Inglewood Open Studios: Artists drawn to evolving community
When the annual Inglewood Open Studios kicks off Nov. 12 with drawing, painting, sculpture, photography and more, fans of art and design will find much to appreciate beyond the city's side-by-side Schindler houses.
Can the city finally get beyond Dr. Dre rapping in "California Love" 16 years ago that Inglewood is "always up to no good"? It's about time people drop the negative image, said MonaLisa Whitaker, executive director of Inglewood Cultural Arts, a nonprofit organization that fosters interdisciplinary arts programs.
"Inglewood has challenges like any city," she said. "It just seems there's always a tendency to highlight the negative rather than positive things that happen here."
One of those positives: the number of artists moving into the community in search of large, loft-like spaces and cheaper rent. Otis College of Art and Design graduate Renee Fox moved here about five years ago from Hollywood with her husband, sculptor and painter Kenneth Ober. Shortly thereafter, Fox and a few local artists organized the first open studios tour for family and friends.
"There were six artists that first year," Fox said. "This year we have more than 30."
The arts building is the brainchild of Literati Cafe owner, real estate developer and art collector Tony Kouba. He also recently transformed a nearby Volkswagen dealership into artist studios.
“Artists are always on the leading edge of restoring an area,” Kouba said. “They bring people into places they otherwise might not come. We wanted to create a place where artists could work in a community as well as, hopefully, benefit the city at large.”
Fox guesses that more than 100 artists are working in the city, some of whom are graduates and faculty members from nearby Otis. The college "acts as a positive catalyst for the area, drawing artists to the community," Fox said.
Richard Shelton, who is the director of Otis' integrated learning program, has overseen student projects aimed at enhancing some of Inglewood's blighted areas. Otis students created a mural of children's silhouettes on one of the old prefab bungalows at La Tijera School. "When they finally tear them down, we'll move the mural to their new school," Shelton said.
Architect and artist Christopher Mercier, who moved from Culver City to Inglewood eight years ago, inhabits an industrial building from the 1930s. He set up Fer Studio with partner Douglas Pierson in a building that once manufactured parts for the military, and he lives in the adjacent artist complex. The architects, both former employees of Frank Gehry's office, and like-minded others have been pushing for an artist-in-residence zone for the area, so that artists can live in the large commercial and industrial spaces they crave -- legally.
"We began the process three years ago with local artists around the city to create live-work spaces and to recognize the substantial arts community in Inglewood," former Mayor Daniel Tabor said, adding that one hurdle is addressing the concerns of the Fire Department: "The Planning Department is still resolving conflicts of artists working with metals or ceramics who require torching and kiln operations."
Fer also has spent more than 1,850 hours coming up with an innovative plan for a new, re-imaged Inglewood centered on Metropolitan Transportation Authority plans to build a station as part of the Crenshaw/Los Angeles International Airport light-rail line.
"We felt the station might act as a front door to a revitalized downtown," Mercier said, referring to the six-block stretch of one-story and two-story buildings, mostly from the 1930s and 1940s. The crown jewel is the Inglewood Fox Theatre, an Art Deco and Moderne landmark that was a favorite site for Hollywood premieres in the 1950s.
Fer drew up plans to show the City Council how the downtown core could be linked to historic Centinela Park, the light-rail station and a new commercial development on a vacant lot that the city owns.
Their pro bono efforts were entered in the international Living City Design Competition "to create a compelling, futuristic model city." Inglewood didn't win the award (Paris did), but the vision of a sustainable Inglewood -- where rooftops are venues for sports and agriculture, and ethereal vertical towers become glowing lanterns by night -- still imparts a new identity to the city.
Is Inglewood poised to become the latest neighborhood transformed by artists and their work? Said Mercier, "We think Inglewood looks a lot like Culver City 30 years ago."
INGLEWOOD OPEN STUDIOS
Inglewood Open Studios is a self-driving tour that runs from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., Nov. 12 and 13. Art includes drawing, painting, sculpture, photography, installation and performance pieces. The event also includes a group show in the Beacon Arts Building, 808 N. La Brea Ave. An opening reception is scheduled for 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Nov. 12. The tour and the show are free. Tour maps can be picked up
at Beacon Arts or downloaded at www.inglewoodopenstudios.com.
-- Barbara Thornburg
Images: Fer Studio's vision for a new Inglewood city center. Credit: Fer Studio