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L.A.'s Downtown Art Walk gets reprieve

Downtown property owners have pledged $200,000 to keep the monthly event alive, but some say it's become more about alcohol than art and are organizing a rival walk.

October 02, 2010|David Ng and Deborah Vankin

Leaders of the Downtown Art Walk said Friday that they have raised enough money in the last week to save the popular monthly event whose future had appeared uncertain just days ago.

The board of directors said they have an annual pledge of close to $200,000 from eight property owners in the Historic Downtown and Old Bank districts, which will enable them to hire a full-time executive director and to address security, clean-up and other operational logistics surrounding the event that attracts upwards of 20,000 people each month.

The announcement comes as a small group of downtown galleries is coming together in an effort to launch a competing art walk that would operate on a quarterly basis. Still in its nascent stages, the rival project would take place during the daytime on weekends and would include a larger swath of the downtown gallery scene.

David Hernand, chairman of the art walk board, said that he isn't opposed to the competing project and that he welcomes all efforts to bring attention to downtown galleries.

Last week, the organization was hit by a series of crises when its then-executive director, Jay Lopez, announced that the art walk would shut down for the remainder of the year. The chronically under-funded group had been struggling for months to deal with the growing popularity of the monthly event, which was launched in 2004.

"The controversy has certainly been a catalyst for property owners — they want the [monthly] art walk to survive," said Hernand, a partner at the law firm Gibson Dunn.

The board said Friday that the event will continue to take place on the second Thursday of each month, with the next walk scheduled for Oct. 14.

Downtown property owners have agreed to provide monthly funds to the art walk board. Organizers said they expect more to pledge in the coming week, increasing the amount to $250,000.

"We believe in the art walk and in the current board to move forward and expand," said Tom Gilmore, a partner of Gilmore Associates, one of the property owners that has pledged money.

He said owners of property along Spring and Main streets came together quickly in order to work out a solution to the crisis. "We realized this thing was spinning out of control. I can only speak for myself but it's unacceptable when the conversation about something as great as the art walk becomes so juvenile," said Gilmore.

Downtown Art Walk leaders are planning to devote the next few weeks to arranging a broader security presence on art-walk nights and opening up board seats to downtown gallery owners.

They also plan to address complaints that the event has turned into a glorified bar crawl disruptive to downtown residents and businesses. "We want to close down some of the more rave-y stuff going on. It's not what the art walk is about," said Wicks Walker, a board member.

The L.A. Police Department has asked organizers to pick up some of the costs of providing a growing police presence on art-walk nights. Capt. Todd Chamberlain said in a statement that the LAPD "supports the Downtown Art Walk as a positive civic event promoting art, and we look forward to continuing to play our role in helping maintain a safe environment for everyone involved."

Critics of the art walk include gallery owner Bert Green, who has been instrumental in organizing the competing quarterly event. He said Friday that the rival art walk would start in January and be "more about the art and not the alcohol."

"The [monthly art walk] has driven away serious art collectors," said Green, adding that galleries "are not interested in doing an event where there are 20,000 drunk kids."

It's too early to know if downtown galleries are siding with one art walk or the other. Green said that "a lot of the galleries" are moving their energies to the quarterly walk. Organizers of the monthly event said they still have the support of a wide range of downtown galleries.

Lopez, the recently dismissed executive director of the Downtown Art Walk, has been working with Green and is expected to lead the new, quarterly art walk.

david.ng@latimes.com

deborah.vankin@latimes.com

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