Every major city has an arts district, but Los Angeles boasts several areas where residents and tourists alike can immerse themselves in art, culture, and local flavor. From the obligatory row of sparse white boxes to the loose cluster of coffee joints and indie retail stores doubling as galleries, here are a few all-time favorite ‘hoods where Angelenos get their art on.
This month, we take a closer look at Central L.A., the Downtown core, and East Los Angeles. In December, we’ll start in West Hollywood and make our way to the Pacific Ocean.
Downtown Los Angeles
Sandwiched between Alameda, the LA River, and the 10 and 110 freeways, L.A.’s Arts District was zoned in the early ’80s to allow artists to live and work in Downtown’s industrial areas. To me, the Arts District has always held a certain mystique; it’s quiet, sometimes eerily so, but the light bouncing off buildings in late afternoon is something to behold. Even after all these years exploring the area’s nooks and crannies, I still gasp in awe when I turn a corner and run into a previously unseen mural, or realize I’m standing in the underbelly of a Deco era bridge curving over the L.A. River.
The mix of reclaimed industrial and former railroad buildings, wide streets filled with colorful art, and the recent infusion of life from cafes, bars and high-end eateries have evolved the area into a user-friendly place which, while reminiscent of many a revitalized warehouse district anywhere, still exudes a healthy amount of L.A. grit. Walking around, you’ll most certainly spot some breathtaking street art, but the Arts District is essentially a neighborhood where artists live and work. If you’re lucky enough to be invited over for a studio visit, you should jump at the chance to catch a glimpse of a very different life… that is, before developers gain an even stronger foothold and manage to drive every last creative soul out in search of more affordable digs.
Tip: Head to The Pie Hole on Traction for some truly artful treats, then wander around the neighborhood, keeping an eye out for street art. Check out District Gallery, Art Share L.A., SCI-Arc Gallery, The Box Gallery, and many small shops and eateries sprinkled throughout the area. With Little Tokyo nearby, don’t forget to visit The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA and the Japanese American National Museum, after which it would be perfectly acceptable to find yourself in a Karaoke bar downing a couple cold ones, singing your heart out late into the night…
Besides semi-decent dim sum, old school trinket shops, and genuinely tacky shopping plazas, Chinatown is home to a small number of reputable galleries, studios and experimental spaces.
Because galleries seem to come and go at an alarming rate in this area, I recommend making your way to the 900 block of Chung King Road to explore the surrounding neighborhood and see who’s still alive and kicking. Keep an eye out for Charlie James Gallery, Coagula Curatorial, Good Luck Gallery, Human Resources, and Jancar Jones Gallery.
Tip: Business hours may vary, so check event and festival listings for coinciding openings. After a night of gallery-hopping, stop by Melody Lounge for a craft beer or a cocktail, or step up to Roy Choi’s Chego for all kinds of tasty served in bowls.
Gallery Row, Historic Core
In the heart of the Historic Core along Spring and Main between 3rd and 7th is the area widely recognized as the Art Walk’s “footprint”, where you’ll find several established galleries and artists’ studios. However many other interesting spaces are located just beyond this grid and well worth a visit. Of note are Blackstone Gallery, DAC Gallery, The Salon at Eastern Columbia, and Gallery All in the Bradbury Building. Speaking of the Bradbury, it would be nuts to come all this way without strolling through its jaw-dropping lobby.
Tip: If you’re planning on visiting the next Art Walk, be sure to check the organization’s website for gallery listings. Do make a point of exploring Broadway, even if it looks a little rough around the edges. The Ace Hotel in the old United Artists Building has undergone an absolutely stunning reno, complete with the Upstairs rooftop bar, and ’20s style L.A. Chapter restaurant on the ground floor. Grand Central Market is a perfect place for grub on the go, from decadent breakfast sandwiches, to handcrafted ice cream, to the tastiest tacos you’ll ever have. Behind Broadway on Hill between 4th and 5th is Perch LA, another beautiful rooftop bar/restaurant with some of the best views of DTLA.
Miracle Mile, more specifically Museum Row along Wilshire Blvd., is home to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), the Page Museum (La Brea Tar Pits), the Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM), the Petersen Automotive Museum, and the A+D Museum (Architecture and Design Museum).
It’s also the stage for TarFest, the annual fall festival celebrating music and art in and around the La Brea Tar Pits Park; galleries open their doors, live art and music performances are installed at various sites nearby, and it’s free and open to all ages. Additionally, Miracle Mile has its own Art Walk every third Saturday in January, April, July and October, with more than 40 participating galleries along Wilshire and Beverly, between Fairfax and La Brea (and a little beyond). Of note are ACE Gallery, ACME, Couturier Gallery, Jack Rutberg Fine Arts, Merry Karnowsky Gallery, Peter Mendenhall Gallery, Richard Telles Fine Art, Steve Turner Contemporary and The Loft at Liz’s.
Tip: If you haven’t been to LACMA in a while, plan on spending at least half a day catching up. Stark Bar is a fun outdoor space to grab a bite and cocktails in view of the Urban Light sculpture pictured above. At lunch time on weekdays, you can also find a variety of food trucks right in front of the museum.
While Hollywood’s tourist traps, seedy bars and sketchy characters are still alive and kicking, they’re now brushing elbows with the likes of Regen Projects and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE).
Substrate Contemporary specializes in modern and contemporary art associated with various forms of music; C4 Contemporary Art is housed in a historic building built by Cecil B. DeMille and hosts exhibitions, lectures, workshops, readings and film screenings; Gallery 1988: East specializes in pop-culture themed artwork and emerging artists; Barnsdall Art Park (one of the few green spots in East Hollywood) is home to architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hollyhock House and the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery (LAMAG), presenting exhibitions by emerging, mid career and established SoCal artists.
Tip: Barnsdall Art Park is a wonderful place for a picnic and hosts ongoing art events and community happenings, wine tastings, as well as art classes for adults and free art workshops for kids.
The Silver Lake area which, for the purposes of this article will include Echo Park and Los Feliz, is a hip, bohemian neighborhood offering the latest thrift shop finds, sustainable design, and hybrid galleries that have intentionally pulled away from the conventional white box model.
La Luz de Jesus Gallery (located inside the Soap Plant/Wacko complex) exhibits post-pop underground art, aka “lowbrow”; The Hub Gallery has fine art, antiques and rotating exhibitions; Materials & Applications focuses on architecture and landscape research and offers outdoor exhibitions, performances and workshops; iam8bit is a creative production company which, among other things, has an evil plan to unleash your inner nerd with quirky exhibitions around pop culture and video games; Subliminal Projects, originally created as a collective by Shepard Fairey and Blaze Blouin back in 1995, offers lecture series, workshops, art publications, and exhibitions by established and emerging artists.
Tip: This area is quite large to cover and galleries aren’t clustered together, so I would definitely recommend having a set of wheels. La Luz de Jesus on Hollywood east of Vermont is always a good place to start, after which I suggest making your way to Sunset Junction (Sunset and Santa Monica) to explore some of the stores, restaurants, and indie coffee shops nearby. Then, hop over to Materials and Applications on Silver Lake boulevard and take in the surroundings, ending in Echo Park with The Hub Gallery, iam8bit, and Subliminal Projects.
Boyle Heights, located immediately east of Downtown L.A., is one of Los Angeles’ oldest suburbs. Its burgeoning Arts District runs along the 1st street corridor, between the L.A. River and the Evergreen Cemetery, although signs point to expansion further east.
At current time there aren’t many galleries to speak of, however an increasing number of artists who are being priced out of Downtown are moving their studios east into Boyle Heights. Of note, Self-Help Graphics & Art has recently relocated here from its former Downtown location; Casa 0101, a new theater and performing arts complex, hosts classes, exhibitions, film festivals and other special events; Corazon Del Pueblo, an arts education and action collective, has donation-based programming and doubles as a community cultural center offering classes, workshops and open-mic poetry nights.
Tip: Four light rail Metrolink stations now serve the area along the Gold line. Mariachi Plaza is a must for first-time visitors and is a central hub for food, art, a farmer’s market, and many other offerings, including public performances.
Located north of Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights has few galleries to speak of, but The Brewery Art Colony has plenty of art to go around.
The Brewery Art Walk takes place twice a year (typically in April and October) and features over 100 artists opening their studios to the public for the weekend-long event, selling artwork at reduced prices and allowing visitors to catch a glimpse of their live-work environments. That’s not to say the Brewery is closed at other times; artists do receive visitors by appointment, and Barbara’s, the on-site bar and restaurant, is open all week.
Tip: While many Brewery residents will gladly arrange private studio visits, the Art Walk is really the best way to get a sense of the wide range of mediums and genres offered by this diverse group of artists.
Part 2: Next month, we’ll explore the arty side of L.A. from West Hollywood to the Pacific Ocean.
All images by Nat George unless otherwise mentioned.
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