Art Keeps Slow Renaissance Of NoHo Community Alive



Staff Reporter

With 30-some theaters in the neighborhood, the "art" in North Hollywood Arts District always had meant performing arts.

Now, there's a movement afoot to broaden the meaning of arts to include the visual arts as well. And as the arts flourish, commercial interests are taking a new look at a neighborhood growing in popularity.

"It's really been a grassroots thing going on," said Amy Davis Roth, who in December opened The Art Coalition on Lankershim Boulevard.

Born in 1992, the NoHo Arts District came about through the efforts of business and theater owners in the Universal City/North Hollywood Chamber of Commerce with support from the L.A. Department of Cultural Affairs. It's now known more widely for its annual Theatre and Arts Festival, a two-day celebration of the area sponsored each June by the Community Redevelopment Authority.

Emphasizing the arts came about as much as a celebration of a growing community as it did a need to stimulate the area's economic activity in the early '90s.

After a mid-century building boom saw temporary housing spring up for workers at Lockheed operations, the area languished. In 1975, City Council passed a 20-year community master plan that involved the CRA taking an active role in North Hollywood.

Lillian Burkenheim, North Hollywood project manager for the CRA, said the agency was brought in to develop what had become a blighted area. She said the CRA has built 1,800 units and rehabilitated another 900.

Efforts continue

The city's investment in the community includes a CRA-led streetscape program funded with a grant from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The project involves pedestrian improvements along Lankershim near the subway stop at Lankershim and Chandler boulevards. Burkenheim said she's bringing the local artists into the project by commissioning them to come up with ideas for the streetscape. Half of those she commissioned live in the neighborhood, she said.

The CRA also is buying up lots in the project area of developer Jerry Snyder's proposed $218 million NoHo Commons. Snyder and the CRA are assembling the 23 acres adjacent to the subway station. Snyder plans 1.2 million square feet of office, residential, retail and community uses. Eight acres will be donated to Los Angeles Unified School District for a new high school.

Despite those efforts, not everyone feels the CRA is taking as full a role as it should. "I've tried to get (financial and procedural) help from the city but no one's cooperating," said Davis Roth.

It's not a lack of cooperation, countered Burkenheim, it's more of a laissez faire approach. "My belief in this district is we're here to provide the infrastructure and support not to tell them what to do," she said.

Charting a path

"We all have our own venues and we're doing our own thing within those venues," said Brooke Shelton, a newcomer who has been selling art at Locals Gallery at Magnolia Ave. for less than a year.

Jill Peterson and her boyfriend Dover Abrams also are putting their money where their pallets are, renting the Lankershim Arts Center. Peterson said their idea is to provide space, called the Lankershim Art Gallery, for emerging and mid-career artists to hang their work. Many artists struggle to break through because they don't get a shot at a place like Bergamot Station in Santa Monica.

The couple started renting the space from the city in January and has been averaging a show a month. The space, once opened to the public only for special events, is now open most days.

"We're trying to make this a community center where people can come in and see art," Peterson said. "We're setting up some educational programming, too."

As the changes happen, those involved in the emergence of the visual arts are watching anxiously. While eager for development, there are concerns that projects like Snyder's could push out folks who have built this gritty haven for artists.

"If their rent goes up will they be able to stay?" said Carlos Vera, executive artistic director of California Artists for Humanity, an after-school entrepreneurial program he started for neighborhood youth.

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