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Colony Holds Its First Art Walk as a Member of Lincoln Heights

A dispute over which Neighborhood Council should claim the Brewery is typical of the growing pains the groups are experiencing.

October 14, 2002|Lee Romney | Times Staff Writer

The large Los Angeles artists colony that lives and works in an old brewery opened its studio doors over the weekend for its biannual Art Walk as a certified member of the Lincoln Heights neighborhood.

The decision to include the complex of more than 1,200 artists, designers and architects within the boundaries of a community council that represents Lincoln Heights came after an acrimonious dispute that is emblematic of the conflicts many such councils are facing as they sputter into action under the revamped City Charter.

The neighborhood councils were created to increase community say in city matters such as budgeting and services.

The Art Walk, where more than 160 artists displayed their work, was the Brewery's first since a group of residents fought to ally themselves with a downtown council rather than the one that represents nearby Lincoln Heights.

Now, nearly six months later, residents are debating the vexing question of what defines community, or neighborhood, in a city that is inherently fragmented.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday October 18, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 8 inches; 311 words Type of Material: Correction
Artists colony -- An article in Monday's California section about the Brewery artists colony near downtown Los Angeles stated that the colony "has little in common with the mostly residential and Latino working-class Lincoln Heights." That statement was attributed to Brewery resident Don Levy. Levy's point was that the artists complex has little in common with the mostly residential bedroom community of Lincoln Heights. The observations about the ethnic and class makeup of Lincoln Heights were made by The Times.

The neighborhood councils "were not about geography first and foremost," said Don Levy, a Brewery resident who fought to be included in the downtown council's boundaries and allied with other artists who live and work there. "They were about communities of interest."

The 23-acre industrial Brewery complex, tucked between the Los Angeles River and the Golden State Freeway, has little in common with the mostly residential and Latino working-class Lincoln Heights, founded in 1863 as the city's first suburb, Levy said. In contrast, artists living in commercial and industrial space across a wide swatch in and near downtown could have bonded together to push for more artist-owned live-work buildings and secure public and corporate art commissions, Levy and others said.

Countered Russell Rock, an artist who along with his architect partner runs Urban Rock Design out of the Brewery: "It seemed very logical that this area would be part of the Lincoln Heights council. We live here, we shop here, we pay our bills in the neighborhood."

Rock is running for a seat on the council in elections next month, and is one of the Brewery residents who have become involved in the surrounding neighborhood.

Neighborhood councils must represent a minimum of 20,000 residents. As a result, councils that are now forming are laying claim to key enclaves, and small neighborhoods are vying for affiliations they believe will grant them the most power, said Greg Nelson, general manager of the city's Department of Neighborhood Empowerment.

So far, the boundaries of 51 councils have been certified by the city-appointed Board of Neighborhood Commissioners, and 12 councils have held elections. Envisioned as the answer to greater community participation and unity, Mayor James K. Hahn has touted the councils as an antidote to secession. But some of the councils have become so frustrated with their perceived lack of impact that in recent months they have endorsed San Fernando Valley and Hollywood secession.

Furthermore, many of the councils appear to be stymied by secessionist tendencies. Already, Cypress Park and Mount Washington have pushed unsuccessfully to separate themselves from the Arroyo Seco Neighborhood Council, Nelson said.

Other councils have been plagued by election disputes. At the root of much discord is the belief, which Nelson says is mistaken, that councils with key landmarks or properties have a greater chance of being heard.

"That's a part of this system," Nelson said. "Everyone gets a chance to be dysfunctional or irrelevant, and the strong will survive."

The rocky formation of the councils has also underscored deep divisions in polyglot city pockets and differing notions of neighborhood identity.

"The really big question is, what makes a community?" said Jeanine Centuori, Rock's partner. "As an architect, I believe that neighborhoods are based on proximity. Your next-door neighbors are the people you see every day, and that's Lincoln Heights."

The Brewery, an industrial complex of 21 buildings, stopped churning out Pabst beer in 1976. In 1981, a family purchased it, converting it to artists' live-work space. It has been called the world's largest such colony based on its acreage. The first Art Walk was held in 1982 and has flourished. Weekend attendance was estimated at more than 12,000, and the city's museums are now represented at the event.

When the neighborhood councils began to form, several Brewery residents joined the downtown council's formation committee, lobbying aggressively to affiliate with other artists from the so-called Artists District near Traction Street to the Santa Fe Arts Colony farther south.

"It's a new kind of community," said conceptual artist Eugenia Butler, among those who led the push for a downtown affiliation.

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