The Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art is getting back on its feet, officials say.
The 12-year-old institute today opens its first exhibition after an erratic six months of difficult financial problems, staff layoffs, board resignations and a cost-cutting move from a gallery complex to offices.
Ben Marks, who served as director for seven months, resigned in March. A month later the board dismissed five of its six staff members, and in June the institute vacated its Robertson Boulevard exhibition space.
The staff now comprises interim director Deborah Irmas and Margaret Cranston, managing editor of LAICA's Journal, working out of new offices on Melrose Avenue.
In an interview, Irmas said the nonprofit art institute, which is funded by memberships and public and private donations, plans to present satellite exhibitions at various Los Angeles sites rather than operate a permanent space.
The first, "Lectio Divina," opens today in Santa Monica's outdoor mall, 1415 3rd St. The institute plans to sponsor three other projects over the next five months.
For "Lectio Divina," an anonymous artist will construct a "sanctuary-like structure" in an empty storefront. According to a press release, the artist will "scrutinize sacred historical literature by mystics and sages for the purpose of intense study." The artist's notes from the project will be displayed daily until the performance-installation ends Nov. 21.
Irmas said the organization is eager to "take advantage of a variety of spaces and locations. One month we can take art to the Westside, and the next month take it to Watts."
Irmas said funds received from the sale of the institute's building permitted the organization to clear its debt, which she estimates was between $80,000 and $85,000.
In eradicating the debt, LAICA voluntarily refunded $35,000 to the National Endowment for the Arts for three exhibits that were proposed by former director Robert Smith but never produced. Grants for the projects were awarded by the endowment between 1983 and 1985.
Since April, eight of the 17 board members have resigned. Contacted by The Times, all cited other commitments and the institute's need for new blood as catalysts for their resignations.
Now in the process of recruiting board members and a new director, as well as raising money, Irmas does not see the lack of a permanent exhibit space as an obstacle.
"I really feel that the fact we don't have a static space can really be to our advantage," she said. "There aren't enough spaces (for art). There are many more nonprofit (venues) that actively exhibit art than there were 10 years ago. However, in the '80s, it seems to me that there are other possibilities than just owning a place with walls and continually having to fund that, continually having to fit programs into the specific requirements of the building."
Smith, who during the course of his 11-year tenure operated the institute out of his residence and two different buildings, isn't certain the organization will be able to raise the funds necessary to survive without a permanent home.
"Without a space, it will be difficult to raise money from private sources, unless they (LAICA) do projects that are really spectacular and highly visible," he said. "People (who donate funds) want that visibility. They want something tangible."