Jessica Cusick has spent more than thirty years implementing community development and arts campaigns for governmental agencies, private sector and non-profit organizations. When contracted to research and advise on the development of a cultural district program in a state as varied and complex as California, she and Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, an independent consultant with The Kresge Foundation, set the foundation for a statewide initiative to acknowledge and preserve the districts across California’s deeply diverse, impressive and vast cultural landscape.
Jessica’s focus on cultural planning stems from her passion for the arts. Having grown up abroad for most of her early years, she has had the pleasure of experiencing first hand the impact that arts and culture have on countless cities and communities worldwide. She earned her bachelor’s degree in art history from the Sorbonne in Paris and a master’s degree from New York University, and has since spent her career developing support systems for and with artists and arts organizations in a variety of capacities.
As a consultant Jessica has worked with a wide range of organizations to develop cultural policy including the California Arts Council; the County of Los Angeles; the Houston Midtown Redevelopment Authority; the Seattle Public Library and more. From 2005-2015, she was the cultural affairs manager for the City of Santa Monica where she oversaw significant expansion in the City’s support for artists and the creative sector, including the establishment of an artist fellowship program.
When developing the California Cultural District program report in 2016, Jessica and Maria reviewed cultural districts nationwide and interviewed a wide array of arts leaders and public officials. Jessica and Maria focused on developing program parameters that would be flexible enough to embrace and support different regions, and offer tools for a variety of contexts. By developing guidelines that consider the regional and cultural context, they developed a district classification system that would allow cultural centers in California to self-identify during the application process.
Jessica sat on the panel for the California Cultural District’s pilot cohort in 2017, and was thrilled to see the state’s diversity reflected in both the applicant pool and the final selection. Throughout her career, Jessica’s daily connection with creative individuals has shown her firsthand the impact that artists have on their communities. “Cultural policy is a mechanism by which we can enact social change. My hope for the Cultural District program 10 years from now is that it will have become a highly utilized tool for arts organizations and creatives to develop new cultural resources and foster change in their communities. I’ve seen the degree in which artists can enable and empower their communities, allowing them to truly foster change.”
When asked about her favorite piece of advice, Jessica shared, “Follow your bliss.”