Category: Public practice

Edgar Arceneaux steps down as head of Watts House Project

April 8, 2012 |  8:30 am

Edgar Arceneaux of Watts House Project
The Watts House Project announced Saturday that Edgar Arceneaux "has graciously stepped aside" from his role as executive director. The announcement came two days after the online publication of a Los Angeles Times report on problems behind the scenes at the nonprofit. Arceneaux, an artist who founded the community redevelopment project in 2009, had served as its leader and most visible spokesperson.

The group's new leader is Will Sheffie, who was hired last year as managing director to oversee day-to-day operations. Board president Channing Henry distributed the announcement, dated April 7, by email:

The statement begins: "As of today, Watts House Project (WHP) is pleased to announce that Will Sheffie, our Managing Director, will take over the organization’s leadership, filling the role of Executive Director. Edgar Arceneaux, WHP Founder and current Board member, has graciously stepped aside as Executive Director while the organization takes measures to effectively address the challenges it has faced in its recent growth. We remain committed to working with local and internationally known artists to maintain the artistic vision of the organization, and are devising an Artistic Director role that will help lead WHP in defining a replicable, sustainable model for arts-based community redevelopment.

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Watts House Project and the challenges of social practice

April 7, 2012 |  8:00 am

It's easy to understand why curators, critics and others have a soft spot for artists engaged in "social practice" -- those who roll up their sleeves and use their skills to try to bring about some sort of real-world change, whether raising awareness about domestic violence or helping to rebuild post-Katrina New Orleans. But is it possible that when it comes to social practice that the art establishment has a blind spot too?

That is one question raised by our report on the problems behind the scenes at Watts House Project, a highly lauded community redevelopment effort founded by artist Edgar Arceneaux to bring artists and architects together to renovate homes on East 107th Street, across from the Watts Towers. They called it "an ongoing, collaborative artwork in the shape of a neighborhood redevelopment."

Despite serious art-world support and funding (about $700,000 in all, from the likes of LACMA, the Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and ArtPlace), the small, 3-year-old nonprofit has been struggling with resident dissatisfaction, construction delays and board defections. In October alone, seven of Arceneaux's 12 board members left, including doctor-collector Joy Simmons, LAX Art founder Lauri Firstenberg and real estate developer Eve Steele. Residents are now talking about pulling out.

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Suzanne Lacy: One artist, three weeks, 40 events

January 14, 2012 |  8:07 am

Watching Suzanne Lacy in action on the Los Angeles Police Department campus, where she kicked off her anti-rape campaign "Three Weeks in January" this week, you could see a set of skills that not all artists have.

She was guiding various volunteers during the installation of a "rape map," the centerpiece of her project, with the confidence of a film director. And she was chatting with a stream of police officers and administrators who happened to walk by -- sussing out their interests in sexual violence issues like a politician building support for a cause.

This is par for the course for Lacy. A pioneer in the field of socially engaged art work, called "public practice" in art lingo, she meets a lot of strangers, collects a lot of business cards and writes a lot of follow-up emails to officials. She tends to interview her interviewers. And she has a knack for identifying the goals and obstacles that motivate people, like any good grass-roots activist.

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