The Getty pipe­line

The foun­da­tion’s 25-year-old Mul­ti­cul­tural In­tern­ship Pro­gram is help­ing to change the face of arts lead­er­ship in Los An­ge­les


In sum­mer 1999, Edgar Gar­cia took an in­tern­ship at the Los An­ge­les Con­ser­vancy that helped change the course of his life.

Born in Hol­ly­wood and raised in Lin­coln Heights, Gar­cia is the son of Mex­i­can im­mi­grants who, when he was ac­cepted at Yale Univer­sity, hoped he might study some­thing “prac­ti­cal.” Maybe medicine, en­gi­neer­ing or law.

“I was forc­ing my­self to go down that track and take the cour­ses in ar­eas I thought I had to,” he re­calls. “But ev­ery time I took a his­tory or ar­chi­tec­ture course, that was my pas­sion.”

That pas­sion ul­ti­mately led him to ap­ply to the Getty Foun­da­tion’s Mul­ti­cul­tural In­tern­ship Pro­gram, which funds un­der­grad­u­ate in­tern­ships for stu­dents from un­der­rep­re­sented groups at cul­tural or­ga­ni­za­tions around Los An­ge­les County.

Through that pro­gram, he landed a sum­mer in­tern­ship at the Los An­ge­les Con­ser­vancy, where he helped map his­toric sites in Lin­coln Heights and put to­gether a his­tor­i­cal ex­hi­bi­tion in col­lab­o­ra­tion with stu­dents from Lin­coln High School.

“I’d had no idea that or­ga­ni­za­tions ded­i­cated to ei­ther ar­chi­tec­ture or pub­lic art or pro­grams like that were so pro­fes­sion­al­ized,” re­calls Gar­cia. “I didn’t know that was even a vi­able ca­reer.” In­deed, it has been quite vi­able for Gar­cia in the years since. To­day, he is the deputy for art and cul­ture at City Hall, help­ing man­age art and cul­ture pol­icy for Mayor Eric Garcetti.

“I’m proud of the fact that the mayor’s cul­tural per­son hap­pens to be a Mex­i­can from Lin­coln Heights,” says Gar­cia. “I came out of a neigh­bor­hood that we work with ev­ery day.”

The Getty Foun­da­tion’s Mul­ti­cul­tural In­tern­ship Pro­gram was launched as a di­rect re­sponse to the Los An­ge­les ri­ots in 1992.

“It was re­ally a process of think­ing, how does the Getty re­spond to these events — and re­spond in a way that re­lates to our mis­sion?” says foun­da­tion Deputy Di­rec­tor Joan We­in­stein.

“We could look at arts or­ga­ni­za­tions across the city and see that they still didn’t ap­pro­pri­ately re­flect the di­ver­sity of com­mu­ni­ties in Los An­ge­les,” she adds. “So we started to think of the pipe­line is­sue.”

By fund­ing paid in­tern­ships for un­der­rep­re­sented mi­nori­ties at dozens of cul­tural or­ga­ni­za­tions around L.A. County, the foun­da­tion got to work build­ing that pipe­line. The idea: Pro­vide stu­dents with real-world pro­fes­sional ex­pe­ri­ence at cul­tural non­prof­its small and large, be it the Cen­ter for the Study of Po­lit­i­cal Graph­ics or the Mu­seum of Con­tem­po­rary Art.

The first crop of 89 in­terns com­pleted ses­sions at 80 arts or­ga­ni­za­tions around L.A. in sum­mer 1993. Twenty-five years later, the Mul­ti­cul­tural In­tern­ship Pro­gram is still go­ing strong.

Over that pe­riod, the Getty Foun­da­tion has funded more than 3,200 in­tern­ships at an es­ti­mated 160 Los An­ge­les arts or­ga­ni­za­tions, in­clud­ing 120 in­tern­ships this sum­mer. That amounts to an in­vest­ment of more than $12 mil­lion over a quar­ter-cen­tury.

The pro­gram is open to in­di­vid­u­als with some con­nec­tion to L.A. — stu­dents who are ei­ther at­tend­ing col­lege in the area or were raised in Los An­ge­les County. And although in the large scheme of things, it may not seem as if an arts in­tern­ship pro­gram could do all that much be­yond pro­vid­ing an en­rich­ing sum­mer ex­pe­ri­ence to a hand­ful of in­di­vid­u­als, the Getty’s pro­gram is qui­etly help­ing change the face of cul­ture in Los An­ge­les.

In­dus­try prob­lem

It is no se­cret that the arts in­dus­try has a di­ver­sity prob­lem. Ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased by the An­drew W. Mel­lon Foun­da­tion in 2015, 84% of high-level jobs at mu­se­ums na­tion­wide — cu­ra­tors, con­ser­va­tors, ed­u­ca­tors and lead­ers — are oc­cu­pied by whites. The only ar­eas in which mi­nori­ties dom­i­nate are in jan­i­to­rial and se­cu­rity ser­vices.

In a county like Los An­ge­les, where roughly half the pop­u­la­tion is Latino, 14% is Asian and nearly 9% is black, stats such as those would trans­late to cul­tural lead­er­ship that in no way rep­re­sents the eth­nic or racial re­al­ity on the ground.

For 25 years, the Getty’s Mul­ti­cul­tural In­tern­ship Pro­gram has at­tempted to ad­just those fig­ures.

Alumni in­clude pain­ter Mark Brad­ford, who re­cently had a one-man show at the Ham­mer Mu­seum and will rep­re­sent the United States at the Venice Bi­en­nale this year; Leti­tia Fer­nan­dez Ivins, who man­ages pub­lic art pro­grams at the Metropoli­tan Trans­porta­tion Au­thor­ity, and John Tain, who is an as­sis­tant cu­ra­tor for mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary col­lec­tions at the Getty Re­search In­sti­tute.

Work ex­pe­ri­ence

Tain, who was born in Tai­wan and raised in the San Gabriel Val­ley, com­pleted his in­tern­ship in 1995 at what was then the Getty Re­search Cen­ter (now the Getty Re­search In­sti­tute). A paid po­si­tion — “I needed to have a pay­ing sum­mer job,” he says, “and this was enough to pay rent and other ex­penses” — it pro­vided him with work ex­pe­ri­ence.

“I was hav­ing a real hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with archival ma­te­ri­als and spe­cial col­lec­tions ma­te­rial,” he says. “I wasn’t push­ing paper.”

For Ivins, who has worked for the MTA for 2½ years help­ing to over­see pub­lic art projects in train sta­tions and bus fa­cil­i­ties, the in­tern­ship pro­vided a broader knowl­edge of arts in Los An­ge­les.

Ivins, who is part Filip­ina and grew up around Cul­ver City, did two mul­ti­cul­tural in­tern­ships — one at the Skir­ball Cul­tural Cen­ter and an­other at the Pa­cific Asia Mu­seum in Pasadena in the early 2000s.

“I saw parts of L.A. that I had never re­ally dug into,” she says.

A trip to Highland Park in­tro­duced her to the work of artist Tricia Ward and the non­profit Art. Com­mu­nity. Land. Ac­tivism., or ACLA, which em­ployed art as a com­mu­nity-or­ga­niz­ing tool.

“When I grad­u­ated, on the rec­om­men­da­tions of a men­tor, I vol­un­teered with them,” says Ivins. “That was the segue into non­profit art or­ga­ni­za­tions.”

Over the years, an in­for­mal net­work of for­mer Getty in­terns has be­come more in­flu­en­tial.

“I can call my friend the film­maker or my friend the reg­is­trar at UCLA or my friend the ar­chiv­ist,” Gar­cia says. “It’s a to­tal cross-pol­li­na­tion.”

“Ev­ery men­tor I’ve worked un­der has been an amaz­ing re­source,” says Hanna Girma, an as­sis­tant cu­ra­tor at the Mis­take Room, an arts non­profit in down­town. (She cu­rated the on­go­ing ex­hi­bi­tion “Ana­log Cur­rency,” which ex­plores the re­ver­ber­a­tions of the In­ter­net on cul­ture.)

Girma grew up in Oak­land and is of Ethiopian and African Amer­i­can de­scent. As a stu­dent at UCLA, she in­terned at the Ham­mer Mu­seum and the Mis­take Room. She says her Getty men­tors “re­ally have helped shape me.”

Le­gal chal­lenge

Even with the pro­gram’s suc­cess­ful track record, there have been chal­lenges. Last year, a white stu­dent who did not get into the pro­gram sued the Getty Foun­da­tion for dis­crim­i­na­tion. The case was set­tled for an undis­closed sum, and now the of­fi­cial lan­guage states that ap­pli­cants must be “mem­bers of an un­der­rep­re­sented group in­clud­ing but not lim­ited to those of African Amer­i­can, Asian, Latino/His­panic, Na­tive Amer­ica, or Pa­cific Is­land de­scent.”

None of this changes the Getty Foun­da­tion’s aim of con­tin­u­ing to di­ver­sify the lead­er­ship ranks at the city’s cul­tural in­sti­tu­tions, an aim that is be­gin­ning to blos­som as some for­mer in­terns reach a stage of their ca­reers where they be­gin to wield greater in­flu­ence over pro­gram­ming and pol­icy.

As they move on to big­ger roles, the foun­da­tion has con­tin­ued to sup­port them — pro­vid­ing, for ex­am­ple, fund­ing for pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment.

“Be­cause of the Getty, I’ve been to the Cal­i­for­nia Assn. of Mu­se­ums con­fer­ence more than once, and I’ve been to the Amer­i­can Al­liance of Mu­se­ums mega­con­fer­ence more than once,” says Betty Avila, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor at Self-Help Graph­ics. “Ev­ery time I at­tend those types of things, it grows my net­work even more — it grows op­por­tu­ni­ties and con­nec­tions.”

Avila, who grew up in Cy­press Park and at­tended Pitzer Col­lege in Claremont, com­pleted her in­tern­ship at the Getty Re­search In­sti­tute in 2007, where she helped bring non­tra­di­tional au­di­ences to the mu­seum. As part of that job, she ar­ranged for gar­ment work­ers, house­keep­ers and day la­bor­ers to get cu­ra­tor-led tours of a clas­si­cal art ex­hi­bi­tion at the Getty Villa in Pa­cific Pal­isades.

As a re­sult, she says, “I be­came very in­ter­ested in com­mu­nity en­gage­ment,” which in­spired her to take her po­si­tion at Self-Help, the com­mu­nity arts non­profit that works with myr­iad con­stituen­cies in Boyle Heights.

We­in­stein says it is “un­be­liev­ably grat­i­fy­ing” to see for­mer in­terns start to trans­form the city’s cul­tural pro­file.

“It can take 25 years to ef­fect change,” she says. “It’s pa­tience.”

Christina House For The Times

GRAD­U­ATES of the Getty Foun­da­tion pro­gram in­clude, from left, Hanna Girma of the Mis­take Room, Edgar Gar­cia of the city of Los An­ge­les, Leti­tia Fer­nan­dez Ivins of the MTA, John Tain of the Getty Re­search In­sti­tute and Betty Avila of Self-Help Graph­ics.

Pho­to­graphs by Christina House For The Times

HANNA GIRMA, left, an as­sis­tant cu­ra­tor for the Mis­take Room, chats with Joan We­in­stein at the Getty.

CYN­THIA QUERIO, left, a pro­gram as­sis­tant, and We­in­stein, deputy di­rec­tor of the Getty Foun­da­tion, which has in­vested more than $12 mil­lion in the pro­gram.

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