by Karl Baumann and Leila Dougan
On October 26, artists and activists from all over Los Angeles gathered in Leimert Park to fight for the survival of the internationally renowned performance gallery, The World Stage. Situated on Degnan Boulevard, and founded by legendary jazz drummer Billy Higgins and poet Kamau Daaood, the venue has become much more than an arts and education center. It has grown into an essential hub for community expression and artistic experimentation, which is being threatened by recent local development.
Community members have spent the past few years advocating for a train stop on the developing Metro Crenshaw Line. The line is scheduled for completion in 2018, and will connect the Expo Line with the Green line at LAX. Advocates for a stop in Leimert Park argued that it would help connect the neighborhood to the rest of the city, increase foot traffic, and boost locally owned businesses. After numerous community meetings, letters, phone-calls, and emails, Metro finally agreed to add a Leimert Station to the Crenshaw corridor. But celebrations came to an abrupt end as reports surfaced that properties along Degnan Boulevard were being bought up, threatening local businesses with rent increases and "pay-or-quit" notices that began appearing on storefront doors.
Documenting the rally brought us in contact with the main players of the World Stage. Leimert Park has not only been the home to historical figures like Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald but continues to foster contemporary artists such as Mark Bradford and Jurassic 5. The World Stage, along with other community centers like the KAOS Network, are vital to maintaining and developing the rich artistic culture of the area.
The fate of the World Stage is still uncertain, and raises broader questions of the future identity of Leimert Park.