2019 Grants Challenge
🎉 Finalist

The Bob Baker Department of Historic Sustainability

The Bob Baker Marionette Theater is LA Historic Cultural Landmark #958. Having recently faced eviction at our home of 55 years, the outpouring of support when our company thrived instead of closing down was enormous, and we want to use LA2050 to create an active sharing resource where historic organizations and threatened institutions can use our new space in Highland Park to explore sustainable, innovative ways in which history is not only preserved but feasibly carried forth into the future.


Briefly tell us a story that demonstrates how your organization turns inspiration into impact.

When our founder Bob Baker was 6 years old in 1930, he saw a puppet show in a department store window and dedicated the next 84 years of his life to puppetry and the establishment of the Bob Baker Marionette Theater in 1963. Since the Theater's establishment, it has been a place where generations of Angelenos come with their family and friends to have fun and be inspired by Bob's lifetime of work, and the lifetimes of work that his team of puppeteers, costumers, and fabricators have contributed to make this vision possible.

Bob also focused on employing people from the nearby community at the Theater, leading to generations of kids in Westlake becoming involved at a very early age in the arts as torchbearers for a folk art in their community. One of our most senior puppeteers used to mow Bob's lawn when he was 7 years old and now is one fo the best marionette puppeteers on our staff who frequently hosts workshops for our staff and the neighborhood so they too can learn marionette puppetry.

Very few organizations exist that hold collective memories for the city of Los Angeles, whether they were the site of someone's first job or a family Christmas tradition for the last 50 years. The Bob Baker Marionette Theater has always dedicated itself to being a place that can be enjoyed across generations, as charming for a 5 year old as it is for a 50 year old. Increasingly, having identified the changing landscape of arts programming, the Theater has expanded its programming to include workshops for older kids and adults, and has begun partnering with other institutions across the city to illuminate Bob Baker's work in film, television, archives, and art.

At the heart of the Bob Baker Marionette Theater is a magical experience for a child that they carry with them forever. We are dedicated to taking that inspiration and fostering it throughout their life through performances, workshops, costumes, movie screenings, and more as that child grows up and becomes a contributor in his or her own community.

Which of the CREATE metrics will your submission impact?​​

Employment in the creative industries

Arts establishments per capita

Measures of cultural and global economic influence (“soft power”)

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?​

East LA

County of Los Angeles

How will your project make LA the best place to CREATE?

The Bob Baker Marionette Theater proposes the creation of a new "office" that exists within our historic nonprofit called "The Bob Baker Department of Historic Sustainability." After 55 years at our Theater in Westlake, the Theater had to move out due to development just a few short years after the death of our founder, Bob Baker. Throughout the process of city landmark status, nonprofit transition, and sustainability studies, we recognized the importance of long-term plans and awareness building for active nonprofits and historic resources. We propose that the Bob Baker Department of Historic Sustainability establish itself with our new Theater location in Highland Park, in one of the empty storefronts that was an original feature of the 1923 building that used to function as part of a vaudeville Theater.

The program's first year will focus on Los Angeles institutions and organizations that are all facing challenges responding to issues of gentrification, climbing rents, attendance and program vitality, and archive/collection management. Our primary focus will be on organizations that self-identify as long-time bearers of Los Angeles cultural history, whether it is in the form of a tangible collection or an ongoing service that has historically benefitted the population of Los Angeles. Intrinsic to this project is also publicly accessible programs, conversations, and discussions to hear first and foremost what the people of Los Angeles value and want to see.

The timeline of activities will follow as such:

(1) Bob Baker Marionette Theater will invite self-identified and community-identified historic cultural organizations for a series of round-table discussions to identify the most pressing and specific issues facing them today.

(2) Over a 10 month period the Bob Baker Marionette Theater will make its storefront available, free of charge, for visiting historic organizations to take up residence and work collaboratively with the Bob Baker Marionette Theater and the surrounding historic community of Highland Park to research and encourage methods of sustainability and long-term success in their communities. During this process the Theater will share methods they have used to move and continue operations, and the Theater's Development team will lead workshops in grant writing and nonprofit sustainability.

(3) Bob Baker Marionette Theater will establish a formal archive for their Department of Historic Sustainability, gathering efforts and lessons from the 10 month period, and creating an openly browsable library that focuses on nonprofit sustainability, historic preservation, and responsive programming.

We believe that Los Angeles in 2050, or even 2100, is only Los Angeles if we find a way to carry our history into the future. We don't want to just see historic organizations exist, but we want to see them thrive and continue to influence our culture with continued employment and artistic contributions.

In what stage of innovation is this project?​

Pilot project (testing a new idea on a small scale to prove feasibility)

Please explain how you will define and measure success for your project.​

Over a one-year period, the Bob Baker Marionette Theater hopes to achieve the following objectives with the launch of its Department of Historic Sustainability:

(1) Create a network of historic Los Angeles nonprofits and organizations that are actively continuing to further their mission and provide programming across the city.

(2) Open up our storefront as a low-risk physical site for test programming, research, and skill-building.

(3) Create an archive and library of sustainability resources specifically geared towards historic organizations.

Success will be measured on both a small and large scale. On a small scale we hope to see historic groups using best practices in grant writing techniques, organizational infrastructure, programming, archival, and outreach. On a large scale level, we hope that priorities within the city and across all of Los Angeles pivot so that there are clear initiatives and resources available to help support history before it disappears. The Bob Baker Marionette Theater will conduct both intake and exit interviews with all organizations they interact with to make sure that the anticipated and unanticipated needs of these historic groups are being met, and with their permission we will include all of the data and roundtable discussion transcriptions in the publicly accessible archive.