land Development Task Force, a city commission, he described the new outdoor amphitheater that will be built next to the Queen Mary and said he hopes it will rival the Hollywood Bowl.

Garcia made last year’s State of the Arts event his platform to announce he would ask the city council to consider permanent arts funding through a Percent For Art Program, which he did soon thereafter. The council voted unanimously to have city staff study this idea. This morning he announced to applause that he expects “In November or early December that the percent for arts program will be back to the council for study and a vote for implementation.”

Garcia said it was great to see “so many people who make our city great all in one room, celebrating the arts. And [that’s] what making a great city is all about…having an international, well-respected community that has a vibrant arts scene.”

Arts Council Executive Director Griselda Suárez spoke and called 2016 “the year of collaboration.” She said, “Artists, community partners and civic leaders have come together to use art as a tool for empowerment, pride and transformation. Neighborhoods are creating more creative spaces, we have art and music in public places and of course our walls have some of the most distinctive murals around.”

Suárez announced new programs, including the Cambodia Town Mural Project, an effort in Midtown that will erect up to nine murals along Anaheim Street by local artists next spring. She acknowledged other partnerships, including several mural projects with council offices, the Arts Council’s arts education programs in public schools, and the organization’s Creative Long Beach college internship program. She also announced the organization’s newly elected board president: Tasha Hunter, executive director of the Uptown Business Improvement District.

Hunter, Suárez and Outgoing President Marco Schindelmann announced the organization’s annual arts award honorees. Downtown mover and shaker Mike Wylie received this year’s James H. Ackerman Arts Philanthropist award, Long Beach Museum of Art Executive Director Ron Nelson received Innovator of the Year, Kerstin Kansteiner, owner of Portfolio Coffeehouse, Berlin Coffeehouse and The Art Theater and president of the 4th Street Business Association, was named Economic Development Arts Trailblazer, Cherilyn Walker was acknowledged as Arts Educator for her work with middle school students in Central Long Beach, and X. Francois Hussenet was honored as Arts Volunteer for his free painting classes to the LGBTQ community at The Center.

The Arts Council created a new award this year called Incite/Insight, created to shine light the on the multifaceted arts and varied perspectives of culture in Long Beach. Three people were honored with this award: creative writer liz gonzález, Dr. Daniel Walker of the Long Beach International Film Festival, and Prumsodun Ok for his work in preserving the art of Cambodian dance.

Outgoing Board Member Barbara Blackwell was recognized for her exceptional service, and current Board Member Renee Simon was honored for her decades of volunteering in Long Beach arts, including helping integrate the arts into other areas of priority throughout the city.

The event was sponsored by: Port of Long Beach, Liberty Art Gallery, TGIS Catering, Long Beach Convention & Visitors Bureau, Long Beach Convention & Entertainment Center/SMG, Farmers & Merchants Bank, Long Beach Transit, Downtown Long Beach Associates, interTrend, Yellow Cab Long Beach, Long Beach Community Foundation, Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association, Cambodia Town Inc., East Anaheim Street Business Alliance/Zaferia and the Uptown Property Business Improvement District.

Photo credit: EPK Vision