Don't you just love autumn? It's the time of new beginnings, even for established institutions such as the popular Downtown Art Walk series, which just celebrated its fifth anniversary, but seems to be going through some growing pains.
The Los Angeles Downtown News reports that some gallery owners complain that the monthly festival, which attracts up to 10,000 visitors after sundown, has outgrown its original mission: enticing Angelenos downtown to view and purchase contemporary art. Bert Green, owner of Bert Green Fine Art at Fifth and Main streets, founded the event in September 2004 with just 8 participating galleries. Now, the celebration includes up to 45 gallery stops and draws visitors interested in exploring the area's bars and restaurants as well as its cultural attractions.
This summer, Green elected to minimize his role in Art Walk and recruited Richard Schave to manage event operations and nurture its future. Schave and his wife, Kim Cooper, own a historic tours company called Esotouric. Under Schave's leadership, Art Walk has obtained status as a tax-exempt, non profit organization, established walking tours of the Historic Core and expanded the mix of cultural attractions.
The next Art Walk is Thursday, September 10th.
Below, Schave, an art historian by training, shares some of his ideas about handling Art Walk's latest incarnation:
What new things can we expect from Art Walk in the next few months?
We introduced free walking tours in July and were stunned at the demand. You can expect to see more of these tours scheduled (and interested tour guides, please get in touch). We hope to begin distributing a printed map soon. We don't have a precise timeline, but we also want to soon introduce a lecture series, launch a mobile phone app, and add more shuttles to help people get the lay of the land and move around the Art Walk.
Another goal is not to change Art Walk, but to add new programs and ways of sharing information so that Art Walk visitors have more options and can easily find things to do and explore. We want to immediately address the bottleneck of people that clusters at 5th & Main, sometimes to the detriment of a safe and enjoyable urban experience, and making it hard to see the art. Many first time visitors only know to go to that corner, and we want instead to provide them with options for discovering walking routes to the galleries that show the type of work they're interested in, scheduled talks, tours and performances to attend, and a general sense of the scope of the Art Walk community beyond ground zero.
A big part of this is activating dead zones between clusters of galleries, to get people moving around a wider area. As Art Walk attendance continues to grow, we want to address issues of scalability and sustainability, to keep the event attractive, stimulating and safe for visitors, residents and galleries.
And one group we want to respond to are the downtown stakeholders who have had negative experiences due to the Art Walk - noise, overcrowding, problems getting home -- their concerns are important to us, and we'd like to help improve their experience however we can. We're also striving to improve the Art Walk website, making it easier for the galleries to publicize their programs and for attendees to find what they're looking for.
You speak of Art Walk as becoming a living museum of downtown--can you elaborate with concrete examples for manifesting this vision?
There are already some projects that are active or under development which are indications in this direction. The walking tours, the music, magic and poetry on the Hippodrome shuttle, and Art Walk's upcoming lecture series (planned to have a walking tour component as well), which all speak to our goal to provide stimulating creative experiences in the city itself. The Art Squared project at Pershing Square is a great example of how community artists are collaborating with Parks and Rec to bring contemporary art into civic spaces, and this is something we hope to help facilitate further through the Art Walk.
What are three (3) things you want Art Walk patrons to get from their experience at the event?
1) Break the "Lion Country Safari" mentality which plagues Los Angeles audiences: don't just watch from the car window, immerse yourself and participate!
2) Get to know something about L.A.'s most interesting and misunderstood neighborhood.
3) A desire to return for more, and bring their friends, not just during Art Walk, but all month long.
How do your plans support the independent artist who resides downtown yet has no gallery representation?
A goal of the Art Walk Board in the next twelve months is to create policies on a number of questions beyond how to best serve the entities that are already part of the Art Walk. We need to think about the needs of local artists, how street performance can be an authorized part of the event, and other factors we have yet to recognize. We look to the community to formalize their concerns and share them with us as we seek to formulate good, empathic responses.
How do the Art Walk organizers plan to deal with the LA City street parking restrictions, which extended metered hours to 8 pm and increased rates to $3 per hour? Has this change affected Art Walk attendance?
Parking has always been a bit difficult around the Art Walk, but it doesn't keep people from making the effort. Folks manage to find lots with open spots, and walk to where they want to start exploring. We recommend people begin their Art Walk experience at Pershing Square, downtown's historic "living room," either parking their car in the underground city lot or ideally taking public transportation.
How will Art Walk relate to the treatment of homeless people being pushed from Skid Row in the name of public safety?
The Art Walk is not a policy maker, but we do seek to influence policy and dialogue as decisions are made about how this neighborhood evolves. Our mission statement explicitly supports the historic nature of the neighborhood, which has always included a transient population. We plan to be a part of the feedback loop as public policy is created, and to support the creation of positive public space for all members of the community.
Is Art Walk a form of gentrification?
No. Gentrification is concerned with the raising of property values. The Art Walk is concerned with the creation of free and equitable public space. Property owners seeking to increase the value of their investment have a good understanding of the tools available to foster gentrification, including the creation of local Business Improvement Districts. Since there aren't any such formal tools for fostering positive public space, we have created our own People Improvement District: the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk in its new manifestation as a California Public Benefit Corporation.
Any plans for including SRO hotels in the event?
We're interested in any and all ways in which the historically transient population of the neighborhood can be included in the Art Walk. We are actively pursuing ways to be of service to all local residents. On my own walking tours, we make a visit to the lobby of the Barclay Hotel, which while not an SRO per se, is the oldest continuously operating hotel in the city, and plays a central role in Raymond Chandler's novel "The Little Sister."
Who is your favorite LA based artist?
Millard Sheets, both for his wonderful paintings of old Bunker Hill and his Home Savings mosaics which sneak up on you in traffic.
Any favorite neon pieces downtown?
The neon on the hotels on 7th Street east of Maple, seen through a moving windshield.