The Music Center Plaza – just across from Grand Park in downtown Los Angeles – has an estimated $30 million in upgrades on the way. Renovations will include building lush balconies and a new water fountain, but the changes are also aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion among the center's visitors.
Redesigning a physical space may not be the first tool that comes to mind for changing the culture of an arts institution. But for Music Center president Rachel Moore, it’s a vital piece of the puzzle.
"We will have restaurants of different price points, so people feel welcome – that it’s not just for the fancy white people, frankly, on the hill," said Rachel Moore, president and chief executive officer of the performing arts center.
Plans to refurbish the plaza have been on the table for years, but now L.A. County, which owns the complex, is putting up the funds for development.
"I think that what happened is that we were able to articulate an argument about inclusion and diversity," said Moore. "Creating a space is not only a moral imperative but an economic imperative. So we really needed to get this going because we're being hamstrung by a space that doesn't accommodate as many people as we would like."
The new space will be able to accommodate 2,500, up from the current 1,500 and will have a flat design with fewer steps to increase accessibility for people with disabilities.
Since Moore stepped in as CEO last October, she’s pioneered some big changes. The Music Center’s board of directors now has one-third minority members, up from 17 percent. She's created a new executive position – vice president of community engagement – to increase outreach, and developed more cultural programming that’s drawing in audiences of color.
Board supervisor Hilda Solis hosted a press conference Monday announcing the plans to rebuild and applauding the Music Center's efforts to increase access.
"For so many people that I represent in my district, it is not a reality for them to always be able to come here," said at the press conference. "But we want to take that and make a change and allow for performances to be held out here before the public."
The changes at the Music Center tie into a county-wide Arts Diversity Initiative, which Solis spearheaded. The county board of supervisors passed a motion in December that tasked the County Arts Commission with setting up a task force to diversify the leadership and audiences of the area's arts institutions.
"As soon as I got on the board, we started to talk about this: How can we be more inclusive with our county jewels like the Philharmonic, the Music Center, the Ford Theatre?" said Solis. "All these things that are paid for by taxpayer dollars, but many in our community aren’t able to access."
The county has committed $2 million dollars to the development stage of the plaza refurbishment, and is expected to contribute $25 million more. The Music Center plans to contribute $5 million. Groundbreaking is expected to take place early next year.