LA LA Land, Tinseltown, The City of Angels. Whatever you want to call it, LA seems to provoke a love or hate reaction from most people. On the one hand it’s got great weather, awesome burgers and hyper-attentive service (sometimes maybe too attentive). On the other, it can be rife with loud-talking studio execs, unnecessarily massive cars and traffic to make you weep (then scream, then kill).
Change has been afoot, though. A creative and artistic scene has been bubbling under for some time now, not in Hollywood, but in LA’s once faded jewel – Downtown.
Downtown’s moment has been brewing for a while. After some pretty dark times, the area has been making a slow and steady comeback over the past 10 years, with the real renaissance happening in the last two years.
Skid Row to art shows
“Right now in Downtown LA, is a moment in time that LA will reflect back upon as a period in time held in the same regard as Westwood in the 80′s and Hollywood in the 90′s”, says Joe Moller, Executive Director of public art phenomenon Downtown Art Walk and long-time LA resident.
An explosion of commercial growth in the 1920’s saw Downtown sparkle as the financial and cultural heart of Los Angeles. The post-war years weren’t kind, though and Downtown’s star began to fade. Over time the most affluent residents sought seclusion in the suburbs and eventually Downtown LA earned itself a reputation as a pretty dodgy and dangerous place to be – home to ‘skid row’ with a huge homeless population and rife with crime and drugs. “10 years ago, the location where our gallery is now was not a place where I would feel safe after sunset”, says Virginia Acre, Coordinator at the DAC Gallery.
A turning point in the fate of Downtown LA came when developer Tom Gilmore’s vision to restore and redevelop many of Downtown’s historic buildings became a reality. In 1999, after new legislation enabled the conversation of commercial properties into lofts and luxury apartments, Downtown commuters began slowly to move into the city centre, allowing a new community to take shape. Since then, many former industrial buildings and warehouses have been renovated and repurposed as art galleries, restaurants and performance venues.
Take a walk Downtown
If any evidence is needed of the burgeoning creative scene, Downtown Art Walk is real live proof. On the second Thursday of every month, the atmosphere of Downtown LA comes alive with art, music, street-food and performances. “Art Walk is a carnival of visual and audio flavours”, says Nathan Cartwright, Curator of The Hive Gallery in the thick of it on Spring Street.
Having launched in 2004 with a handful of people and around 20 galleries, the monthly showcase now attracts over 30,000 people from all over the US and abroad, playing host to more than 50 galleries offering anything from street art to sculpture, photography, culinary arts and mixology.
Young and emerging artists are also finding their voice Downtown. “Young people and those who are new to the art scene can get to know local artists and galleries, allowing them begin to feel comfortable within a gallery space and become engaged with fine art”, says Virginia from the DAC Gallery, which supports ‘outsider’ artists along with international and local emerging artists. Artists like Ty Pownall who works with materials found in demolition sites to recreate the textures, patterns, and expanse of the L.A. freeway system.
So, what can we expect next as Downtown charges full-steam ahead with its dazzling comeback? “The more pleasant and inviting the Downtown scene is, the more patrons it will attract, which in turn will create demand for more artistic and cultural activities,” says Todd Hatakeyama, photographer and founder of the Hatakeyama Gallery on South Hill Street.
Likewise it shows no sign of slowing down according to Joe: “Downtown is in the most fertile of it’s renaissance years and with each new business comes online in the community, the overall landscape of one of the most culturally vibrant communities in LA will continue to develop.”
The next Downtown Art Walk is on Thursday 12th July. Details at downtownartwalk.org