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A New Chapter: Art Walk Evolves In Downtown L.A.

Alison Brett |
March 14, 2014 | 1:47 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

(Alison Brett/Neon Tommy)
(Alison Brett/Neon Tommy)

Los Angeles' downtown Art Walk has been associated with many things. Disturbing the peace wasn't supposed to be one of them.

But last year a rise in activity by protesters from the Occupy Wall Street movement forced L.A. police officers to crack down on partying.

Alcohol served at galleries was removed, police presence increased and the Art Walk became less about drinking and more about art.

"The Art Walk started when certain galleries started moving down here because the neighborhood turned around ... then the Art Walk changed," artist Tod Lychkoff said. "It got kind of rowdy, and so they took away the alcohol. It’s gotten much more serious."

READ MORE: "12 Buildings That Tell The Story Of Downtown L.A."

Kevin, 18, the son of a local business owner said police at the start of this year's Art Walk were on edge. His family's shop, Kc Bargains convenience store, displays a sign reading “We Support a Peaceful Artwalk".

According to veteran L.A. Police Officer "Yasser", who declined to give his last name, during last year's Occupy Wall Street movement, protesters came to the Art Walk and started fighting. The L.A. Cats wrote on the floors and threw bottles. 

Yasser said recent crowds seem more "dead," with not as many people as before. Though Jose, a Joe’s Auto Parks cashier, said the Art Walk is unpredictable, some Art Walks draw larger crowds than others. Only the most dedicated of L.A. artists and art lovers make the trek to downtown each month.

Gemma Sonego, the wife of artist Robert Reynolds, said they have lived in downtown for 25 years, choosing to settle down in the neighborhood instead of moving to China. Artist Tod Lychkoff said he lived in downtown for 22 years and watched the area grow into an arts community.

"Bohemians, artists (and) free spirits moved downtown into that little enclave that was basically a desolate industrial zone right next to Little Tokyo, right across the river from East L.A., just down the street from Chinatown, kind of in the middle of Skid Row. So it was very eclectic, full of life, you never knew what was coming next. That’s perfect for an artist ... So that’s what brought me here in downtown in the first place. And it was an arts community then and it certainly is now, more than ever," Lychkoff said.

According to Lychkoff, downtown Art Walk was the brainchild of Tom Gilmore and Gerry Beroney, who came from New York, rediscovered banks that had been vacated in the middle of Skid Row and had the idea to revitalize the buildings. Abandoned banks and some of the worst streets of Skid Row began to change.

"As a result, [Gilmore and Beroney] started investing in the arts. . . They were collecting some of my art and other artists and trying to build the culture of this downtown area. And they donated money to the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arch). Putting me up here for free. Putting a number of artists in these old banks that they’re not using," Lychkoff said.

Now, white and blue lights and a red hue line the streets. Cars and people walking liven the area. Sandwiched between gray buildings, the area becomes louder as the hours passed. Artists open collections, which include anything ranging from soaps, jewelry, hats, clothing, photographs, music, sculptures and paintings.

During February 13's Art WalkRobert Reynolds’ brick building housed rustic structures, including a sculpture made from wires and an airplane created out of chairs and wood. Customers in Tod Lychkoff’s candle-scented gallery discussed his murals while sweet pop reggae and modern jazz music, such as Barry Bigg's "Three Ring Circus" played.  

The Art Mart, an open-air art market located at 7th and Main streets, gives local talent a place to network with potential buyers. L.A.'s Art Walk also helps restaurants, bars and food trucks.  The owner Marlo of new restaurant Natural Selection said he handed out 600 menus to people passing by during the Feb. 13 Art Walk.

“It’s something that we need here. L.A.’s kind of missing that, and now that we have this, it brings some new people to dine here and helps local bars,” Art Mart manager Eddy said.

The Art Walk takes place every second Thursday of the month.

This story is part of a Neon Tommy special on the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles. Click #reviveDTLA for more.

Reach Staff Reporter Alison Brett here



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