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Seeking new canvas for Venice art scene

The community once was a haven for visual artists, but newcomers have been priced out.

May 19, 2007|Martha Groves | Times Staff Writer

Tishman Speyer said it had no comment. But Beck and his partners note hopefully that the firm boasts of its collection of contemporary art, including works by Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol.

Beck said his team is now scouting locations elsewhere on the Westside.

Whether it would even be possible to re-create the vibrancy and camaraderie of the erstwhile Venice art scene is a matter of debate.

Other places centered on the arts have succeeded: the gallery-rich Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, the Brewery Arts Complex in downtown Los Angeles, the Santa Monica Art Studios at the Santa Monica Airport. Such projects have benefited from underused space at under-market rents.

That's not the case in Venice. Years ago, the city of Los Angeles tore down many of the community's vacant commercial structures. Now the area is rife with multimillion-dollar bungalows, experimental houses and new live-work lofts that no artist without a trust fund could afford.

"The crack houses are $2.6 million now," quipped Pamela Barish, Dill's companion and a clothing designer with a shop on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. "It's cheaper to live in Malibu. It's kind of messed up."

Jim Hubbard, creative director of Venice Arts, a group that provides programs for low-income children, said maximizing profits is what's on property owners' minds, not the latest fine arts trends.

"I know of no one that would give up a property even at a very reduced level for a nonprofit organization or an artist," he said.

Transplanting the Venice allure could prove difficult, if not impossible.

"Venice is land's end, and there's a lot of significance to that," said Larry Bell, a sculptor and painter who recently re-leased the same Venice studio space he had occupied in the 1960s and '70s.

"The street life here is phenomenal," Bell said. "The boardwalk is a mix of carnies and artists and homeless and psychotics. I know of no place like it."

Sculptor De Wain Valentine misses being close to his old artist mates now that he has leased a large studio and parking lot in Torrance, where he can store "six transoceanic containers full of artist detritus." When someone first proposed that he move there, he said: "Where's Torrance?"

"It worked out for me," Valentine said, adding wistfully, "but I'd still rather be in Venice, Santa Monica or Culver City."


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