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Machine Project needs money too

December 21, 2008 |  1:00 pm

Machine Project's Mark Allen

With just about every local arts organization (see MOCA, Bob Baker Marionette Theater,  et al.) desperately seeking funds, it's not shocking to hear that offbeat Echo Park collective Machine Project is facing a budget crunch.

But it was still a surprise to fans of Machine Project, which in mid-November "took over" LACMA for a day, when founder and director Mark Allen posted a letter on the group's homepage asking for donations.

The plea for funds isn’t as urgent as the letter might make it seem. Machine Project has enough money in the bank to operate for the next four months. But its budget relies heavily on foundation support and the group didn't receive certain grants it was hoping for.  And there isn't time to wait it out through the next round of grant proposals.

Allen, above, admits that the organization has been less than aggressive about developing its member rolls  -- something that's changing now. "People are very enthused about Machine Project, but I have not done a good job of communicating to them that we’re all in this together," says Allen, who told Culture Monster that people have been donating money since he posted his letter on the Machine Project website.

Machine Project operates on a monthly budget of $9,000. According to Allen, about $3,500 covers rent; $4,000 goes to operations manager Michele Uyu's salary and her payroll taxes, and the rest pays for bookkeeping services, graphic design services, electric bills and the like.

"That's just the bare minimum to keep the doors open," Allen says. Last year, Machine Project staged almost 100 public events. Some cost nothing to put on; others required props, building materials and plane tickets for resident artists. That includes its current artist-in-residence, Joshua Beckman, who offers a sort of dial-a-poem program: Mondays through Thursdays between 9 and 10 p.m., you can call Machine Project's hot line ([213] 448-7668) and Beckman will read you an original poem based on your stated tastes and mood.

For 2009, Machine Project plans to bring in Walter Kitundu, a San Francisco-based musician and instrument builder who received a 2008 MacArthur "genius" grant, to explore his interest in ornithology by observing the birds at Echo Park Lake and creating some sort of project around that.

"When you're a space like ours that's run largely on enthusiasm, we can't lose a lot of funding without cutting into our core programs. This is the year that I gave money to all the art spaces that I went to," Allen says. "It's important for people to think about supporting the culture that they participate in."

-- Elina Shatkin

Los Angeles Times file photo of Mark Allen