Arts ReSTORE LA: Westwood. An urban renewal project by the Hammer Museum
The Hammer Museum proposes to tap into the thriving Los Angeles creative community as a strategy to revitalize communities and villages throughout the city. Los Angeles faces some significant challenges posed by urban sprawl, lack of a comprehensive public transportation system, and traffic congestion, and as a result, it often feels like a collection of smaller disparate areas. Given the incredible artistic and entrepreneurial output that is now happening in Los Angeles (the most concentrated in the world), there is a real opportunity to infuse the artists, artisans, craftspeople and creative makers of all kinds into neighborhoods as a unique and effective way to help define and energize them. Specifically, the Hammer would use its incredible network of local talent and expertise in arts and culture to curate an artisanal pop-up village in Westwood and offer a long term strategy to turn the neighborhood around permanently. We propose to work with the building owners in the village to provide work and retail space for artists and artisans in greater Los Angeles to sell their wares and artistic output. Westwood has struggled significantly in recent years due to a confusing identity, and lagging commercial real estate market. Even though Westwood Village is highly walkable and convenient, with parking all around, there is a consistently high rate of retail vacancies and turnover of existing businesses. On Westwood Blvd, the main thoroughfare in the Village, and adjacent to the Hammer, 30 of the 78 storefronts are vacant – earning Westwood Village the highest retail vacancy rate in west Los Angeles. We believe this once thriving neighborhood can recover if it approaches its troubles with a strategy that has proved effective over and over again throughout the country—work with the creative community. The Hammer has already had extensive conversations with the key property owners who share our stake in the neighborhood about ways to reinvigorate what should be an energetic and economically healthy community. Our vision is that the Hammer would curate a pop-up village (like a group exhibition) of artists, artisans and makers of all kinds to activate these empty unused spaces with designers of furniture, clothing, ceramics, jewelry and other locally produced goods and crafts. In advance of the holiday season we would offer a place for an eclectic array of object makers to display their work. Artists could also use the spaces as open studios where they could engage with the public and exhibit and sell artwork. Additionally, the Hammer has proposed to the owners of several vacant restaurants that a curated series of emerging chefs be in residence at the various locations during the length of the pop-up village. The Hammer would be the gateway to the village and accordingly would market and promote the pop-up village and would hold anchor events, such as performances, music sets by local DJs, art installations, etc. in our public Courtyard. For the period of the pop-up village, we would make affordable parking available (it is currently only $3.00) and create maps and informational brochures on the participating artists and create tie-in experiences between the Hammer and artist storefronts and events. While this initial pilot idea would be akin to a curated live version of etsy.com, the goal would be to sustain and replicate the idea to revitalize the neighborhood permanently. The Hammer would help facilitate a longer presence of artists as merchants in Westwood Village, working as a facilitator between all stakeholders. We would also seek to serve as a catalyst and replicate this model beyond the grant period in other neighborhoods throughout Los Angeles, contributing to a future for Los Angeles where strong community development is fueled by the arts.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
Over the past decade plus, the Hammer Museum has transformed itself into one of the most innovative and well-respected arts and cultural institutions in Los Angeles. One important focus of our exhibitions and artist programs is highlighting emerging and under-recognized artists. Last summer we organized L.A.’s first ever biennial exhibition, Made in L.A. 2012, which showcased 60 emerging local artists in four venues across the city. The Hammer is also proud of its 14 year old Hammer Projects exhibition series which features emerging local and international artists in what is often their first solo museum exhibition in the United States. Through our public engagement program, launched in 2010, the Hammer has established itself as a leader in innovation through unique and unexpected artist projects that challenge visitors’ notions of traditional museum experiences. As a cultural center, the Hammer also attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year to our multidisciplinary public programs which take place in our state-of-the-art Billy Wilder Theater and adjacent Courtyard, and which include literary readings, artist performances, film screenings, musical acts, meditation sessions, and scholarly and popular culture presentations. All of the Hammer’s public programs are free to the public and we feel strongly that we could be helpful to both artists and our neighbors if the vitality and sense of community that the Hammer enjoys could spill out into our commercial neighborhood as well.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
So far, the Hammer has laid considerable groundwork to implement this idea in Westwood Village during summer 2013. We have met with the property owners of vacant storefronts in the Village to ensure free or minimal rents, and have had several dialogues with stakeholders and partners at UCLA, including CityLAB, part of the Department of Architecture and Urban Design, and the Center for the Art of Performance.
We also plan to work with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority to help promote the Village over the summer on the routes that stop near Westwood, and would reach out to existing businesses, student groups, neighborhood councils, press outlets, etc. to help realize the project. The Hammer would also leverage its popular
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
We will use qualitative and quantitative methods to evaluate this project and use this data to help craft sustainability plans (more permanent artists presence in Westwood Village) as well as replication plans (curating artists projects in other neighborhoods and communities). We will track foot traffic, visitors to artists’ stores and existing businesses in the village, press coverage, sales figures, and Hammer attendance. We will also solicit feedback through our social media channels from visitors and participating artists. One of the goals of this initiative is to further the Hammer’s mission of supporting artists and their careers, and an important measure of success will be how this experience enables artists to engage with new audiences, sell their work, and increase their visibility in the community.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
In the past 25 years Los Angeles has become a thriving cultural economy with 1 in 8 jobs within the creative sector, and the city has earned a reputation as a premier arts destination. Yet while there is now so much creative energy and talent across Los Angeles, there isn’t a cohesive approach to connect artists to audiences in a way that integrates and revitalizes the existing infrastructure of communities and neighborhoods. And there is no direct artist to consumer opportunity except for occasional festivals and fairs. Temporary or narrowly defined opportunities exist, such as farmers markets, arts festivals and business-sponsored artist commissions, but these lack the type of lasting impact on place that we seek to address. And although Los Angeles has no shortage of shopping opportunities or dedicated areas with a high concentration of retail businesses, it is more difficult to find a place where residents and tourists can access unique, locally or hand-made products on an ongoing basis. This proposed movement of instigating artisanal marketplaces in underutilized communities has the potential for a lasting impact on these neighborhoods, with pop-up markets developing into long-term storefronts featuring L.A. artists and their products.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
Los Angeles would continue its climb as a leading creative center in the nation, and as a top tourist destination for arts and culture (beyond beach and amusement parks). The local artists community would be nourished, thrive, and enjoy real and meaningful connections with residents of the City. The arts would have an important place in economic revitalization strategies, and urban design and planning would consider the impact and influence of arts and artists as a matter of course. Neighborhoods and communities, such as Westwood Village would become vibrant marketplaces that defy homogenization and regularly feature unique locally-crafted wares, and places where new artists can be discovered. Cultural institutions would consider it part of their mission to investigate and influence their surrounding neighborhoods by connecting their artistic expertise and output with the specific needs and capabilities of the community.