Generating Cultural Capital for Communities across Southern California

06/19/2018 9:39 AM | Bill Hess for SCDF

Cultural districts are catalysts for the revitalization of communities. Museums, performing arts centers and universities, among other cultural establishments, provide continuous revenue, making them not only a great return on investment for developers and lenders, but also benefit the city as a whole. These districts also increase financial, educational and recreational opportunities to residents of the surrounding area.

The Cultural Districts panel included a diverse range of leaders in the Southern California arts industry, including Rob Creighton, Principal at Red Cape Studio; Brian Pratt, Assistant Vice Chancellor & Campus Architect at UC Irvine speaking about the Institute and Museum for California Art; Sel Kardan, President of The Colburn School; Judy Kim, Deputy Director of Lucas Museum of Narrative Art and Diana Vesga, Chief Operating Officer of Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Some of the hot topics that were addressed by the panel included accessibility, community outreach and green building practices of cultural facilities.

Accessibility

The panel discussed various challenges cultural districts face, such as accessibility. “One of the biggest impediments to bringing people to cultural institutions is access,” said Creighton.

Since transportation is such a hot button issue in Los Angeles, panelists explained how they are approaching this issue for cultural institutions. Kim mentioned that The Lucas Museum will be located off Vermont Avenue, just south of Exposition Boulevard, and will be a short walk from the Expo/Vermont Station of the Metro Expo Line.

Vesga mentioned that LACMA purposefully places a lot of their major sculptures, such as Urban Light and Levitated Mass, outdoors as a magnet for engagement. Placing artwork outdoors makes the museum more accessible and approachable and provides an opportunity for the general public to enjoy art without having to step inside a museum. 

Vesga also shared how the LACMA team took into consideration the surrounding community when expanding into South Los Angeles. The South Los Angeles region is in need of access to cultural institutions, so the museum is hopeful the presence of a new LACMA building in the region will encourage further revitalization of the area.

Pratt explained how UC Irvine is creating strategic partnerships to connect better with the community and to collaborate with other nearby institutions such as the Orange County Museum of Art.

Community Outreach

Involving members of the community is a critical component to the design and construction process and having a positive impact on the community is key to the success of cultural institutions. Panelists discussed the ways in which they take into consideration the needs of the surrounding community, as well as the entire Los Angeles population, when undertaking expansions and construction projects, among other ventures that may have an impact.

The audience asked how the panel is creating ways to bring people into their spaces. Vesga mentioned how LACMA is creating ways the museum has incorporated Friday Night Jazz and Saturday Night Latin Sounds as public events to expand the museum’s reach and draw new crowds into the space. “We’re LA’s living room, a place to hang out,” proclaimed Vesga.

Kim explained how her and her team incorporated community outreach. “We performed months of community outreach to learn about what people are looking for from the new museum and to truly be mindful about the surrounding community.”

Kim also explained how the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art is joining Expo Park as a valuable addition to an already existing cultural district. “We considered placing the museum in Treasure Island in San Francisco, but given the established museum environment in Expo Park, we decided it was where we could build the quickest and could plug into an already existing ecosystem and have the most impact in the community,” Kim stated.

Pratt talked about the new theater being a hub for the entire campus and mobilizing the university professors to get involved. “It’s a very campus-driven initiative,” said Pratt. “Most universities are seeking to connect with the community, whether it be through incubators or partnerships.”

Green Building

Kim shared her team’s approach to making green spaces at the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. “There is a very small percentage of green space in Expo Park, so we are making sure to fill this need by creating communal, natural spaces for people to gather at the museum.”

More cultural facilities are emphasizing the importance of designing a building that has a connection to the world outside the space to establish a more humane environment. Kardan addressed the challenges that come along with incorporating natural, outdoor lighting into performance venues, which are typically dark and windowless. He explained how it is an intricate process to create a balance. Many issues arise when attempting to achieve this balance, including the issue of being able to control the lighting and avoid distractions during performances that require specific lighting and visual effects.

Kardan mentioned what a pleasure it has been to work alongside Frank Gehry in the Colburn School’s expansion due to his depth of knowledge, particularly when it comes to designing interactive spaces.

Vesga commented on how LACMA utilized glass in the museum’s expansion project as a strategy to create a more inviting atmosphere with a connection of the indoor and outdoor.

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