Broadway Cultural QuarterLos Angeles, CA
With a major grant from ArtPlace, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs is leading the effort to create the Broadway Cultural Quarter (BCQ), an initiative to revitalize Downtown LA by developing a Creative Enterprise Zone to attract and retain for-profit creative enterprises and arts / educational nonprofits.
The BCQ will be anchored by the Broadway Arts Center, a mixed-use development featuring affordable artists’ housing, a blackbox theater, an art gallery, and creative enterprise space being developed by a Limited Liability Corporation recently created by Artspace and the Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation; and a Downtown campus for the California Institute of Arts (CalArts). Otis College of Art and Design is planning an incubator program for the area, and the American Institute of Architects, Los Angeles Chapter, is looking to move their headquarters to Broadway. An over-arching design by Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne, and his firm Morphosis Architects, will provide the vision to create a vibrant and revitalized community.
ArtPlace recently spoke to Olga Garay-English, Executive Director of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, about the Broadway Cultural Quarter project.
ARTPLACE: Can you give us some background information on your project area?
GARAY-ENGLISH: Broadway, between 2nd Street and Olympic Boulevard, is a nine-block area in the historic core of Downtown Los Angeles, and features twelve historic theaters — the largest concentration of theaters on one street in the US — set among a bevy of stunning Beaux Arts, Art Deco, and revival-style buildings. The entire area is listed on the National Register of Historic Spaces, and these structures stand in tribute to the architectural and engineering achievements of the early 20th Century. Broadway was Los Angeles’ premier entertainment and retail destination.
As with many Downtown areas in other US cities, Broadway witnessed decline post WWII, and now has over one million square feet of vacant upper-floor space, a 20% ground floor vacancy rate, and only two of the twelve theaters are fully operational.
ARTPLACE: How do you expect the community to change as a result?
GARAY-ENGLISH: We feel that the key to community and economic revitalization is to position the area as a hub for creative businesses, incubator programs for start-ups, nonprofit arts and educational facilities, and artists’ housing. This is the best path to generate 24/7/365 vibrancy for the area. I strongly believe that a year-round presence of artists living and working in the community advances creative placemaking goals, and is a tonic for bringing the area back to its heyday.
By clustering creative for-profit businesses and nonprofit arts and educational organizations into a creative enterprise zone, we can foster job creation, workforce development, and economic growth, which can result in hundreds of creative industry jobs and increased access to a more diverse group of residents.
ARTPLACE: What do you have to do really (really) well to achieve success with your initiative?
Olga Garay-English: A strong private/public partnership, along with active citizen engagement, is the key to successful planning and implementation.
GARAY-ENGLISH: The first step in the process was DCA’s facilitating a strong public/private partnership. Public sector partners include Mayor Antonio Villaragosa’s Office of Strategic Partnerships; DCA; City Council District 14 and Bringing Back Broadway, a 10 year initiative to revitalize Broadway; the City Planning Department; and the Los Angeles Housing Department. Private sector partners include the Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation, a nonprofit service organization for performing arts professionals; Artspace, an organization dedicated to create affordable space for artists and arts organizations; the California Institute of the Arts; Otis College of Art and Design; the American Institute of Architecture, Los Angeles Chapter (AIA/LA); and of course, Pritzker Prize-winning architect Thom Mayne and Morphosis Architects.
The Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation and Artspace have now formed a Limited Liability Corporation, the BCQ LLC, to actively develop the BAC and are currently involved in site selection. CalArts is poised to begin its needs assessment for a Downtown Campus. Otis College of Art and Design is in discussions with us to create an incubator program in the area, and AIA/LA is looking to move their headquarters to Broadway, which would also house lectures, exhibitions, and other programs for the community. Thom Mayne and Morphosis Architects have begun the research needed to complete the BCQ Master Plan, which will specify the artist-friendly vision and provide implementation plans and design renderings. Our goal is to create a campus atmosphere and sense of place by bringing these disparate developments together under the BCQ umbrella.
Beginning with a 2010 award from the National Endowment for the Arts (the Mayors’ Institute on City Design 25th Anniversary Initiative), the project team has held a series of focus groups, stakeholder interviews, public meetings, and surveys. Focus group discussions were held with more than 80 leaders of the following constituencies: 1) arts organizations; 2) individual artists; 3) financing and funding professionals; 4) community and educational organizations; 5) business sector representatives; and 6) City of Los Angeles staff and elected officials. A series of public workshops involved over 1,000 residents. A survey was conducted for artists and creative businesses to get quantifiable data. We received over 2,000 survey responses. In total, our engagement reached over 3,000 people. This initial planning work helped to define the exact needs, and prepared us for the successful ArtPlace grant application.
Since the announcement of the ArtPlace grant award, we have convened the Creative Economy Convergence Task Force to help implement the BCQ and turn vision into reality.
The Task Force consists of leaders from five sectors: 1) private creative entrepreneurs; 2) government; 3) the philanthropic community; 4) nonprofit arts and for-profit entertainment organizations; and 5) academia/public policy. There are over 60 members, including college presidents, COOs, and VPs (CalArts; Emerson; Otis College; and SCI-Arc); film executives from Sony Pictures and 20th Century Fox; major arts organizations and union leaders (Hammer Museum, SAG-AFTRA); prominent philanthropies (Irvine Foundation, Getty Trust); and a cadre of young creative entrepreneurs.
ARTPLACE: Do you feel Los Angeles’ BCQ project can be a model for other cities?
GARAY-ENGLISH: Cities across the US have historic industrial, and/or commercial areas with high vacancies and waning infrastructure. We know that unemployment rates are at record highs. Addressing these two perennial problems affecting dozens of US cities, large and small, in a creative way that incorporates artist-friendly land use policies to attract creative businesses can advance job creation, promote mass transit, and ensure ecological sustainability.
According to a 2011 Americans for the Arts survey, creative industries nationwide employ almost 3 million people and encompass 756,000 businesses, which include arts and entertainment companies, design, architecture, and innovative technology firms. A place-based strategy, such as ours, which incorporates creative business and arts and educational nonprofits, along with affordable housing for artists, can have a catalytic effect on cities throughout the nation.