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Getting Frayed on the Fringe, LACE Goes for New Space : Art: The linchpin of the downtown scene announces intentions to move to Hollywood.


LOS ANGELES — It wasn't so long ago that Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions was surrounded by galleries, performance spaces and artists' lofts. Now the buildings flanking LACE in the warehouse district east of downtown are marked with "For Sale or Lease" signs and occasional graffiti.

"There are very few restaurants that are open at night. There are very few places to hang out, which is essential to having a neighborhood," said LACE executive director Gwen Darien. "Our immediate neighborhood--there's not much in it. I mean, I wouldn't go to the bus station lunch counter for dinner."

So in a few months, LACE will add a "For Sale or Lease" sign of its own and leave for a new storefront location on Hollywood Boulevard. The organization that has been a cornerstone of downtown's cutting-edge visual and performing art scene is moving.

"A lot of people do not feel that (downtown) is a central location anymore, that they have to make a special trip out here," Darien said. "There used to be (numerous) galleries down here." Now, there are less than a handful.

Leaving downtown was not a decision Darien or the LACE board of directors made suddenly. But a combination of factors, including an increase of crime around a recently constructed bus station, led Darien to approach the Community Redevelopment Agency about a year ago.

"What happens is that the perimeter of the bus station--and we're basically within that perimeter--is where a lot of things happen, (such as) break-ins of cars. We actually had someone mugged on their way from the bus station here. (There's) a lot of hanging out, a lot of what appears to be prostitution and drug deals," she said.

Still, what hurt LACE more than the actual crime was the perception of crime: Performance attendance was down 15% in 1992 from the previous year. Last year's riots weren't the cause of the problem, but exacerbated them.

"What is disheartening in terms of how the location affects us is that--particularly in the last year--our programs (and) exhibitions have been excellent," she said. "They have received very favorable critical and audience attention. And there hasn't been a kind of attendant rise in audience."

Calling the relocation a move to save the organization is too dramatic, but, Darien said, "There will be this continuing erosion of the audience if we stay at this location.

"I don't want to emphasize this as (if) we're moving to save ourselves. . . . We'll be 15 years old next year . . . and we're moving into young adulthood," she said.

LACE was founded in 1978 and operated out of the Victor Clothing Building on Broadway until 1986, when it bought the site in the warehouse district with the help of a loan from the CRA. "I know there are a lot of people who will say they're upset about us leaving (downtown)," Darien said. "Then you ask them when the last time they came to a program was."

Kim Abeles, a visual artist who recently joined LACE's board of directors, lives in a nearby studio and has resided downtown since 1979.

"If I seem a little bit sad in a sense, it's because I saw so many wonderful things happen downtown," she said about LACE's move. "People seem more and more reluctant to come downtown, as if it's this whole other entity outside L.A. proper."

Which came first--the death of the arts organizations or the death of the audience--becomes a chicken-and-egg question. There was the demise of the Factory Place, Wallenboyd and Boyd Street theaters during the 1980s, followed by the closing of the Woman's Building on North Spring Street and the folding of the resident company at the Los Angeles Theatre Center. LACE became one of the only alternative performance venues left downtown.

Abeles said the void is forcing artists to approach exhibiting their work differently.

"Artists are using their own space to show exhibitions, or renting spaces," she said. "Artists need to work and they need to find outlets for their work, and they'll be creative in doing it."

LACE's new building ----formerly the Newberry School of Beauty--is on Hollywood Boulevard between Hudson and Wilcox. It's near a park the CRA is developing, the Gay and Lesbian Community Center and the new home of the Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies, which is relocating from the MacArthur Park area. Darien is hopeful that Hollywood will develop into the arts community that the warehouse district was unable to support.

"Basically it won't be like here, where people have to be exported into this community. There is a community (in Hollywood). There is a street life. There are tourists that walk down the street. There are people that go there for movies. . . .

"It doesn't need to be created, which is what happened here . . . It can be augmented."

Hollywood, however, is not without its problems. The crime rate is higher than downtown, with Hollywood Division reporting 640 assaults in 1993 to date, compared to 359 in Central Division. (Those figures, however, are not scaled for population density.)

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