A Director’s Story: Sofia Klatzker, Executive Director @ Arts for LA*

The daughter of a special ed teacher and an ICU nurse, Sofia Klatzker’s love for art and technology has deep roots. Her uncle was one of the original programmers at Warner Brothers and both her grandmothers were pianists. This set the standard that fostered Klatzker’s interests in computing, music, and the visual arts. In 1996, upon graduating Oberlin College, she moved to San Francisco and began working at Convivial Design, a tech company with a mission to create software and video games for girls. After a successful period in San Francisco, love and family pulled Klatzker back to her hometown of Los Angeles.

In LA, Klatzker continued working in web development, but she wanted to do more. While still pursuing her day-job, her interests in visual arts led Klatzker to MOCA, where she trained as a Teaching Artist. This period proved to be transformative. Klatzker worked closely with 4th graders, introducing them to artwork and having a chance to hear their thoughts. The conversations often led to her favorite question, “How do you see change?” This sparked ideas and started discussions which led to new perspectives on the pieces. She also met with teachers and administrators. It was the first time she heard about their needs, lesson plans, and educational goals. This ground-level experience at MOCA helped Klatzker understand how art institutions provide much needed arts education to LA County students.

In 2003, Klatzker became the Arts Education Coordinator for Arts for All, a position that married her computer programming ability with her training in the arts. Arts for All was established in 2002 by the Los Angeles County Arts Commission (LACAC) to restore “arts disciplines into the core curriculum for K-12th grade students.” Klatzker worked closely with then Director, Ayanna Hudson, currently the Arts Education Director of the NEA, to manage the building of the website and establish new policy for the organization. Klatzker also spent three years overseeing the grants and philanthropic work of the Arts Commission. During the next decade, Klatzker continued rising through the ranks of the LACAC and completed her Masters in Arts Administration from Goucher College. By 2015, with her educational accolades and career background, Klatzker was prepared for her position as Executive Director of Arts for LA.

Arts for LA is a non-governmental organization working independently to “increase arts education, arts access, and cultural vitality” by means of civic engagement. Arts for LA is actively involved in political advocacy within Los Angeles County and has established an Arts & Culture Policy Framework to help guide “the vision, goals, and strategies for the arts in Los Angeles.” Government’s investment in the arts, as well as public and private investments are parts of Arts for LA’s platform.

The big question Klatzker addresses is, “Why do we need public support for the arts?” Without public support, nonprofit organizations, like Arts for LA, would not have a means for sustainability. Support is essential. But, how can the benefits of art be quantified? How can this be presented into legislature in order to secure arts funding? In working on answering these questions, Klatzker has realized that a prerequisite to this conversation is a more primary discussion about the artist. Klatzker wants to bring the artist to the forefront. After all, without the artist, there is no art. Concerns for artists include affordable housing, a means to work and earn a living, and creative expression rights.

As an initiative in this new direction, Klatzker has created a partnership between Arts for LA and Amnesty International. “Amnesty International works to protect human rights in the United States” and artists’ rights are a part of human rights issues. Klatzker hopes “to bring social justice issues from an international conversation to the local level.” She continues, “We need a renewed way of looking at things. We need to create a language for the economy of art, the value of art. [Also,] we must maintain existing communities without losing them. And we want to help art fit into our existing environments.” Klatzker is committed to place keeping and working on these long term goals. She has seen, first-hand, how art can help people see change. Ultimately, as the journey continues, she believes that art can be the catalyst to lead the change.

*This article is part of the interview series, People in Arts — A Look Behind the Scenes.