What does a creative live/work community art center look like? Does it even exist? Well, it certainly does and we have a wonderful example of such a facility here in Los Angeles. Located in the Arts District of downtown, Art Share L.A. has been referred to as a “sanctuary for the arts” which offers live/work lofts for artists, and spaces for art classes, exhibitions, and events. I recently found out about Art Share when my church relocated and started holding services at this unique facility. (As I shared previously in “What does an Urban Church look like?” the church I belong to is one that meets at a non-traditional location.) I think as planners in L.A., we need to know more about organizations and facilities like Art Share because they clearly contribute to the quality of life in our communities. As detailed in the LA2050 Report, Los Angeles is actually the national leader in arts and culture as evidenced by the following statistics:
- L.A. County has over 11,000 arts establishments, which makes it possible for the area to support more performing artists than New York. The L.A. metropolitan area is home to 88 arts establishments for every 100,000 residents. That is almost twice as many as New York (46 establishments per 100,000 residents) and well above the national figure (64 establishments per 100,000 residents).
- L.A. has more than 570,000 residents employed in arts occupations. The city has over 9 artists jobs for every 1,000 residents, which is higher than the national average (6 jobs per 1,000 capita) and surpasses cultural hubs like New York (7 jobs/1,000 capita), San Francisco (7 jobs/1,000 capita), Washington, D.C. (5 jobs/1,000 capita), and Chicago (3 jobs/1,000 capita).
Unfortunately, funding for the arts in Los Angeles is not on par with other major cities. Although L.A. is above the national average, it lags behind comparable metropolitan areas in per capita expenditures on arts and culture. In this article, I would like to share information about Art Share to highlight the continued need to support the arts and thus enhance the cultural vitality of the city.
The Art Share building is actually a 28,000-square-foot warehouse that was first created as a “rag shop” for textile recycling in the late 1920s. During the mid-1980s the area surrounding this warehouse, which became known as the Arts District, experienced a major influx of artists who were looking for large, open, industrial spaces for creative purposes. This trend continued throughout the 1990s. When the building was acquired in 1997, Art Share L.A. was born. The top floor was converted into 30 affordable micro-loft live/work spaces with a large common room. Part of the roof was removed to allow for natural light, and to create an outdoor patio area. The bottom floor was compartmentalized into a theater, gallery, painting studio and office with three additional multi-purpose classrooms. If you visit today, you can still see remnants of the industrial era at Art Share: brick walls, wooden support beams, sliding freight doors and old train tracks in the alley adjacent to the building. The exterior of the building was given a facelift in 2012 when London-based graffiti artist INSA painted the entire building in his trademark heels pattern design. To see more photos of the building, please go to INSA’s website and/or this Freshness magazine article.
It is obvious that Art Share has been contributing to the arts and doing a lot of good in the community. As part of my research, I came across this L.A. Times article (2010) which highlights how classes in dance, theater, and art offered by Art Share give at-risk youths a positive outlet for self-expression and creativity. A noteworthy quote in this article is from a youth who benefited from the classes and later became a full-time employee of the organization: “Art Share inspires hope that can’t be found in tough neighborhoods.” I am also encouraged and inspired by the grand vision Art Share has for the promotion of arts and the support of artists in Los Angeles, as detailed in its grant application through the LA2050 initiative. Specifically, Art Share seeks to create new live/work community art centers across Los Angeles County through education and community engagement. Although it was not selected for a grant last year, I would still like to commend Art Share for the bold and amazing vision articulated in its application and provided below:
“In 2050, every neighborhood will have creative live/work community art centers. Those who have dedicated their life to the study of art and refinement of creative processes will not only live among our neighborhoods in designated low-income artist housing, but thrive within them. Centers like Art Share L.A. will inspire and nurture young artists, provide support for working artists and create community-based educational opportunities—all collectively working to shift a culture where, as Mike David states in City of Quartz, ‘everyone is either on a corporate payroll or waiting hopefully at the studio gate.’ The arts will flourish and help to unify and strengthen communities across the nation. Local artists will have fair and equitable exhibition space with the opportunity to sell work, teach classes and collaborate on projects in communal workspace. Musicians, playwrights, directors, producers, dancers and other performing artists will have access to a venue at affordable rates (free under the Work Exchange Program), allowing them to generate revenue through their live performances. Artists will have the choice of living in whatever community they choose, with a network of venues to tour and develop audiences [in] county, state and national markets, and the ability to feel autonomy, mastery and purpose in their work. Emerging artists will have places to live while they develop their creative and entrepreneurial skill sets; they will have access to facilities and opportunities to connect with other creative professionals.”
Wouldn’t it be great to see this vision fulfilled? As planners and Angelenos, we must do our part to support the arts, local artists, and groups and facilities like Art Share L.A.
Note: All photos by author.