One of the great advantages of “maturing” is that along the way, one’s circle of acquaintances and friends expands and grows to include people near and far. Sometimes, someone you meet through a friend relocates and then you relocate, and then you find yourself within 30 miles of one another and reconnect. When I first met Shannon Daut several years ago at a party in Phoenix, she was director of the Alaska Arts Council but now is manager of Santa Monica Cultural Affairs. I am immensely grateful to Shannon for spending a few hours introducing me to Santa Monica’s “creative infrastructure.”
Our first stop was the 18th Street Art Center, the largest artist residency program in SoCal. I first came across 18th Street when doing preliminary research on arts incubators as it has, over the course of its 30 year history, also served as an arts incubator. Executive Director Jan Williamson was kind enough to give us a personal tour of the campus of artist live/work spaces, a campus that is also home to Highways performance space.
As I drove up to the area, I was struck by its resemblance to the neighborhood where one of the incubators I studied in some depth is located: Arlington Arts Incubator in Virginia. Both are in light industrial areas in medium-sized cities populated by single story commercial buildings or double-height warehouses, some of which have been repurposed. Even the rural incubator I studied, Mighty Tieton, is in a repurposed warehouse and so too was the central city Intersection for the Arts in a repurposed building (they have since moved). I hesitate to draw a broad conclusion, but it does seem – and not only from these four examples — that arts incubators, unlike performing arts facilities, are not generally purpose built, but instead in-fill. More on that in another post…
After 18th Street we visited Santa Monica Airport Studios, located in a re-purposed (it’s a theme!) hangar building adjacent to the soon-to-be decommissioned Santa Monica airport. Twenty-three artists’ studios and a gallery will soon be managed by 18th Street in a partnership with Santa Monica Cultural Affairs.
Our last stop was Bergamot Station, a complex of several buildings, repurposed (of course!) warehouses and trolley station buildings, now housing about 30 different commercial galleries, one nonprofit gallery, and a performance space. Our timing was excellent as many of the galleries had coordinated their efforts to open shows all on the same evening, an evening when broken rains clouds were lit up with bright sunset colors and, for a brief moment, a rainbow! (Pictures could not capture the spectacle.) Confirmation of Bergamot Station’s reach beyond the borders of Santa Monica was that we happened to run into the director of Cal State LA’s own University Gallery, Mika Cho, who was there scoping out the gallery openings.
What seems clear from just this brief introduction to Santa Monica is that its cultural infrastructure, under Shannon Daut’s deft leadership, is vibrant and multi-faceted. I owe Shannon a debt of gratitude, of which this blog post is but a small part. (Shannon, if you read this, I promise there will be wine too.)