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ArtPlace grants will bring $1.2 million to downtown L.A.

ArtPlace grants go to Broadway Arts Center, CalArts, SCI-Arc and Cornerstone Theater Company in. Also, Mercado La Paloma in South L.A. gets funds.

June 14, 2012|By Mike Boehm, Los Angeles Times
  • Art efforts in downtown districts got a boost with the announcement of $1.2 million in grants from ArtPlace.
Art efforts in downtown districts got a boost with the announcement of $1.2… (Associated Pres )

Grand Avenue and LA Live have been the focal points for arts and entertainment projects aimed at reviving downtown Los Angeles, but more grass-roots-oriented efforts in other downtown districts got a boost Tuesday with the announcement of $1.2 million in grants from ArtPlace, a national initiative to deploy culture as a community development tool.

Though overseen by federal agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts, ArtPlace is funded privately by a consortium of major charitable foundations and banks.

Overall, four L.A. organizations will receive $1.5 million of the $15.4 million that ArtPlace disbursed nationally to 47 recipients.

Besides the three grants directed downtown, Mercado La Paloma, a South Los Angeles hive of shops and restaurants run by Esperanza Community Housing Corp., will receive $290,000 for film screenings, dance and music performances, lectures and culinary programs.

The biggest downtown grant is $470,000 to L.A.'s Department of Cultural Affairs, to continue planning the Broadway Arts Center, a mixed-use development — the site has yet to be chosen — that would combine an art gallery and black-box theater with arts-oriented shops and affordable housing for about 100 artists. In 2010, the NEA awarded a $100,000 grant to begin planning the project.

If all goes well, said Olga Garay-English, the cultural affairs department's executive director, a center, with a very preliminary cost of $40 million to $50 million, could open within five years — at no cost to city coffers. "We're acting as a catalyst and a convener, so this can happen," she said.

Thom Mayne, the Pritzker Prize-winning L.A. architect, will receive $70,000 of the grant money to plan a larger Broadway Cultural Quarter anchored by the Arts Center, and CalArts will receive $50,000 of the city's grant to do a feasibility study for possible downtown satellite housing for students in its graduate acting program.

The Broadway Arts Center is a component of Bringing Back Broadway, a revitalization push from Olympic Boulevard to 2nd Street that was launched by City Council member Jose Huizar, with renovating the district's 12 historic vaudeville-era theaters among the goals.

Jessica Wethington McLean, a Huizar staffer who heads Bringing Back Broadway, said Tuesday that the initial $100,000 grant paid for surveys and analysis that established there would be solid demand for a downtown artists' center with 50,000 to 60,000 square feet of commercial space for arts-related shops and offices, along with the 100 apartments, artist studios, theater and gallery.

Garay said that $350,000 of the ArtPlace grant will go toward finding a site, deciding whether to renovate or tear down and build anew, and create a financing plan. Artspace, a Minneapolis-based organization that helps develop housing for artists and headquarters for arts organizations, and the Actors Fund Housing Development Corp., have formed a partnership to own and operate the Arts Center and secure the funding. Teri Deaver, Artspace's director of consulting and strategic partnerships, said it could be a combination of private investments, charitable donations and government tax breaks and subsidies.

Travis Preston, dean of CalArts' School of Theatre, said the school's master's degree acting program, which typically has 50 to 75 students, is cramped for space on the main campus in Valencia, and a downtown site would benefit students eager to make the transition from training to professional careers.

ArtPlace also will give the Southern California Institute of Architecture $400,000 toward planning, design and construction of two new venues on its campus near the Los Angeles River — an indoor amphitheater called the Hispanic Steps, and a 750-seat outdoor pavilion. The grant will also cover planning for a 99-seat community theater at One Santa Fe, a $160-million private, mixed-use development across the street from SCI-Arc that's focused on the arts and designed by architect Michael Maltzan.

The downtown Cornerstone Theater Company got a $342,000 grant to help fund its $5-million "Hunger Cycle" — a series of nine plays that will be produced through 2016, focusing on the social and economic implications of food, agriculture and nutrition. The opening show, "Café Vida" by Lisa Loomer, closed last month, and the second installment, "Urban/Rural," is due this fall.

Besides covering some production and planning costs, managing director Tali Pressman said the grant will help Cornerstone create a farmers' market with subsidized prices at every performance, giving audiences an experience that's doubly nourishing.


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