Updated: Feb 25, 2021
The City of Downey could soon have a Culture Commission. The idea was proposed at the February 23rd meeting of the City Council by Catherine Alvarez of District 3.
Pointing to existing Culture Commissions in neighboring cities like Montebello and Santa Ana, Alvarez stated “Culture Commissions function to enrich the cultural life of the City. This can mean encouraging and showcasing art, dance, music, and more.” She gave specific examples of potential cultural enrichment activities that the Commission could facilitate, including ulama, a traditional Mesoamerican ball game that is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S., as well as baile folklorico, a traditional Mexican dance originating in the state of Jalisco.
Alvarez proposed highlighting artists, saying “I know we have many artists in Downey, from all sorts of backgrounds. Asian, European, African, Indigenous, etc. Creators who want to share their art with the community, and community members who want to learn and grow their understanding and experience of culture. In all its different forms.”
Hearing of the news of Alvarez’ proposal, Downey Arts Coalition member and arts educator, producer, and advocate Alistair Hunter stated to Political Life, “Downey has rejected a number of our requests for an Arts Commission, saying they ‘are not in the business of the arts’, hence the miserable failure of the Downey Civic Theatre owned by the City, operated under contract by Venue Tech that does nothing to create an artistic community, create or support public art or artists in Downey."
It is notable that a Culture Commission is being proposed after the 2020 election. Following the 2016 election, Downey community member and L.A. Times theater critic Lawrence Christon wrote an open letter to the newly elected Council Members, some of whom still serve on the Council, calling for them to be mindful of art and offer more cultural opportunities in the City. He noted “the Symphony can barely cover a tenth of its operating costs” and “the management firm that runs the Downey Theater, is virtually fleecing the city while staging one-and-done events that contribute nothing to Downey’s cultural identity.”
At the City Council meeting, Alvarez ended saying “We need a Culture Commission for Downey, and I would like for us to consider its establishment. Perhaps we can hear from staff about how we could move forward in order to improve the quality of life in this way for our residents.”
Mayor Frometa did not comment on Alvarez’ proposal to establish a Culture Commission, which will presumably be included in the next City Council agenda.