Art Works Blog

MICD Spotlight on the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs

Los Angeles, California

Broadway Arts Center, proposed site. Photo by Stephen Friday

The Department of Cultural Affairs in Los Angeles, California, generates and supports high quality arts and cultural experiences for residents and visitors through its grantmaking and arts programming activities. The department has partnered with artists and organizations throughout Los Angeles. We spoke with Olga Garay, executive director of the Department of Cultural Affairs, to learn more about their plans to develop the Broadway Arts Center in Los Angeles.

NEA: Please describe your MICD 25 project and what you hope it will bring to the residents of Los Angeles.

OLGA GARAY: The Broadway Arts Center (BAC) is envisioned as a mixed-use affordable artists? housing, performance/exhibition space, educational facility, and creative commercial center located in downtown Los Angeles. Downtown Los Angeles includes several districts -- all transit-accessible -- a Sports and Entertainment District, Gallery Row, Fashion District, Arts District, among others. The BAC will be located in the Broadway Theater District, a National Register Listed Historic District, and is an integral part of the Bringing Back Broadway initiative---a multi-faced effort, led by Councilmember José Huizar, to revitalize the Broadway Corridor, including the restoration and active use of 12 historic theaters. Currently, we have identified five connected parcels for the BAC that consist of underutilized commercial properties and a surface parking lot within this National Register Historic District, which is fully accessible to mass transit.

Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa recently presented the plan for BAC to a group of mayors and urban design professionals at the 47th Mayors? Institute on City Design, held August 4-August 6, 2010 in Los Angeles. Funding from the NEA Mayors? Institute for City Design grant will be used for necessary planning and pre-development activities, and will involve inclusive stakeholder participation, including working artists; neighborhood property owners, residents, and workers; design professionals; and other stakeholders.

NEA: Why is it important to have arts and culture at the table when planning community revitalization efforts?

GARAY: Infusing the arts is essential to any community revitalization initiative, not only in terms of ensuring forward looking urban design and green development, but also in creating a sustainable and livable community. The arts cannot be looked at as a separate aspect of community planning. The arts can have a catalytic effect on all elements that are essential for community revitalization---economic growth and job creation, housing, crime prevention, the visual landscape, educational opportunities for young people and families, to name a few. For planning projects it is essential to have leading arts organizations ?at the table? along with other stakeholders. The key is to leverage partnerships in order to provide greater opportunities for the community.

NEA: How do you think multi-use community art centers benefit the civic life of a community?

GARAY: Having a 24/7 artists? presence in a community creates lasting, positive change. For our project, BAC will result in a thriving artists? community, both living and often working full-time in downtown Los Angeles. This project will create hundreds of creative industry and related jobs; expand cultural and educational opportunities for our residents; and ultimately be a major catalyst for community revitalization.

NEA: Given the nature of your project, how would you define public art?

GARAY: The standard definition of public art as ?object based? is evolving to be more in line with arts sector practices. Public art should be considered to include environmentally based work, performances, temporary art, process oriented and web-based artworks. All these items help to define the city?s cultural identity and inform the quality of life for residents and visitors. DCA administers the City of LA?s Public Improvement Works of Art Program (aka Public Percent for Art program) as well as the private Arts Development Fee program. We are currently working with our Cultural Affairs Commission and the city to expand the envelope on how these vital and needed funds can be deployed. Our goal is to continue to create commissioning opportunities for place based public art, while increasingly supporting non-object based work, such as the performing arts, media arts, and even special events that can add to a community?s character, such as parades and festivals. Public art needs to center on the appropriateness of the project to the host community, as well as on the excellence of the work being funded. Old, two-dimensional or three-dimensional definitions have to be augmented with how artists are creating new work.

NEA: How important is MICD 25 funding for the success of your project?

GARAY: The funding we received from the NEA?s MICD 25 initiative is essential to see this project realized. The funding will help support the required elements of the planning process, which is needed to determine costs, values, and best uses for all project components. These studies will include feasibility studies, needs assessments, residential and commercial market studies, arts and cultural resource studies, and site analysis. Of equal importance, the studies made possible by this funding will allow us to include the large audience of community stakeholders, creating a broad, grass-roots approach to the planning process.

NEA: Any last words?

GARAY: Los Angeles is defined by its multiplicity of cultures, a city where 224 separate languages are spoken, according to a study by UCLA Professor Vyacheslav Ivanov. Our goal with BAC is not to gentrify the historic Broadway Corridor---which is now home to hundreds of small businesses and an important commercial sector for the area?s significant Latino community---instead, it is to make it a thriving 24/7/365 community by having artists live and work there, thus infusing the area with creativity, wit, enthusiasm, and drive.

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