Board mem­bers con­sider next step

Los Angeles Times - - The Na­tion - Staff writer Mike Boehm con­trib­uted to this re­port. david.ng@la­times.com deb­o­rah.vankin @la­times.com

the event, not all own­ers of gal­leries and restau­rants down­town agree that it is a suc­cess, with some call­ing for changes if it is to con­tinue.

David Her­nand, a lawyer who is chair­man of the art walk’s board, said that the event has “be­come hard to man­age” and that the or­ga­ni­za­tion has re­ceived re­quests from the Los An­ge­les Po­lice Depart­ment to pick up at least part of the tab for the grow­ing po­lice pres­ence that is needed. The or­ga­ni­za­tion said it also has been asked to re­im­burse the His­toric Down­town Los An­ge­les Busi­ness Im­prove­ment Dis­trict for cleanup costs and ad­di­tional pri­vate se­cu­rity in­curred tied to art walk nights.

The LAPD would not re­lease dol­lar fig­ures as­so­ci­ated with its ser­vices for the art walk. Or­ga­niz­ers said that in the past, monthly to­tal costs have var­ied but tend to be more than sev­eral thou­sands of dol­lars per art walk.

“The prac­ti­cal re­al­ity is we don’t have the funds to pay what they want,” said Her­nand, who is a part­ner in the law firm Gib­son Dunn. He said the art walk op­er­ates on a bud­get of less than $20,000 an­nu­ally gen­er­ated largely from do­na­tions, with a staff con­sist­ing pri­mar­ily of vol­un­teers.

Her­nand said that the Oc­to­ber art walk will take place as sched­uled but the fu­ture is in ques­tion as lead­ers work out a sus­tain­able plan. He also said there has been no dis­cus­sion among board mem­bers to turn it into a quar­terly event.

Lopez said he acted on Fri­day un­der the as­sump­tion that the board was go­ing to dis­band.

Her­nand con­firmed that the board mem­bers dis­cussed the pos­si­bil­ity of end­ing the art walk, but said that they even­tu­ally in­formed Lopez that they were not. Lopez said that com­mu­ni­ca­tion from board mem­bers has been un­clear and mis­lead­ing through­out his ten­ure as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor.

As of Tues­day, Lopez ap­peared to be in charge of the art walk’s web­site and so­cial-me­dia ac­counts de­spite the board’s ef­forts to re­gain con­trol.

Cen­tral to the fate of the Down­town Art Walk is how the or­ga­ni­za­tion will find the money nec­es­sary to pay for the LAPD’s ser­vices dur­ing art walk nights.

LAPD staffing for the art walk con­sists of five to seven of­fi­cers, plus eight to 16 un­paid mem­bers of the po­lice re­serve on top of the reg­u­lar pa­trols as­signed to the area, ac­cord­ing to Sgt. Kris Werner, who has been in charge of the po­lice de­tail for the event since sum­mer 2009.

Werner said that he is con­cerned that as the art walk grows, po­lice re­sources will be­come strained. He said the po­lice deal mainly with pub­lic drink­ing and dis­or­derly con­duct and that the most se­ri­ous crime over the last year was an as­sault in­side a bar in Fe­bru­ary.

In the past, the art walk has at­tempted to rem­edy its fi­nan­cial prob­lems by court­ing cor­po­rate spon­sors, in­clud­ing Cadil­lac.

But so far, the or­ga­ni­za­tion said it has suc­ceeded in at­tract­ing only small-ticket spon­sors, many of them lo­cal busi­nesses.

“The event is spread out, so it’s hard to tell a spon­sor how much vis­i­bil­ity they will get,” said Wicks Walker, a board mem­ber of the art walk.

Since it be­gan in 2004, the Down­town Art Walk has ex­pe­ri­enced strong growth co­in­cid­ing with the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and re­vi­tal­iza­tion of ar­eas of down­town L.A.

The event con­sists of a free, self-guided tour of gal­leries lo­cated pri­mar­ily in the Gallery Row area, which en­com­passes parts of Spring and Main streets, as well as ar­eas in Lit­tle Tokyo, the Fash­ion Dis­trict and Grand Av­enue.

“On the whole, it’s been a good ex­pe­ri­ence and it helps the busi­ness as­pect of my gallery,” said Rex Bruce, di­rec­tor and prin­ci­pal cu­ra­tor of the L.A. Cen­ter for Dig­i­tal Arts. “The artists like it be­cause it cre­ates an au­di­ence for the art. It’s good ex­po­sure for us.”

Brian Lee, the owner of Hold Up Art in Lit­tle Tokyo, said the art walk shouldn’t be shut down, “but it should be bet­ter con­trolled. The city should have paid for what­ever the prob­lems were.”

The in­flux of art lovers has been a boon to many down­town restau­rants and bars, which have ben­e­fited from the in­crease in foot traf­fic, and for roam­ing food trucks that pack the streets for the event. But with the crowds has come crit­i­cism that the walk has de­volved into a street party, with throngs of pedes­tri­ans clog­ging side­walks and some­times en­gag­ing in rowdy be­hav­ior.

Mon­ica May, the owner of Ban­quette Cafe and Nickel Diner, said that her diner has been van­dal­ized on art walk nights and that food trucks have left garbage in the area around the diner.

“All of this has sort of be­come MardiGras,” she said. “And the great thing about Mardi Gras is it hap­pens once a year. Not once a month. The neigh­bor­hood can’t bear that.”

Ilan Hall, chef and owner of the Gor­bals, said that he has never felt un­safe dur­ing art walk nights. “It just feels like a fes­ti­val, a busy city,” said Hall, who was fea­tured on the re­al­ity TV se­ries “Top Chef.” “The more go­ing on, the more things need to be con­trolled, that’s all — but that’s noth­ing more than a bless­ing.”

City Coun­cil­woman Jan Perry, whose dis­trict in­cludes parts of down­town L.A., said that she is wait­ing to see what pro­pos­als the art walk board comes up with be­fore mov­ing for­ward. “With suc­cess comes con­flict. We’re all in des­per­ate straits, in­clud­ing the city.”

While the board fig­ures out its op­tions, the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s lead­er­ship struc­ture re­mains un­clear. Her­nand said the board asked Lopez to cease re­fer­ring to him­self as the group’s ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor fol­low­ing his ac­tions on Fri­day, but that Lopez has not for­mally re­signed.

Richard Schave, a for­mer ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Down­town Art Walk, has been an out­spo­ken critic of Her­nand and the board, say­ing that the board has a his­tory of act­ing with a lack of trans­parency.

He said he was forced to re­sign last year and that the board has failed to fos­ter var­i­ous down­town com­mu­ni­ties in sup­port of the art walk. Her­nand has de­nied Schave’s as­ser­tions.

In Jan­uary, Schave and his wife, Kim Cooper, re­ceived a cease-and-de­sist let­ter from Her­nand, ask­ing the cou­ple to re­frain from mak­ing “false and defam­a­tory state­ments” and threat­en­ing le­gal ac­tion if they con­tinue.

Spencer Weiner

STREET ART: A street artist paints a por­trait dur­ing an art walk. Po­lice are con­cerned that as the event grows in pop­u­lar­ity, re­sources will be strained. They have asked or­ga­niz­ers to pick up part of the tab.

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