Inglewood: From 'City of Champions' to City of Artists

1019West | Image courtesy of 1019West
1019West | Image courtesy of 1019West

The ocean breeze that sends a slight chill down Manchester Boulevard is gone. In a nondescript space on the main drag a couple blocks away from Randy's Donuts, artists are hard at work. Pontus Willfors is working on a barbed wire tablecloth. His studio is filed with sculptural pieces, frequently made from wood, and include a chair inspired by the book "Where the Wild Things Are." Catherine Fairbanks, a sculptor who works largely in ceramics, is building a large fireplace. It's a practice piece that will hopefully lead to some public art works that she would like to do. Jesus Max has been painting portraits of couples. Susan Amorde shows some installation pieces she has built with vintage luggage. It's part of a series about baggage. She's also at work on "Zero Down," a visual art and performance driven event that will take place at 1019West on May 31. The show will feature artists from 1019West and Beacon Arts Building, as well as other guests.

The artists who work out of 1019West, around 40 of them, are an accomplished lot. They show locally and internationally. Some teach. It's not easy to get a spot here. You have to go through a peer review to land a studio. By working out of this former car dealership, the artists here are contributing a booming scene in the South Bay city.

Years ago, Inglewood was called "City of Champions." Then the Lakers, who spent years of glory inside The Forum, moved to downtown Los Angeles. More recently, Hollywood Park ended its run as a race track. While The Forum and Hollywood Park came to be known as the two famed features of Inglewood. The city, which boasts a population of over 100,000 residents, has quietly built up another identity. The "City of Champions" became a City of Artists.

This isn't a new phenomenon. Inglewood has had a longstanding relationship with the arts. For over 15 years, Otis College of Art and Design has been situated a few minutes away in Westchester. Inglewood has long been seen as a good home base for those who work at or attended the school. In recent years, though, the city has seen an influx of artists based in Los Angeles and other neighboring cities as a place to set up workspaces. 1019West and nearby Beacon Arts, which hosts studios for around 30 artists, are part of the newest wave. These are buildings that are zoned for work, not live-work. While some of the artists live in Inglewood, others make the short commute from L.A. neighborhoods like Westchester, Venice, Mar Vista and West Adams. Others come in from South Bay cities like Redondo Beach. For these artists, there is a work opportunity available in Inglewood that L.A. doesn't have. A lot of that has to do with cost. Artists who have been priced out of neighborhoods like Venice can get a large, light-filled space at a price they can afford.

Location is another big factor. Inglewood is easily accessible for a lot of people in the Los Angeles area by freeway and street. It's close enough to the coast where taking a break at the beach is an option. It's also near the art galleries that line Culver City.

Beacon Arts Building | Image courtesy of Beacon Arts
Beacon Arts Building | Image courtesy of Beacon Arts

Back in 2009, Tony Kouba was looking for ways to redevelop the properties he owned in Inglewood. One of those was the former Bekins Moving and Storage Company, a multi-floor building on La Brea with a stunning rooftop view that captures much of the South Bay, as well as a good chunk of Los Angeles. The other was the old Volkswagon dealership on Manchester. Meanwhile, Scott Lane had heard about Inglewood Open Studios, an annual event where local artists open their doors to the public. Kouba and Lane talked about how their might be a need for more workspace in the area. They spoke to Renée Fox, organizer of Inglewood Open Studios, who confirmed their suspicions. Kouba funded the project and continues to make improvements on the development of it. When we met, he was with a group at Beacon Arts clearing out an archive to make way for more studio space.

Susan Amorde, "Quite Journey."
Susan Amorde, "Quite Journey."

Kouba, who lives in Brentwood, has owned the properties since the 1980s. He's also had a hand in redevelopment nearby in Westchester and Culver City. His work in Westchester helped bring in new, thriving businesses to a formerly neglected intersection near LAX. In Culver City, a redeveloped shopping center helped pave the way for the surge of shopping and retail establishments that have popped up there in recent years. The Inglewood projects are different though. "It's an unusual use," Kouba says of the properties. "It's not residential. It's not a retail use. It's not exactly a manufacturing use, although things are being manufactured."

It's also a different city. He notes that the Westchester and Culver City projects "had a dramatic effect" on the neighborhoods, but doesn't anticipate the same thing happening with the areas surrounding Beacon Arts and 1019West.

"This is a stable, long-term community," says Kouba.

Michael Massenburg, the subject of a 2013 Artbound feature, is one of Inglewood's longtime artists and residents. He grew up in Los Angeles, but settled in Inglewood in the early 1990s, several years after he and his father started a business in the city's downtown. "Through the years, there have always been some things brewing underneath that artists are organizing," says Massenburg.

Artwork by Michael Massenburg.
Artwork by Michael Massenburg.

However, Massenburg notes, the perception of Inglewood has often been clouded by stereotypes. "Once the community became more Latin and African-American, there's a certain perception they have," says Masseburg. According to 2010 census data, Inglewood's population is 43.9 percent black or African-American and 50.6 percent Hispanic or Latino. Massenburg points out incidents in film and television where the city was portrayed in a less than savory light. He also mentions the remarks that he has heard when people come into Inglewood for art events, questions as to whether or not the area is safe. "It's no different than any other community," says Massenburg. "There's middle class. There are working folks."

DeborahLambert, "BlindSpots."

In fact, Inglewood's economic demographics aren't that different from other South Bay cities. The median household income between the years of 2008 and 2012 was $44,558. That's on par with neighboring Hawthorne. What makes Inglewood unique in comparison to other parts of the South Bay is that it has more of an urban feel to it. There aren't the sprawling business parks and shopping centers that you'll see in Torrance or Gardena or Hawthorne. It looks and sounds like a version of Los Angeles where the mid-20th century architecture remains a focal point and the constant hum of jets adds to the ambient noise.

"There's a tendency to think that there's nothing here and it's the complete opposite," says Massenburg. "There's a lot here."

In the latter half of the 1990s, the City of Inglewood developed its "Cultural Arts Master Plan," which outlines the goals of the city in relation to its arts community. These include supporting art events as well as arts education programs for both students in the school district and community members, set aside funds to assist the development of the arts and "expand Inglewood's image to include arts and culture." The "Master Plan" led to the development of Inglewood Cultural Arts, a non-profit organization of which Massenburg is a founding member. The group hosts events, like the forthcoming Afro-Latin Festival of Music and Dance at Edward Vincent, Jr. Park.

More recently, Inglewood established an Arts Commission, as part of the city's Parks, Recreation and Library Department. Right now, the commission's focus is in public art projects. Part of this, says commission member Sabrina Barnes, is to "attract tourists." That's something that will benefit the city as the renovated Forum brings in more traffic. The other part is support the many local artists, while bringing art to all residents. Back when the city was researching for the "Master Plan," Barnes says that a number of artists commented that they were looking for more work within their city. To accomplish this, the city has established IGAP (Inglewood Growing Artists Projects), a grants program that offers awards in the amounts of $10,000, $15,000 and $20,000. Artists can propose projects that range from graphic novels to billboard pieces to musical works.

It's a perfect storm of interest from artists, developers and the city that's built up to the current deluge of creative works pouring out of Inglewood. The future of Inglewood remains to be seen, but art continues to be the heart of the community.


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