Open Letter to City Councilman Joe Buscaino
By Andrea Serna, Art and Culture Writer
I am writing you this letter because lately I notice that you have become kind of—excuse the term—rude.
You keep crashing the party.
It appears that your office feels that scheduling crime forums during San Pedro’s First Thursday Art Walk will improve attendance for your events. Judging by the successful, standing room only attendance this past February and September, I would say you do not need to lean on the art walk to build your audience.
The first time you crashed the San Pedro First Thursday Art Walk was in September, 2015, for a forum on homelessness. The citizens of San Pedro were in a state of alarm over the recent outbreak of tiny houses and tent encampments on our streets. You got the idea to schedule the forum at the Warner Grand Theatre during the art walk. I suppose it was done to drive attendance to the forum. No assistance was needed. The theater filled up with concerned citizens who were desperate for an answer to the intractable problem that is affecting the entire nation. From what I understand, the event was full. Because I am a gallery coordinator, I was unable to attend the forum. Many artists, who were also working their galleries, were not able to attend even though they see the problem around us every day.
That first occurrence in September resulted in a low turnout for galleries and we wrote it off.
More than 30 galleries participate in the First Thursday Art Walk. A great deal of work goes into scheduling, advertising and marketing our exhibitions. The result of that hard work is that on one day of the month, downtown San Pedro comes alive with people in the streets and shops making money.
I have personally spoken to visitors who have come to San Pedro from downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Orange County because they heard about our art walk. Many of these people are first-time visitors and eager to return. The First Thursday Art Walk is a special, almost enchanted night. It is the one night we are guaranteed an audience for our work.
Didn’t you realize after your successful September forum that you don’t really need the art walk to bring folks to your community safety forums? The impact on the February art walk was much more severe. The corner of 6th Street and Pacific Avenue was filled with dozens of Los Angeles Police Department squad cars, along with satellite news vans and individuals protesting police violence. Who would stop for an art walk with that kind of circus atmosphere?
I can see it now, “Pull over honey, this looks like fun!”
Most of the gallery owners I spoke with said attendance in their galleries was low.
But wait … food trucks! The food trucks were still here. Is this is the reason why you chose that night? Was it meant as a convenient way to draw a crowd and feed your friends at the same time?
Your office sent me two emails in response to my complaint about this issue. Both of them, using the exact same verbiage:
“We decided to host the forum on that date as we were trying to make it convenient. We had hoped it would bring more people to downtown San Pedro to attend the forum and also visit the galleries, restaurants and local businesses after the forum concluded.”
We did not see a single person from the forum.
The irony here is that many artists are moving to San Pedro based on reasonable rents and a supportive arts community. We moved our studio here from Long Beach for this very reason. In addition to your propensity for crashing the art walk, we have also found that Property-Based Improvement District will unilaterally decide to close down the streets for random car shows with little or no notice. I would like to make the point that we all pay for a business license and pay rent and utilities to keep our business open. Ours is not a live-work space. It is a professional gallery work space, a business just like many others.
A multitude of studies have shown the impact of the arts on neighborhood revitalization. A study titled “The Role of Arts on Neighborhood Change,” funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and conducted by the University of Texas, Arlington states that: “The arts remain a primary localized factor attributed to facilitating neighborhood change. A great deal of case study work demonstrates that individual artists, artistic businesses, and artistic spaces (e.g. small galleries, theaters, music venues, and art studios) function as a “colonizing arm” that helps to create the initial conditions that spark revitalization.”
All these factors exist within a four-square block of San Pedro. Artists have spent 20 years building this environment.
So now the March art walk is here and you have announced another opportunity to bring the LAPD to the party. Yolanda Regalado is opening Sirens coffee house to your crew for an evening called “Coffee With a Cop.” I anticipate black and white squad cars lined up in front of our gallery driving people away and sending a signal of unrest or disorder during the evening.
My question to you is, what’s wrong with Saturday morning for coffee? You don’t seem to see the paradoxical nature of art walks and crime forums. We are attempting to create alluring, provocative stimulation for our visitors. You are signaling, “caution, danger ahead.” There is a time and a place for both, but not on the same night.
Since you are going to be in the neighborhood, I invite you to do the art walk this month. Talk to the gallerists who have been impacted by your recent co-opting of First Thursday. All along the way you will pass Gallery Azul, Post-Future at Williams Bookstore, Warschaw Gallery, Gallery 478 (a traditional ending point for the evening), The Loft Gallery, Hirokos, Angels Ink and Huz Gallery.
So councilman, please, consider the galleries that have worked so hard to make this evening a success. Have your forum on any other night. The restaurants and bars will all be open. Your current strategy is causing a tremendous waste of effort, focus and communications.
The art district wants your support. All we are asking is let us work. The cliché of the dreamy lost artist is far from the reality of the art world. Art—making it and selling it—is work. We are asking for one day a month, the first Thursday, to do our job.