Debbie Does Downtown… Finally!

July 9th, 2009: Last night was ArtWalk in downtown Los Angeles.

I have only been trying to make it for the last two years that I have been living nearby. Probably even longer, since I was interested in it before I moved so close.

But finally, I have made it! And I am here to report on what a wonderful time it is.

The first stumbling block was parking. Almost all street parking in downtown disappears between 4 and 6 or 7 pm for the anti-gridlock attempts to create more lanes of traffic to get out of town. If you stop or park, you will be towed. So I found myself circling the same blocks, getting turned around on one way streets, and avoiding the on ramps to various freeways, just trying to find a street that I could hang out on until I could go park. Unlike normally, I just didn’t want to park far, because I was wearing heels and nice clothes, the whole reason I was in my car looking for a place to park to begin with. I had already driven by my own place, could have easily parked, changed my clothes and walked downtown by the time I did park and get out of my car, but in the end, having my car turned out to be a major blessing. Lesson learned.

I started off on 4th, between Main and Spring. There I went to the corner gallery, the one that is usually lit well enough to view at night even when closed (the Continental Gallery, according to the ArtWalk Map). This month’s exhibit featured large stuffed fabric shapes on the floor, and photographs on the walls, and any other available surface from which to hang. Since it is a large, open, industrial space, some framed photographs were hanging from fuse boxes, conduit piping, and overhead I-beams. A woman with a professional looking camera was wandering about, and I overheard she was one of the photography artists, and had actually curated the show. She was dressed in a ball gown. I asked if I could take her photo, and she told me that she was the crowned reigning Queen of the Doo Dah Parade in Pasadena, and thus why she was decked out. Here is a photo of Julie Klima:

Queen Julie of the Doo-Dah Parade

Then I went next door to the Neon Museum, and there was an exhibit documenting “ghost” neons, lights and signs that were obviously once neon, that no longer are lit. In the exhibit notes, it spoke of a program to bring the neons back, co-sponsored by the museum and the city arts preservation program. Unfortunately, it is no longer in effect, one of the first programs for the city’s budget ax once the economy began to decline.

Around the corner on Main was a space that people were pouring into, that used to be a bank. It was labelled the LA Annex, and inside were various artists’ works, coordinated from various galleries, and in the back, it connected to the Neon Museum, and there were restrooms. Some non-profits were also represented, such as the Relay for Life and a summer art program for disadvantaged youth. Mark Mothersbaugh, of founding DEVO fame, had manipulated old photos to Rorschach symmetry for sale, part of his Beautiful Mutants touring gallery exhibition. Near the entrance, I found an artist by the name of Jeff Gillette who was selling very inexpensive framed collages. Most involved Disney characters in sexually compromised situations, but one piece stood completely out for me:

Latest in Growing Art Collection

Latest in Growing Art Collection

a photo of the desert, with a tumbling tumbleweed crossing the two lane road, and a Welcome to Las Vegas neon sign by the road. Nothing but open road, open sky and the endless desert. It completely encapsulates for me Vegas. It is nothing but a mirage in the middle of the desert, and only the wonderful advertising and pretty neon lights can truly explain why it is where it is. I bought it. Another piece that makes me smile.

It was at this point that I was glad I hadn’t gotten very far, and my car was a short half block away. I went and put the piece in my car, not having to worry about crowds or it getting damaged.

I went and checked a few stores out, raw materials, the art and architecture supply store, Stella Dottir, with the guard cats at front and back of store, Metropolis Books and placed an order for a book I do need, and The Regent Theatre.

Outside Stella's, guard cat at the ready

Regent Theatre

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then there was a new space to check out, an empty lot a little past that had been transformed into an arts and crafts and food and music area. I overheard yet another person talking at the next gallery, stating that this was the solution to the overcrowding of the sidewalks the police had been complaining about since ArtWalk had gotten popular. A band was playing, and various artists were hawking their wares. A couple of poster artists told me of an upcoming event called the Renegade Arts and Crafts Fair, to be held that weekend.

I visited a few more galleries on 5th, Pharmaka and LA Center for Digital Art, and then chose to take a break. The crowds were getting too big, pushing my way through galleries was not my idea of fun, and so I headed to the LA Cafe for a mocha and to work on some writing. There was an exhibit I had seen advertised down that direction, but now that I was looking, I could not find the address.

While sitting sipping my mocha and scribbling, the loft building entrance next door had a few people standing out front, asking people walking by if they were doing ArtWalk, and if so, would they like to see another gallery upstairs in a resident’s loft? When I finally was done at the Cafe, I walked over and said I would like to see the art. Any opportunity to see other people’s living space, and art of course. Off to the 13th floor for me.

The building was set up such that there were only two units per floor, and generously sized units at that. This one was just two long parallel spaces, one public with kitchen and living/gallery area, the other private, separated with curtains to prevent the public from entering. Presumably there was a bathroom there somewhere. I asked the artist who lived there, and he told me not him, but one of the members of an artist collective, that used his space to exhibit art every month. They told me that other people in the building had other businesses too,  that there was even a printing press business on another floor. So there would be a new exhibit to attend each month of the ArtWalk, and to feel free to visit again.

After that I visited a few other galleries on Spring, Infusion Gallery where I was the last to leave before they closed, and The Hive Gallery, an artist collective. Their show this month was entitled BeeRotica (not Beerotica, as it is in keeping with the name the Hive!) and I was thrilled to finally be inside of it, having tried before with friend when they had a Bee inspired costume party. It is a long, narrow gallery, sectioned off to show numerous individual artists in tiny compartments. Like a bazaar, unfolding, with more to see and reveal, and seeming endless when navigating a crowd of people.

Then I began wandering back towards my car, and saw crowds of people milling about on the sidewalks. There was a band playing, taking up a few parking spots, with the musicians jutting out into the street, and on top of their vehicle.

Across from them, was a large gallery space that better dressed people seemed to gravitate toward. I followed them in, and heard a jazz ensemble nearly drowned out by the band playing outside. Various artists were displayed in the large space, and the one with a crowd was an art installation involving a bed and a live model lying under its covers. One viewer claimed she was naked, and I suspect that was what gained the crowd. I wondered how he knew. Here’s the exhibit, sans naked model, a lot less titillating without the voyeurism:

Art Installation Minus Model

Art Installation Minus Model

Across the street from that gallery, I could see a mass of people hanging out of the windows of a second story space, well lit and obviously a happening space. However, I couldn’t figure out where the entrance was nor what the event was, so I continued towards my car.

I was perhaps four cars away from mine, when I got pulled into an alley, down which I knew Lost Souls Cafe was housed. I could hear music. With festive Christmas lights and live music, I knew I would have to take the detour. Lost Souls had recently diminished its hours, I was sad to see, back when I was searching for a mocha in downtown LA on a Sunday evening, so I was happy to see them quite active and lively. It is a lovely space inside, old honeycomb tile flooring, open beams, mismatched furniture, spacious and inviting, just down a dark alley, past a gate. They always have art on the walls, and frequently have live music in the store, so this was the first I had seen of them having a band in the alley entrance. I was not the only one entranced, and others danced. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves.

Jamming at Lost Souls

Jamming at Lost Souls

The band was excellent, and in the above photo, had a guest vocalist. But they also claimed they had no name and implied this was their first public performance. If only all first time performing bands were so good!

The police made an appearance, a group of four in uniforms, and wended their way through the crowd to the cafe interior. We figured it probably had to do with the hour and perhaps the need to cut the live music. It was still a week night. The gentleman sitting next to me showed me his weed and pipe he had clutched in his hand, that the above law enforcement had been mere inches from in passing. But nothing obvious took place after the police tried to leave, one dancing woman who accosted all walkers to join her in dance, stopping one officer, who gamely danced a few steps. The band stopped after a couple more songs, mainly because they had completed their set. They only had covers left.

And so I finally made it to my car, having seen and experienced a great deal. Live music, intriguing art, and oh so many people downtown, rubbing shoulders and enjoying themselves. If only downtown were that lively on a nightly basis, not just once a month nor similarly so only on the weekends. But it is getting there, I enthuse. Downtown LA is becoming more like a real city, with an actual nightlife, with each passing month, recession or no recession. I try to do my part.

For the opinions of someone else who attended the same night, and saw a completely different set of things, some at the exact same places I visited, just at different times, download or read the podcast of KCRW contributor Kevin Roderick. I heard his commentary the next day, while driving to a job, and was surprised how different our experiences were, but how equally appreciative he is for the growing life of downtown.

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