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Arts ReSTORE L.A. and an Art-Based Economy

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Michelle Ann Muldrow at Fruitique.

Arts ReSTORE L.A. is more than a good pun, it's a whole plan. The basic idea is a simple and compelling one: partner cultural institutions with local business districts and civic-minded foundations to revitalize flagging neighborhood economies with an influx of culture-based operations. Designers, booksellers, artists, printers, cafes, and more eclectic concerns give both the participants a new forum and audiences a new reason to visit. It makes sense, but could be understandably rocky to get off the ground -- it's not like there's just some huge pile of money sitting around somewhere waiting to pay for this, right? Except this month in Westwood Village, there kind of is.

Last year, it seemed like every indie arts organization in town was vying for grants from the LA2050 project. It was a sprawling operation aimed at jumpstarting promising ideas for reimagining the future of the city on a variety of levels, from the environment to the arts. The Hammer Museum won in its category -- Arts and Cultural Vitality -- with their Arts ReSTORE proposal, which they summarized as using the $100,000 award "to curate an artisanal pop-up village in Westwood and offer a long term strategy to turn the neighborhood around." With "significant support" from UCLA, the Westwood Village Improvement Association, and some cooperative landlords, the Hammer is seeing the results of the plan right now, as about a dozen pop-up locations along Westwood Blvd from Lindbrook to Weyburn, and some offshoots on Kinross are transformed into shopping, eating, and entertainment venues run by the indiest of businesspeople: local artists. There are the open-for-business venues like the unique ForYourArt-run Give Good Art store, featuring a range of editions, books, and objects that merge shopping and culture; the high-end artisanal craftspeople and booksellers installed in 1000 Westwood; and the less practical but exceptionally joyful situation down at the Fallen Fruit-curated Fruitique! storefront. Also Westwood hosts a Homeboy Industries outpost, a printing press offering workshops, periodic appearances by orchestras, rolling DJs, and crowd favorites like the improvisational, interactive writers of the Poet Bureau.

Bracelets by Tanya Aguiniga. | Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Opening night was fairly lively, with hundreds of people out on the sidewalks, twinkling lights, music in raw spaces, and a general buzz akin to your basic pretty cool neighborhood art walk. We saw loads of branded tote bags, people making an effort to hit all the stops on the map, what looked like the local population of students engaged in the proceedings, and huge lines at the free-poetry station. The Give Good Art store probably had the most lively sales, while spots like the Fruitique! had the most conceptual and aesthetically eclectic offerings. The clothing, furniture, and jewelry designers were quite progressive, but it's maybe the more practical folks like Homeboy Industries or the Whole Foods-stocked cafe at the Open Forum that have the best chance of operating a sustainable business once the project closes out. The Hammer itself offers events and programs, anchoring the project within their walls as a reminder that it's all a big art show -- albeit one that is much more of a social-practice systems sculpture than an exhibition. Of course the best thing to do is to check the site for a full calendar of ongoing and upcoming events, and go see the experiment unfold for yourself.

Unsurprisingly, the Hammer's own language on the program is very optimistic: "Our vision is to inspire the retail property owners of Westwood to tap the extraordinary creative community of Los Angeles as a strategy to activate the Village long term. Everyone benefits if these empty spaces come alive with locally produced goods, crafts, apparel, and furniture, and the neighborhood becomes a vibrant community where consumers can buy unique, locally-made products." And the businesspeople of the area seem to be embracing the potential as well. As Andrew Thomas of the Westwood Village Improvement Association observed, "If this becomes synonymous with the Westwood Village, I think it will have a huge impact on the economics of our District. We're very excited. Regarding what might happen with the artists and artisans after the program ends, it's my hope that they have very successful runs in the District. It's a lot to ask for them to sustain a brick and mortar business because there is a huge difference between operating a temporary pop-up operation and doing it full-time. Still, it would be amazing if one or more of our pop-ups decide to give it a try for the long run." Of course, questions linger as to whether, even if such a model could work in a fairly upscale, culture-drenched, open-minded university area like Westwood, it could ever really be exported to more underserved, more deeply depressed economic zones around the city. The Hammer and the LA2050 may be a prototype now, but soon it could be an inclusive model for a city-wide roll out of arts-based pop-ups.

Gary Baseman in discussion at a Unique LA Meet the Maker workshop during Arts ReSTORE LA.  | Photo: Courtesy of the artist
Give Good Art | Photo: Shana Nys Dambrot
Give Good Art. | Photo: Shana Nys Dambrot.
Homeboy Industries
Homeboy Industries.
KChung Radio | Photo: KChung Radio.
Ryan Macintosh, Give Good Art
Ryan Macintosh, Give Good Art.
Whitman's Beard
Whitman's Beard.
Iko Iko | Photo: Shana Nys Dambrot
Iko Iko. | Photo: Shana Nys Dambrot.
Poet Bureau
Poet Bureau.

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