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Grass-Roots Group Leads the Fight to Put Hollywood on Cultural Map

September 17, 1987|DAVID WHARTON | Times Staff Writer

First impressions of the arts in Hollywood:

Bed sheets hang in the windows of the Rebel Art Gallery, just off Hollywood Boulevard. There is a dry cleaner next door and a liquor store across the street.

A few miles east, street people sleep on the doorstep of the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery. Graffiti marks the walls.

These images are familiar to Hollywood's artists, gallery owners and cultural denizens. They have watched downtown and the Westside become focal points in Los Angeles' recent art renaissance. Hollywood, they say, was overlooked because of its urban blight.

"The frustration is that we have this colorful, living, artistic community, but when you look in the newspapers, why do you see the murders and not the art exhibits?" said Nyla Arslanian, president of the Hollywood Arts Council. "The art scene in Hollywood has suffered the plight of Hollywood itself in that there is a focus on the negative . . . the decay. The murder and the mayhem."

Hollywood's artistic reputation has become an obsession with Arslanian and her husband, Oscar. The area's galleries and live theaters, they insist, are as reputable as any in the city. Its painters, sculptors and actors are among Los Angeles' finest, they say.

So the Arslanians have led the Hollywood Arts Council, a residents group, into battle to put Hollywood on the cultural map.

Drawing from meager government grants and membership dues, the grass-roots organization launched a campaign to convince Los Angeles politicians that Hollywood's artists deserve government support. Through Oscar Arslanian, the council persuaded major corporations to fund its yearly arts festival. It has also sponsored a professional bicycle race to raise funds, and has even advertised Hollywood's cultural distinctions on billboards throughout the county.

"It's up to us to say, 'Here are the artists,' " Oscar Arslanian said. "We need the people. We need an audience."

There are about 300 dues-paying members on the 9-year-old art council's rolls. Most are upper-middle-class people who either live or work in Hollywood, Nyla Arslanian said. Their efforts smack of parochial pride: It seems as if they merely want people to think of Hollywood as a cultural center. But there is more involved here.

An area's reputation can have a great effect on its art, say members of the Los Angeles art community. Artists need galleries to show their work, and galleries need collectors. Actors need theaters, and theaters need audiences. Collectors and audiences are attracted or repulsed by an area's reputation.

Downtown and the Westside support thriving theaters and galleries. Marie de Alcuaz, curator at the Municipal Gallery, argued that a city the size of Los Angeles has room for a number of art centers.

"In any other city, you don't have to drive half an hour to get from here to there," De Alcuaz said. "Here, each area has its own niche. We have a very important role to play in Hollywood."

But the arts council is concerned that Hollywood's growing community of artists won't get the support it needs to flourish.

At present, there are three established and respected galleries: the Municipal Gallery in Barnsdall Park, the Space Gallery on Santa Monica Boulevard and the Newspace Gallery on Melrose Avenue, De Alcuaz said. Yet, it appears that all but the hardiest of the art public avoid Hollywood's exhibits because the area is considered run-down and crime-ridden. Live theaters face the same problem.

Artist Dan Collins, a Hollywood native, had to stop giving shows at his Goski Gallery after only three years.

"I'd attract some really good clients who liked the art," Collins, 33, said. "But they'd pull up in a Rolls-Royce and people on the street would harass them. It would be embarrassing."

Collins said that although portions of downtown's art community are run down, the people on the streets there aren't as bothersome as they are in Hollywood. And the decay of Hollywood's neighborhoods has concerned even proven galleries.

"We have an established reputation for showing good art, but if we were just starting out, we would not locate here because we just wouldn't make it," said Jeri Coates, assistant director at the 13-year-old Space Gallery.

Ties to Redevelopment

The Hollywood Arts Council and others are tying some of their hopes to the city's $922-million project to revitalize Hollywood. An arts council member sits on the public committee empowered to influence redevelopment. And, with the help of City Councilman Michael Woo, the arts council secured a provision that will direct a percentage of redevelopment monies toward the arts in Hollywood.

That money will run into the millions over the next 30 years. But Oscar Arslanian said that a newer, cleaner Hollywood--one that attracts more people--will do more for the art community than any amount of money.

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