It's a wonderful life for Echo Park's Machine Project

Jason, the announcerLast Saturday night, the influential Echo Park art-technology collaboration space/gallery, The Machine Project, held its first member event of the year. A dapper MC with a microphone stood at the entrance, announcing each attendee's arrival with a musical flourish provided by the house band standing in the window.

photo credit: Manitoba Museum of Finds Art

The party, which included a terrarium raffle prize, free beer proffered from a hole in the floor, tamales and tours of the space's secret basement, was the culmination of Executive Director Mark Allen's efforts to find financial support for the space when a $35,000 grant was unexpectedly canceled at the end of 2008. Forced to find $9,000 a month to cover operating expenses, Mark sent an uncharacteristically serious email out to patrons on December 16, 2008 asking his community to donate funds or sign up for yearly memberships in the amount of $128 in order to keep the organization going. Without membership support, the space would not have been able to program the 80 to 100 free events it shares with the neighborhood each year.

Happily, many stepped up to save organization and joined as members, including this unemployed correspondent, in a scenario right out of the movie, "It's a Wonderful Life." Mark (the bearded guy in the photo at the top) may have more facial hair than Jimmy Stewart but he's become the George Bailey of Echo Park. We are so lucky to live in a city harboring organizations like the Machine Project, Self-Help Graphics and the Echo Park Film Center; entities committed to the idea of a community making art together. At last, Angelenos are starting to see that a creative spirit is crucial to a community's well-being and survival.

The Machine Project welcomes donations and new members: a $128 membership yields benefits such as discounts on classes, access to members-only events and parties, a swanky membership card, free drink tickets and a complimentary hug from Mark.

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