Interview with Amy Inouye: Future Studio Design and Gallery

Amy Inouye at the foot of 'The Statue of Liberty of L.A.'

Young Voices: Boulevard Voices is a series of interviews conducted by Occidental College students, assisted by the Keck Grant, for Professor Jan Lin's Los Angeles Field Research course. Each interview highlights an individual who has made an impact in their communities in Northeast L.A.

Subject: Amy Inouye
Organization: Future Studio Design and Gallery
Boulevard: Figueroa Street

Amy Inouye is the owner of Future Studio Design and Gallery at 5558 North Figueroa Street, in the heart of Highland Park. She has a 22-foot-tall statue on top of her building called Chicken Boy -- sometimes known as the "Statue of Liberty of Los Angeles." Chicken Boy used to perch atop a fried chicken restaurant on Broadway, before the restaurant closed and Inouye made it a landmark of her neighborhood.

Inouye designs books for independent publishers, and puts on a monthly show in her gallery that displays the work of local artists. Inouye is very active in the Figueroa Street community, and designs newsletters for the neighborhood; she is also highly involved in the Northeast L.A. art scene. She participates in neighborhood meetings and initiatives to draw more tourism to the Figueroa Street area. She also has a gift shop in the gallery, where she sells Chicken Boy paraphernalia and other quirky odds and ends.

When I knock on the door of the signless gallery to interview her, Amy's two dogs greet me enthusiastically. A huge plaster sculpture of a man stands in one corner, and art lines the walls. The space is cluttered with pictures and figurines and endless oddities that catch the eye, as well as promotional material for chicken boy.

So, tell me a little bit about your work and what you do here.

Okay, we do many things here. There's the art gallery, and that is because there is a really big art culture here in the Northeast. Six years ago one of our neighbors started the Gallery Night, which is every Second Saturday. We wanted to participate, so we've been changing out our gallery shows every month since then. We have a variety of people we show -- all local people. A couple months ago, we showed a student from Eagle Rock High School. This month we have a ceramics painter. We also work with the Arroyo Arts Collective.

What is the Arroyo Arts Collective?

It's a group of artists, a membership organization -- although anybody can join. Artists, craftspeople, and photographers, mostly in the Northeast. The Collective is a group that sponsors thematic group shows every once in a while. They've been doing a lot of things at the Audubon Center, and they do a home and studio tour every November, and as part of that we have a group show of artists who are going to open their studios.

Stuart, my partner, is an artist, and he's got a sculpture/painting studio in the back of this building, and my day-to-day thing is that I design books. I do it mostly for other publishers, although I am doing a lot of self-published stuff, so authors find me.

Who are the kinds of people you work with? Do you work with people from nearby, like local artists?

Yeah, we deal with a lot of local artists and a lot of local community organizations. I do graphic design, I do newsletters for all kinds of people in the neighborhood, like the Heritage Trust, and the Northeast Democrats. We have a Business Improvement District, so I designed their new logo, things like that. So, we've only been here for ten years but we're pretty entrenched in neighborhood stuff by now.

So what do you consider to be your role in the neighborhood, and how has that changed over the years since you first got here?

When we first moved over here, we knew that we were going to try to put Chicken Boy on the roof. So we immediately joined a bunch of neighborhood organizations in an effort to try and get them to like us, and so they wouldn't give us a hard time when we had to say, 'by the way, we want to put this giant statue on our roof.' So we did that, and everybody here is very nice and very community oriented. It was pretty simple to get involved and you know, just volunteer on a few things. It's easy for me to do a newsletter, so I offered that to all these people and I'm still doing it.

In terms of how it's changed, Highland Park is now, in this short period of time, it's kind of groovy, you know. And this has happened really in the past, I'd say five years. I've noticed the change just from when I go to the post office, or to Dollar Tree, the whole pedestrian demographic is really different. There are a lot of younger people, it's more mixed, and it's really lively. There are a lot of people out on Figueroa all the time.

Why do you think it's changed so suddenly? I've noticed in my area right near Occidental, like on York, it has become this cool place.

Well York, that's a whole other deal, I think with York it's the groovy bars and restaurants. We don't have that, we don't have the cluster of them here. It's kind of different. We feel in a certain way that we're the poor cousin of York, because they get all the attention! They've gotten into the New York Times how many times? We get a different kind of attention. Weirdly we kind of like it. Things are changing, little by little.

Route 66, that's the card we're trying to play. Except for Good Girl [Dinette], the restaurants around here have been here for a really long time, so we don't have the hip bistro thing coming in. But we really like it because for one thing -- it's cheaper and consistently good.

To what degree do you consider yourself or the gallery to be a public character or a business leader? What is your role in public life, would you say?

Well around here, I'm involved with a lot of different groups. The Arroyo Arts Collective and the North Figueroa Association, which is our business improvement district, which covers from Avenue 50 up to just below York, and it's a property-owner based business improvement district -- and we do maintenance and security [for them].

We're also trying to brand the neighborhood. We did this new logo, which is like the Route 66 emblem, for the North Figueroa Association. Their nickname is "Old L.A.," so if you see anything "Old L.A." that's from the North Figueroa Association. We're really trying to jump on this Route 66 thing as our publicity thing.

I actually didn't know it was part of Route 66.

We didn't really know it when we first moved here either, but it's becoming a bigger deal. If you ever go to the Inland Empire, to Glendora, Rialto, or any of those small towns up there on Route 66, they use the emblem on everything. It's on their car wash, it's on their building, it's on absolutely everything. So we're trying to do that a little bit. I don't consider myself a community leader so much as a hub for a lot of information that I can fill people in on. For instance, there is a program going on here called the L.A. Neighborhood Initiative, and they have grant money to do some streetscape improvements.

What is streetscaping, exactly?

That's a good question. It could be anything. There's a couple of crosswalks here that don't have lights, and you know in some places, you press a button and it lights up the crosswalk? We're hoping to maybe get something like that. Streetscaping at it's simplest involves the trees, which are a huge issue -- pulling up the sidewalks and things like that.

We've done the program where we've fixed up the Highland Park Theater sign, and the Manning's Coffee Store sign, and there's another couple of old neon signs that could be fixed up. It's anything that's exterior that's along Figueroa Street.

What's the neighborhood's vision for the final outcome of that?

Well, everybody around here have been talking about doing some kind of "Welcome to Highland Park" signage. Or what people would love, if there was money, would be to do some big archway, a big thing, or at least a thing where people from different groups could hang banners for events -- we don't have that for all kinds of reasons. We keep saying maybe I could turn this place into a visitor's center, except for that I'm not open that often. But some kind of visitors center information thing is what we would work up to.

How do you see all this stuff affecting Chicken Boy and Future Studio?

Well, I would like for the shop to be more of a retail situation. That's in my longer range plans -- more retail, and open more hours. At that point I sort of change all my PR a little bit, and really use Chicken Boy more. A lot of people know about him and will come and visit him at some point, but to tie him into the shop gallery a little bit more -- it's in my thought process.

How do you think all these changes going on in Highland Park and Eagle Rock are going to affect the community and the civil life?

Well, it's really fun. It's really sweet, in a way -- what's that TV show? You know the one with Mayberry, with the sheriff and his little kid? (Ed. The Andy Griffith Show) Anyway it's a small town, and they had the town drunk, and the town barber, the town gossip, and the old auntie, and all this kind of stuff. And to me, I see Highland Park in kind of the same way. There are characters, and some of the types of people.

To wrap up, what are your thoughts about the future of Future Studio and Chicken Boy, and for you personally but also for the neighborhood?

Well Chicken Boy has only been on the building for five years. . . [but] in a short period of time he's kind of become the symbol of Highland Park. I was looking at something online and it was basically stuff centered on York, but their splash page was Chicken Boy. People can use his picture as long as they're using it in a positive way, they don't really have to ask me, although I like to know about this stuff.

I love that a lot of people have told me that their children love him. They're like, "every time we come up to L.A. we have to drive by Chicken Boy." I think that's really cool. I would love to expand on that a little bit more, play off of the whole Route 66 thing so that this is more of an attraction, which will help the businesses. That's the goal of the North Figueroa Association, and we'll use Chicken Boy as part of that.

I would like my little retail business and the gallery to make a little bit more money, but we'll see. I think that I will look towards opening the shop during more regular hours as time goes by. The gallery is going to change a little bit in that we're probably going to extend our shows a little bit longer, so we're not changing it out every month. I'm planning on putting up a sign at some point, and I'll promote a little bit more.

Amy Inouye below Chicken Boy on Figueroa Street in Highland Park

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