June 2013_Photo Little Tokyo- DCA LA.doc

ArtPlace recently spoke to Olga Garay-English, Executive Director of DCA, about the DCQ project.

ArtPlace: What advice would you give to the new grantees?

Olga Garay-English: First, let me say congratulations to the winners of the most recent ArtPlace grant competition. As an organization that has received both ArtPlace and NEA Our Town grants, we have found that it is essential to maximize the strengths of your partnerships, and to build and encourage trust among various stakeholder groups when starting your project. The partnership that was brought together for DCA’s ArtPlace application was created based on the project vision, with the Actors Fund and Artspace leading the affordable artists’ housing element, and CalArts leading the educational aspect. This partnership was established prior to the ArtPlace grant, and will continue after the grant period has ended. Allowing each partner to be fully vested in the project is imperative to achieve success.

Building trust is also crucial for any Creative Placemaking project and in all community development work. Reaching out to stakeholders in the targeted neighborhood and building a diverse coalition of support for one’s project should be the first order of business. It is likewise important to keep all partners and stakeholders “in the loop” throughout the project to maintain this coalition and help ensure the project’s success.

Finally, it is important to allow for some flexibility to achieve success for the partnership. DCA’s ArtPlace award helped support pre-development costs to create a vibrant campus that will feature affordable artists’ housing and a Downtown presence for CalArts, as part of a Creative Enterprise Zone to attract start-up and mid-sized creative industry businesses. This project was originally envisioned on Broadway, due to its entertainment legacy and large concentration of historic theaters, of which several have recently been refurbished and are now open for public events.

After the 2012 dissolution of Community Redevelopment Agencies (CRA) in California, which occurred under the current State administration and was prompted by the large budget deficits in California, our ability to realistically obtain major financing for acquisition costs to obtain property on Broadway was largely removed. The partnership has continued with its due diligence and financial assessments on the Broadway parcels noted in the grant application; however, we have found that without the CRA in place, it would now take major philanthropic support to purchase these sites. Project partners agree that having to amass philanthropic support to purchase property on Broadway of $10 M or more, would derail the project. (Our development partners, Artspace and Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation normally develop properties for affordable artists’ space in cities that own the properties to be developed, thus removing the barrier of acquisition costs and speeding up the development timeline.)This challenge has led the partnership to explore additional site options in adjacent areas of Downtown. As part of this expanded approach, DCA and partners recently met with City officials, including LA’s Deputy Mayor for Housing, and the Planning Director for the Council Office that represents Downtown LA. We also listened to community members and stakeholders in areas adjacent to Broadway, including the Arts District and Little Tokyo areas of Downtown LA, in regards to potential sites.

Our most recent grant activity is to create a visionary design for the project on a City-owned property in Little Tokyo, near prominent cultural institutions, including the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA and the Japanese American National Museum (JANM). We are currently working with all project partners and Morphosis Architects on a design for this new space. The plan is to present this expanded vision, which would include re-envisioning the Japanese Cultural Community Center (JACCC) nearby, to Councilman José Huizar, to seek his support of having the City provide the land known as Parking Lot 7, which surrounds MOCA and the JANM, for a dollar a year towards this endeavor.
As such, we have changed the name of the initiative from the “Broadway Cultural Quarter,” to the working title the “Downtown Cultural Quarter Creative Enterprise Zone.” This plan will keep the original project vision, which will include the residential artists’ housing and a CalArts campus, but also expand this vision by including additional student housing for SCI-Arc at a nearby City-owned site. The design will create an active vibrant space, while connecting to the existing cultural institutions and bolstering the Japanese cultural identity of the area.

So, in short, I would say to the new ArtPlace grantees that the project goal and vision can and should remain consistent, however, grantees should expect and allow for challenges, and course corrections, be it with financial resources, or community concerns. The most important item, however, is to ensure that the project has a dedicated leader with the vision and ability to keep the project moving forward to completion.

ArtPlace: How would you encourage new grantees to leverage their ArtPlace grants for maximum effect?

Olga Garay-English: First, as with any grant-funded work, it is important to break down project phases and seek support for each phase. For example, our current ArtPlace grant started with an NEA Mayors’ Institute on Design – 25th Anniversary Initiative grant that helped fund the initial feasibility studies and artist/creative industry surveys. This research established need for artists’ housing and determined project details, such as the number of housing units that can realistically be built, using reasonable financing instruments such as Low Income Housing Tax Credits and New Market Tax Credits. Based on this quantifiable data, we sought the support of ArtPlace to complete the pre-development process. The next chunk of development work is taking place with our partners Artspace and Actors Fund, which have now formed the BCQ LLC to develop the mixed-use building, to secure acquisition and construction funding.

Second, it is important to consider the impact of your deliverables toward future funding opportunities. For example, DCA was awarded an NEA Our Town grant in FY 11/12 to support the design for a creative placemaking project in Watts. For this grant, we partnered with a strong community organization – the Watts Labor Community Action Committee (WLCAC), in addition to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) and other community entities. WLCAC was formed in 1965 after the Watts uprising, and is a non-profit, community-based, human social services organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for South Central Los Angeles residents.

This Our Town project is creating a design to repurpose the Historic Watts Train Station, an underutilized 1904 wooden building that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is in close proximity to the 103rd Street Watts Metro Station, to become a Visitors Center and gateway to Watts that celebrates the arts and history of the Watts community. In addition, one “Artist Pathway” will link this Visitors Center with the nearby Watts Towers, and the other will connect the Visitors Center to the adjacent Martin Luther King Jr. Shopping Center, which itself contains public art, including a prominent sculpture by artist Charles Dickson of Martin Luther King Jr.

We engineered this grant so that one of the deliverables is a Master Planning Report that will articulate the community need and vision that comes out of the community outreach process. The report will include multi-perspective renderings and financial assessments. Upon completion of the Our Town project, this deliverable can be used by WLCAC and DCA to seek additional resources for this and related Creative Placemaking projects.

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