2014 Grants Challenge

An Arts Commons for Everyone

We at @BBLitArts want to build an arts commons in Venice for art, poetry, play, and community #art #poetry #Venice


Please describe yourself.

Collaboration (partners are signed up and ready to hit the ground running!)

In one sentence, please describe your idea or project.

We propose to build a multi-use indoor/outdoor Arts Commons on the grounds of the Old Venice City Hall.

Which area(s) of LA does your project benefit?

Central LA

East LA

South LA

San Gabriel Valley

San Fernando Valley

South Bay


Many visitors to our center come from Ventura, San Bernardino, Riverside, and Orange Counties

What is your idea/project in more detail?

We propose to transform the grounds of the historic 1906 Old Venice City Hall into an Arts Commons that provides Los Angeles with a multi-use, indoor/outdoor space for performance, art-making, relaxation, learning, play, cooking, gardening, and community gathering. This project will revitalize the interior of the Old Venice City Hall, upgrading the existing lobby and theater so that it can serve as an improved venue for performances, literary talks, and community meetings. More dramatically, it will transform the existing hardscrabble “lawn” surrounding the building into a beautiful public park, community vegetable garden, outdoor classroom, and open-air theater.

What will you do to implement this idea/project?

The Arts Commons will include:

1) An outdoor stage and gathering space for performances.

2) A children’s playground and garden.

3) An outdoor oven and communal table.

4) Numerous park benches.

5) Public murals by local artists.

6) Extensive upgrades to the indoor black box theater, allowing for more diverse and higher-quality literary readings, theatrical and musical perfomances, film festivals, and other community events.

7) A refurbished central lobby in which community members can socialize and enjoy refreshments after attending an event or participating in a workshop.

8) A redesigned literary space and small-press bookstore for free community writing workshops.

9) An upgraded art gallery in which local artists can display their work.

10) Upgrades to the existing bathroom facilities.

11) The creation of an outdoor workshop space in our backyard poet’s garden, allowing us to offer an increased number of free writing workshops and literary seminars that cover a wider array of genres and themes.

12) A community vegetable garden (this portion of the project is already under construction, and will be completed regardless of whether or not we receive funding).

A master plan for the outdoor portion of the Arts Commons has already been prepared by the noted design firm Rios Clementi Hale. One major portion of the project – the community vegetable garden – has already commenced under the direction of our partner organization, Kiss the Ground. Given funding, community volunteers organized by ourselves and Kiss the Ground, will begin construction on the rest of the proposed Arts Commons. Most of the landscaping, as well as construction of the outdoor performance space and community table,will be done by volunteers. Professionals will be used to wire the outdoor performance space for sound and lighting, to upgrade the indoor theater, and to improve restroom facilities. We and our partner organizations hold a lease on the land and have secured all necessary permits, so all that we require is the necessary funding to begin construction.

How will your idea/project help make LA the best place to PLAY today? In 2050?

In an era of increasing inequality, there are few venues in which people of all backgrounds share space, let alone interact. Los Angeles has a particular lack of public spaces in which people from different walks of life are encouraged to engage in dialogue with each other.

Beyond Baroque has long combatted this radical shrinking of the public sphere by offering high-quality weekly writing workshops that are free of charge to the community. In these workshops, creative professionals working on their novels often come in contact with with restaurant servers looking to tell their own stories, lawyers receive feedback on their poetry from nannies, and the elderly exchange drafts of short-stories with teens.

Our proposed Arts Commons carries both the spirit and content of this programming out into the open air by creating an arts park along Venice boulevard in Venice. This park will provide a beautiful outdoor space in which people can gather for outdoor workshops and performances, collaborate on growing vegetables in a community garden, have fun in a playground, or just relax over a nice picnic. In turn, visitors to the park can wander inside to Beyond Baroque to enjoy a reading or concert in our refurbished indoor theater, socialize over a refreshment in our lobby, or peruse our small-press bookstore. Or they can move next door to take in the art presented by our sister organization, the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC).

The Venice Arts Commons takes the virtues of the traditional public park – a safe space in which different kinds of people can relax and mingle – and reimagines the park as a participatory venue for people to engage in artistic and educational dialog with their community. By bringing performances, readings, concerts, interactive writing workshops, and other kinds of art-making out into the open alongside a community garden, playground, and picnic area, the Venice Arts Commons will serve as a vital civic space not only for the Venice community, but for arts audiences from across the city. We believe it will serve as a model for other community arts centers and public spaces across the city, making Los Angeles in 2050 a city in which the arts are are interwoven into the public and civic life of the city.

Whom will your project benefit?

1) People in the communities of Venice, Mar Vista, Santa Monica, Culver City, Palms, Playa Vista, and Marina del Rey.

2) Literary audiences from across Southern California who attend readings and performances in either the outdoor or indoor theaters.

3) Arts audiences who come to enjoy the outdoor murals in the garden, the art on display in our art gallery, or who visit Social and Public Art Resource Center next door.

4) Aspiring writers of all ages who participate in our workshops.

5) Teen writers who participate in writing programs for youth.

6) Elderly writers who participate in our writing workshops for seniors.

7) Children in the community looking for a playground.

8) Dog walkers.

9) Community members interested in learning about sustainable growing practices in the community garden planted by Kiss the Ground.

10) Local artists and writers.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

-Kiss the Ground

Kiss the Ground is dedicated to rebuilding the soils in order to improve human and planetary health. They have spearheaded the idea to transform the outdoor grounds into a public space, and are currently digging a community vegetable garden that will be the first component of the proposed Arts Commons.

-Rios Clementi Hale

Amongst other projects, the Los Angles firm Rios Clementi Hale designed L.A.’s recently opened Grand Park. Working with Kiss the Ground, they created the plan for the Arts Commons and community vegetable garden.

-Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC)

SPARC is dedicated to using public art to address contemporary issues and questions of social memory. It shares the grounds of the Old Venice City Hall with Beyond Baroque and its arts programming is an essential component of the proposed Arts Commons. SPARC has committed to the design plan created by Rios Clementi Hale.

How will your project impact the LA2050 PLAY metrics?

Access to open space and park facilities

Number of children enrolled in afterschool programs

Residents within 1⁄4 mile of a park (Dream Metric)

Number of residents with easy access to a “vibrant” park (Dream Metric)

Number of parks with intergenerational play opportunities (Dream Metric)

Number (and quality) of informal spaces for play (Dream Metric)

Increases opportunities for residents to view and participate in the arts.

Please elaborate on how your project will impact the above metrics.

The Venice Arts Commons creates a safe public space for the Venice community. This improves access to open space and park facilities, and increases the number of Los Angeles residents who live within a ¼ mile of a vibrant park. Through our arts programming, some of which are for youth, we will increase the number of children enrolled in aftershool programs. Many of our programs are for seniors, which in conjunction with our youth programming, increases opportunities for intergenerational play. Above all, the Arts Commons makes literature, theater, music, and public art an accessible part of Los Angeles’ recreational spaces.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project.

The evaluation of the project is simple. First, and most importantly, we will consider it a success if we are able to transform the ugly, dying lawn surrounding the Old Venice City Hall into a vibrant park that is utilized by a broad spectrum of people.

Second, we will consider it a success if we can use the outdoor space increase the number of free writing workshops, discussion groups, educational seminars. readings, performances, concerts, film screenings, and art openings that we and our partner organizations present to the public by at least 25%.

Third, we will consider the project a success if we can improve attendance at our arts events by 30%.

What two lessons have informed your solution or project?

Art should be a participatory activity for all.

The winnowing of vital public space and social exchange is a deep threat to our civic and social health. Los Angeles needs more spaces in which people can be encouraged to engage with their fellow citizens.

Explain how implementing your project within the next twelve months is an achievable goal.

This project is as shovel-ready as they come. As was mentioned above, the master plan for the exterior portion of the Arts Commons was created by noted design firm Rios Clementi Hale. The sustainable agriculture group Kiss the Ground has already begun constructing a community vegetable garden on the land jointly shared by Beyond Baroque and SPARC. Beyond Baroque and our partner organizations maintain a lease on all the land proposed for development, and all have agreed to the master plan created by Rios Clementi Hale. In addition, all necessary permits have been obtained. The only remaining necessary step need to begin construction of the Arts Commons is to secure funding, meaning that this is an easily achievable project within the next twelve months.

Please list at least two major barriers/challenges you anticipate. What is your strategy for ensuring a successful implementation?

1) We anticipate it will be a struggle to gather the necessary volunteers for the project. Fortunately, we and our partner organizations have extensive ties to the Venice community.

2) The Old Venice City Hall is badly in need of re-wiring. It could be that installing a sound system for outside the building will require upgrades to our existing electrical infrastructure. If necessary, we are prepared to raise additional funds in order to accomplish this.

What resources does your project need?

Network/relationship support

Money (financial capital)

Volunteers/staff (human capital)

Technical infrastructure (computers, etc.)

Community outreach

Quality improvement research