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Art and Politics about to Collide

CityWatch - I lived in Chicago a bunch of years ago and was trying, on one occasion, to get some help from the City for an arts project and found myself stuck … if not in neutral … low gear.  A Chicago Alderman … their version of a Councilman … gave me some advice: “Leave the art to the artists and the politics to the politicians.” I pass that along … free of charge … to the good folks at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art … who find themselves embroiled in a rather messy difference of opinion about where the Fairfax Subway Station ought to go, once Metro gets around to building it.

LACMA has a station location they favor and has been doing some political arm-twisting to get their way. Meantime, a fair chunk of the neighborhood has a different idea about where the station should be built and … as neighbors are wont to do when they are spurned … this group is beginning to make some ‘political’ noise of its own.

A good political hand would likely have gotten the two … and others … together before LACMA found itself publically cornered and vulnerable to the ‘bad guy’ label in this beef.

Architecture writer and community activist began to stir the pot with his LA Times Op-Ed piece a couple of weeks ago:

“It's hardly where you'd expect to find such news, but an environmental impact statement just issued by the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority for the Purple Line subway contains an ominous report on the status of the arts in Los Angeles. According to the document, before the transportation agency begins digging tunnels through the tar-and-fossil-filled veins of San Pedro sand that lie beneath Wilshire Boulevard, it will aim an above-ground wrecker's ball at three of L.A.'s most vulnerable arts establishments, leveling the city's only architecture museum along with two other gallery spaces that are part of the city's Museum Row.

“In the name of a greater good — extending the subway down Wilshire Boulevard to Westwood and, someday, the ocean — the buildings that house the A+D architecture museum and the Edward Cella Art+Architecture and Steve Turner Contemporary galleries will all be razed. The ill-fated stretch is directly across the street from LACMA's Broad Contemporary and next door to the Petersen Automotive Museum.

“Neither the architecture museum nor the galleries oppose the Purple Line in concept. As gallery owner Edward Cella says, "I have great sympathy for the subway project. It's a dream of all Los Angeles." But that doesn't mean he's happy about the ouster. "I purposely moved my gallery from Santa Barbara to be in this network of spaces next to the A+D, across the street from LACMA, down the block from the Petersen. The context is irreplaceable."  (Read the rest of Greg Goldin’s piece here)

LACMA had to know that razing those galleries would smudge the political canvass so what were they thinking?  And, sure enough, along comes the Miracle Mile Residential Association to oppose LACMA and ask a bunch of tough … embarrassing? … questions.

From the MMRA press release on Monday:

“James O’Sullivan, President, Miracle Mile Residential Association [MMRA] announced today that the organization is working to stop attempts by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art [LACMA] to convince the Metropolitan Transportation Authority [Metro] to abandon the transit agency’s staff recommendation that the Fairfax/Wilshire subway entrance and exit should be located beside Johnie’s Coffee Shop.

“The MMRA also has written a formal request to Metro officials asking that they explain why parcels bounded by Wilshire Boulevard on the north, South Orange Grove Avenue on the east, and South Odgen Drive on the west – which LACMA owns a section of – was selected as the construction staging ground for the Fairfax/Wilshire subway portal. Demolition of this entire block of Museum
Row will displace the A+D Museum, three neighboring galleries, as well as two adjacent 4-unit apartment buildings on South Orange Grove Avenue.

“Metro’s Final Environmental Impact Report on the Westside Subway Extension, released on March 19, 2012, determined that the best location for the Fairfax/Wilshire portal would be immediately west of the iconic Johnie’s Coffee Shop on the northwest corner of Fairfax Avenue and Wilshire Boulevard.

“This site reduces the risk of encountering hazardous methane and hydrogen sulfide laced soils (as well as prehistoric fossils). Importantly, it is also the ideal location for bus transfers on Fairfax and Wilshire and offers the best access to the Farmer’s Market, The Grove, and the densely populated Park La Brea complex.

“LACMA is urging the Metro Board to abandon Johnie’s in favor of a portal on the southeast corner of Orange Grove and Wilshire. The Museum dismisses Metro’s safety and transit concerns because the Orange Grove location, says LACMA attorney Fred Goldstein, “more directly serves the museum." Goldstein also said the greater distance riders would have to walk to-and-from connecting buses was “counting footsteps.” O’Sullivan countered that “counting steps is something that people with disabilities do every day.”

“The MMRA has always supported LACMA’s original plan to have subway riders emerge into the lobby of the historic May Co. at Wilshire and Fairfax.

However, when LACMA and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences negotiated an agreement for the Academy Museum to be located at the May Co., the Academy insisted that the portal be moved elsewhere. This forced Metro to select the Johnie’s portal.

“The whole point of building this subway is to make public transportation easier and more attractive. Forcing folks to walk an extra block-and-a-half to catch a bus at Fairfax and Wilshire just to massage LACMA’s vanity isn’t going to get more cars off the road,” MMRA chair O’Sullivan said. “This is not just bad transit planning, it’s risky, it’s unnecessary, and it’s wrong.”

“MMRA is also concerned about the displacement of the A+D Museum, Edward Cella gallery, Steve Turner Contemporary, and For Your Art.

“MMRA questions why we have to sacrifice these buildings where these small galleries and the A+D museum are located. If Museum Row is to exist and remain vital there must be a place for both big and small. If Metro can accommodate the Academy and move a station entrance from its ideal location at the May Co. building, then Metro can also find a way to spare key cultural institutions in what they themselves call a ‘cultural hub,’” O’Sullivan says.

So, the art folks at LACMA have themselves in a political pickle and best they take my Chicago friend’s advice and find some political skills to get into the mix and bring the neighbors and the one-day-to-be-displaced galleries … and themselves … together.

Certainly LACMA has become a big voice in the hood but it’s not the only player and it’s not without need for support. This is the kind of public battle that can become political baggage if not handled wisely. Even if LACMA’s perspective is the better one. And the time to handle it is now.


● Next public meeting on this issue: April 17, 2012 (7p)
Mid City West Neighborhood Council
Transportation Parking & Streetscape Committee
543 N Fairfax Ave (Rm 101)

Metro’s Recommendations

Final EIR Impact Report

MMRA White Paper

(Ken Draper is the editor of CityWatch. He can be reached at -cw

Tags: LACMA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, MMRA, Miracle Mile Residential Association, MCWCC, Mid City West Community Council, subway station, Fairfax subway station

Vol 10 Issue 31
Pub: Apr 17, 2012