We The Artists: How 18th Street Arts Center Creates Creative Spaces and Provokes Public Dialogue

In partnership with 18th Street Arts Center: 18th Street Arts Center is an artists' residency program that provokes public dialogue through contemporary art-making.


Art has the power to motivate collaboration within and across communities. That's what 18th Street Arts Center believes. As an artist-driven, socially engaged contemporary art institution, our mission is to bring members of different communities together to provoke dialogue across ethnic, class, and generational differences, through contemporary art making.

18th Street Arts Center is the largest, continuously running artist residency program in Southern California. 18th Street encourages contemporary artists from around the globe to create new work within a supportive environment. We provide artists with the space and time to take risks in ways that further the development of their practice. Resident artist Luciana Abait, originally from Argentina, says, “I don’t think I have chosen to become an artist. I feel that making art is necessary for my mind and soul.” She continues, “I applied to be a resident artist at 18th Street because I really needed to have a sense of belonging. I needed to be part of an artistic community. And this is exactly what 18th Street has given me.” 18th Street is a unique environment because we bring artists with a long-term investment in Los Angeles into contact with artists from around the globe to explore shared concerns and to learn from one another.

18th Street is engaged in our first crowdfunding campaign via the online platform Indiegogo, happening now through October 31. Titled “We The Artists,” this project will support close to 50 visiting artists and over 25 Los Angeles-based artists to be in residence at our unique facility in 2017. For almost 30 years, we have actively supported the social and civic engagement of 8,000 plus artists, including over 500 international artists from more than 60 countries. We are crowdfunding because so few traditional art grants directly support artists and artistic production. That picture has gotten even more dire in recent years. We need to rely on our community to stand up and show the world that artist's voices matter. “Art makes us sensitive to many issues and helps us question about how we could change things and make our lives better,” say Muratbek Djumaliev, a Kyrgyz artist-in-residence at 18th Street in 2015. “Art also helps us to see this world more fully, to better understand ourselves and other people,” adds Gulnara Kasmalieva, his collaborator in life and art. 

In many ways, artists are the public’s conscience. They dig deep into difficult subjects and troublesome emotions, asking questions which may or may not have answers. Longtime 18th Street resident Michael J. Masucci, co-founder of EZTV, describes how, “For me, the notion of people in a crowded space experiencing the same event and all taking it in differently, is one of the most fascinating parts of arts-based practice.” EZTV co-director, Kate Johnson, adds, “I chose to be an artist because I wanted to create shared experiences.” Because we believe that the creative process is just as important as the outcome, 18th Street is an important partner in enabling artists to meet their goals of understanding and transmitting ideas to others through their artwork. 

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In 2017, we will host artists in our signature Artist Lab Residency and through a new initiative, Riders and Residents, who will engage a host of groups located within and around our 90404 zip code in a large-scale, public conversation about equity, equality, civil rights, and land use. The high level of civic engagement by 18th Street artists is evidenced in the relevance of their work to current L.A.-area ballot measures including Santa Monica’s 'LUVE' initiative, Los Angeles’ 'Build Better L.A.' initiative, Measure M to support further Metro construction, Measure HHH to combat homelessness, and statewide prison and death penalty reform measures. 

In the midst of political uncertainty, support for art and culture can feel like a luxury. 18th Street is committed to supporting contemporary art that feels like a necessity — creating a space for the public to engage in relevant, accessible, and rigorous conversations with artists, intellectuals, and innovators from a variety of professional backgrounds. Each artist and each participant brings a story and a set of experiences and perspectives to the group, that each is invited to share and express in a constructive and collaborative way. In the words of Dan Kwong, celebrated Asian-American performance artist and longtime 18th Street resident, “What I have come to see is that there’s something very profound and powerful about telling your story. It’s teaching people who you are and it’s teaching yourself who you are.” Kwong has been a resident at 18th Street since our founding in 1988.

Artists are unlike other creative producers in that they are motivated by very personal questions and concerns, which they are able to translate into universal terms. This work is not always recognized commensurate with the value that it creates for others. Of this Kwong says: “Some of the struggles of being identified as an artist are, you have the sort of societal attitude that you’re not doing real work. Your work is generally not valued by society.” Christina David, an artist from Bucharest, Romania who was in residence at 18th Street in 2012, explains, “Both financially and on a personal level, I had moments when I felt that I should give up, and I was afraid I would feel insignificant. But on the contrary, the team from 18th Street made me feel important and remarkable as an artist.” Artists living outside global market centers often feel a sense of creative isolation that international residency programs like 18th Street are essential to combat.

18th Street Arts Center is committed to doing this important work in our community for another 30 years or more. In the words of David: “I see the richness that art brings to people. It makes us question, it makes us stronger, it forges bonds between us.” 18th Street supports over 50 artists per year directly with studio space and a critically engaged environment that fosters new ideas. We bring over 5,000 individual visitors to our site per year and engage another 50,000 individuals online through our website, social media, and strategic partnerships. In order to do this, 18th Street must fundraise. We need government, foundation, corporate, and individual supporters to back our programs with their dollars to survive.

Given the chance, we can change the world, one artist at a time.


Visit the #WeTheArtists crowdfunding campaign here.

View all #WeTheArtists artist testimonial videos here.


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