With a major grant from ArtPlace, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) is leading the effort to create the Broadway Cultural Quarter (BCQ), an initiative to revitalize Downtown LA by developing a Creative Enterprise Zone (CEZ) to attract and retain for-profit creative enterprises and arts / educational nonprofits. The BCQ will be anchored by (1) the Broadway Arts Center (BAC), 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 (AFHDC); and (2) a Downtown campus for the California Institute of Arts (CalArts) with student housing being developed in collaboration with the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc). The Broadway Cultural Quarter will be the result of an over-arching visionary design by Pritzker Prize winning architect, Thom Mayne, and his Morphosis Architects group.

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: How do you expect to increase vibrancy in this historic area of Downtown Los Angeles?

GARAY-ENGLISH: Broadway in Los Angeles is a nine block area listed on the National Register of Historic Places that boasts the largest concentration of historic theaters on one street in the nation, with 12 movie palaces as well as blocks of stunning art-deco buildings. Through the 1930s, the area was LA’s premier entertainment and retail destination. Post World War II to the present day, however, the area has witnessed decline and most theaters remain inactive. While adjacent areas in Downtown LA have seen a renaissance, Broadway continues to struggle with a 15-20% ground floor vacancy rate and more than 1 million square feet of vacant space on the upper floors of these historic commercial buildings.

To address this issue, Thom Mayne and Morphosis Architects have been commissioned by DCA to envision and design the Broadway Cultural Quarter. The BCQ will feature affordable subsidized artists’ housing and shared rehearsal and performance space through the Broadway Arts Center, as well as a Downtown campus for CalArts, an institution dedicated to training and nurturing the next generation of professional artists, with student housing developed in partnership with SCI-Arc, a leading independent architectural school located adjacent to the Broadway area.

In addition, through the creation of a Cultural Overlay Zone, DCA and its partners plan to create a dedicated artists’ community on Broadway where by ordinance, incentives, and planned development, we will ensure that creative businesses, artists, and nonprofit organizations can thrive. This CEZ will allow the Broadway Cultural Quarter to house numerous creative businesses in currently vacant commercial space, along with incubator space for creative business start-ups. Our overall goal is to utilize the arts to promote a safe and vibrant community, create jobs, provide opportunities for artists, and further enhance community development.

ARTPLACE: What work has taken place since the ArtPlace award announcement?

GARAY-ENGLISH: First, the Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation and Artspace Projects have formed the BAC LLC to develop the Broadway Arts Center, which will be the first phase of the BCQ implementation. Providing affordable housing for artists is key component of the BCQ and necessary to ensure a 24/7 artists presence in the area. In addition, the entire project team, including DCA, the Actors Fund Housing Development Corporation, Artspace, as well as Thom Mayne and the project staff from Morphosis Architects, has met in person to plan for a cohesive vision to be realized.

Second, with the cooperation of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s Office of Strategic Partnerships and Office of Economic and Business Policy, DCA convened the Creative Economy Convergence Summit. Sectors participating in the Summit included: academia and public policy (e.g., CalArts, Emerson College, Otis College, SCI-Arc, UCLA, USC, as well as the Los Angeles Coalition for the Economy & Jobs and the Pacific Council on International Policy); philanthropy (e.g., Getty Foundation, James Irvine Foundation, Sony Pictures Entertainment Corporate Foundation, Herb Alpert Foundation); the nonprofit arts sector, for profit entertainment industries, and unions (e.g., California African American Museum, Hammer Museum, Universal Pictures, Twentieth Century Fox, Ovation TV, SAG-AFTRA); government (e.g. Mayor’s Office for Strategic Partnerships, Central City Association, City Council representation); and private creative businesses (e.g. JCutler Media Group, Runyon Group, Siren Studios, Wireless First).

A key Summit goal examined how to bolster the creative economy in Los Angeles and make it more accessible to a larger and more diverse group of Angelenos, thereby creating jobs and revitalizing communities. As a result, these arts and creative business leaders have evolved into the Creative Economy Convergence Task Force (CECTF), and will be a critical part of the implementation of the Broadway Cultural Quarter.

Indeed, Los Angeles is harnessing the brain trust of these five sectors and bringing it to bear on the BCQ to tackle a perennial problem plaguing many US cities: how to devise a dynamic, multi-layered approach to re-animating and revitalizing our historic downtown, while creating jobs and building a 21st work force. Working with the CECTF, we plan to make the Broadway Cultural Quarter attractive and cost effective to creative businesses and nonprofit arts and educational organizations.

ARTPLACE: Can you tell us more about the creative industries in LA that will benefit from the work you are doing in this community?

GARAY-ENGLISH: Creative industries represent the fourth largest economic sector in LA county (out of 66) and the creative economy supports one in eight jobs in Los Angeles County. As the largest employer in the county, not only in film and television, but also in apparel and textiles, architecture and engineering, toys, furniture, and fashion design, the creative economy is serious business.

The BCQ will serve to advance all sectors of the creative economy represented in the CECTF. This will take a collaborative effort, with Creative Economy Convergence Task Force advising DCA and its grant partners in both the planning and implementation of the Broadway Cultural Quarter initiative.

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