Friday, December 08, 2006

LA To The Arts - Drop Dead!

The City of Los Angeles’ master plan to drive every non-profit and profit making cultural institution from the city limits continues unabated. In a city famous (for decades) years for losing more museums and museum quality collections than any city in the world (and a city that has driven its best galleries to Culver City, Santa Monica and Beverly Hills), now the Neon Museum may be the next to be forced to leave LA. And several other cultural institutions may be next:

Museum of Neon Art faces dim prospects
In January it will find itself homeless, priced out of the changing downtown scene. But don't shut off those lights just yet.
By Christopher Reynolds
Times Staff Writer

December 8, 2006

The Museum of Neon Art has collected scores of electric artworks, kinetic artifacts and gleaming bits of historic cityscape. But what it really needs right now is a well-placed "vacancy" sign.

At the end of January, a month after the downtown museum celebrates its 25th birthday, the lease runs out on MONA's home of 10 years at 501 W. Olympic Blvd. After a series of failed courtships, the organization has no new permanent home lined up.

"In crisis, there is opportunity," said executive director Kim Koga, who has been looking for new sites while lining up temporary storage and arranging a fundraising event.

Koga, who has directed the museum since 1998, said she has been searching for months for a new venue, but the museum is caught in a bind common among bohemians in booming urban settings: With rents rising, lofts proliferating and redevelopment efforts underway downtown, the 400-member museum, which lives on a $200,000 yearly budget, can't afford most buildings.

For a while, MONA was looking at the old Subway Terminal Building downtown at Hill and 4th streets, which has been converted into an apartment building and renamed 417 Metro. Then Koga was interested in the basement of the Eastern Columbia building at 849 S. Broadway, a 1929 Moderne landmark with a turquoise terra cotta exterior, designed as a department store, that's being turned into 147 lofts. But neither option panned out.

Now Koga is in talks with another prospective landlord that would put the museum under the same downtown roof as a jazz-blues club, she said, but nothing has been signed.

Meanwhile, MONA will stage a fundraising party and silent auction Saturday at the Design Within Reach store in Beverly Hills, beginning at 7 p.m.

"We'd really like to stay downtown," Koga said. "This is where our roots are, and the history of neon started downtown."

Created in France, neon first came to the U.S. when Earl C. Anthony, an entrepreneur with Packard car dealerships in downtown Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, saw a gleaming sign display in 1923 and immediately bought at least two and brought them west. The Museum of Neon Art, founded in 1981, began in a rented space on scruffy Traction Avenue.


One site is a stone's throw from the museum's current location, on the ground floor of the upstairs Grand Avenue Night Club at 1024 S. Grand Ave, she said, and another is a print shop on Overland Avenue near the Santa Monica (I-10) Freeway.

Now for some back story. I first introduced the Neon Museum to the former owners of the Subway Terminal a couple years, and when new owners bought the building, the deal survived... until it didn't.

Then a month ago, I introduced them to the new owners of the Grand Avenue Club who not only offered them the needed space - rent free - for close to a year - but they also agreed to house the pending Los Angeles Museum, the just evicted Company of Angels Theater and a legendary art gallery.

Again, rent free.

So what's the problem?

Well, the spaces need to have occupancy permits for these uses, which shouldn't be a problem since the spaces have plenty of restroom and plenty of exits. It's a no brainer. But this is LA where getting even the simplest thing done can take months and months of endless inspections.

And the only person in City Hall who actually took an interest in getting things done - and who was also capable of getting them done (two very different things), left on Monday.

So I just wait... and wait... for someone... anyone at City Hall... to return a call or an email.

Meanwhile, projects no one wants such as potted trees and cheesy stamped crosswalks get easy funding while projects that might would actually improve the quality of life in Downtown, enhance the city's artistic life and create revenue generating cultural tourism... are ignored.

Welcome to LA!

Now please leave...

1 comment:

Scott said...

In a perfect world, MONA would go to the retail space at the Packard Lofts (now empty), the place where the first neon sign in the USA was installed in 1923.

The historical resonance of that location is so cool that somebody should push to make that a reality. If not you, Brady, then somebody with a lot of money to donate toward making that idea a reality.