Following a year-and-a-half vacancy, a hiring freeze and an extensive nationwide search, the Santa Monica Community and Cultural Services Department has hired Jessica Cusick as the new city cultural affairs manager.

Beginning Monday, February 14th, Cusick will head the Cultural Affairs Division, which oversees the city public art program, the production of the annual Santa Monica Festival and grant programs which support numerous Santa Monica-based nonprofit arts agencies.

Santa Monica Community and Cultural Services director Barbara Stinchfield noted that the city conducted a far-reaching recruitment and that Cusick — who had been a consultant for Santa Monica on one project in the past — is widely regarded nationally as an expert in public art.

“It was clear to us in talking to Jessica that we’d be extremely lucky to have her. We can’t wait,” Stinchfield says.

Stinchfield says that, during the time the position was vacant, Santa Monica Community and Cultural Services assistant director Karen Ginsberg ably held things together.

“Karen strengthened relations with the Arts Commission and has laid good groundwork for Jessica.

“I am very excited to be joining such a remarkable city,” Cusick says. “Santa Monica is a wonderful community in terms of the arts.

“As a private individual I’ve availed myself of the art resources in Santa Monica. I go to events, galleries and festivals.”

Cusick began her career at the New York City Public Art Fund.

Later she founded and directed Metro Art, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority public art program, which incorporated work from contemporary artists into the stations of the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority) subway and light rail systems, according to city officials.

Cusick has more than 20 years of experience working in cultural planning for government agencies and private and nonprofit organizations.

For the last six years, she has been an independent consultant specializing in civic art and community development.

“It was a very difficult decision for me to give up my consulting business, but I’m really excited and this is a great opportunity.”

As a consultant, Cusick has worked with communities throughout the country, looking at specific art issues a city would like to address, such as the development of a cultural center, a public art program, or historic preservation, and then working with that city to develop the desired programs.

Stinchfield says Cusick has created innovative programs to support the arts.

Some possible areas of focus for Cusick may be creating incentives for artists to stay in Santa Monica to work, as well as increasing the visibility of Santa Monica as an art supportive community, Stinchfield says.

She says there are currently ten art and architecture projects under way in Santa Monica and Cusick’s first shot at a new project will be 415 Pacific Coast Highway, the Marion Davies house.

Stinchfield says that with an increased interest in the performing arts, there will probably be a focus on that as well as the visual arts.

She’d like to see opportunities created so residents can stay in Santa Monica and have the opportunities they would like to have to see the performing arts.

Cusick feels it’s important when taking on a new opportunity to focus on it.

“Getting to know the community really well is my first challenge,” Cusick says.

Until she knows the community better, Cusick says she can’t commit to a plan for Santa Monica, but based on her national experience she says she has some ideas.

Cusick says she’d like to identify new funding sources and build new partnerships between public and private organizations.

In her experience, she says, the arts are intertwined with other topics and she’d like the community to look at how the arts can address and help with other issues, such as using the arts to effectively assist youths at risk.

She’d also like to work in partnership with other arts organizations. “I see what succeeds nationally and it’s not the arts in isolation but arts in partnership.”

Cusick has found that integrating the arts into aspects of the civic structure is very beneficial for the community.

“It’s that cross-pollination that yields exciting results,” she says. “A personal interest — but I don’t know if it would work in Santa Monica — is the idea of some type of artist-in-residence program where artists from around the world come to Santa Monica and live for a while and share ideas.”

Cusick will have a clearer vision once she is more familiar with the city and its programs, but in the meantime she shares her enthusiasm saying, “Art is a great vehicle for civic involvement and for energizing a community, getting the community excited and interested in their city.”

Julie Kirst can be reached at jkmailtalk@yahoo.com

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