Tucked in a modest live-work zone in the Pico neighborhood of Santa Monica, the 18th Street Arts Center presents a gracious but unassuming façade. Yet what started in 1988 as a humble program of multiculturally minded, community-driven art practices has evolved into the largest and longest-running artist residency center in Southern California. Today, the 18th Street Arts Center encompasses three galleries, 25 artists’ live-work spaces and studios, and Highways, a noted performance art space. Each year, 30 visiting artists come from around the world to work at 18th Street, and another 20 LA artists are sponsored for a variety of local residencies. To date, the arts center has hosted more than 400 artists from more than 50 countries. Notable artists that have come out of 18th Street include Lita Albuquerque, Guillermo Gómez-Peña, Barbara T. Smith, Coco Fusco, Dan Kwong, Francisco Letelier, Alex Donis, Suzanne Lacy and Keith Antar Mason. Other recent residents include Phil Collins, Carolina Caycedo and Patricia Fernández.
Last fall, the center celebrated a significant milestone, marking its 25th anniversary: an occasion that was met with festivities and reminiscing, looking back and looking ahead. “I think it’s interesting to look at the role that 18th Street plays in the art psychology of Los Angeles,” said Jan Williamson, executive director for 20 years. “We’re really one of a handful of organizations that focus on supporting living artists. We’re really pretty unique in that way, and that’s true to the original intent of the founders.”
Founders Sue Dakin, Linda Frye Burnham and Steven Durland still have ties to the center. In fact, Dakin still lives on the complex in a little house with yellow trim. In addition, many important arts organizations have started or hit their stride at 18th Street, including Community Arts Resources (CARS), the Cornerstone Theater Group, Side Street Projects, and EZTV. The Virginia Avenue Project, a free theater arts and performance program for disadvantaged kids, is
a new tenant.
The center marked its 25th anniversary with a weekend-long celebration on October 25-26, which included performance art, video installations, a benefit sale of works by notable 18th Street artists, and a Beer, Art & Music Festival. Many artists who worked at 18th Street over the years came back for the anniversary and gave talks and performances, including Smith and Kwong. “This was a really special party,” Williamson said. “We had people flying in from different states around the country who have long ties to the organization. It was a warm and friendly family reunion.”
The arts center ended 2014 with exhibitions by Javier Tapia and Camilo Ontiveros in its Main Gallery, Yujun Ye in the Curator’s Lounge and Asma Kazmi in the Atrium Gallery. Planned for early 2015 are a solo exhibition of works by Alice Wang and “Perfect Strangers” by Amir H. Fallah. There are also plans for a renovation and expansion, which will include more artist live-work studios, a café and a public plaza with green space. Those associated with 18th Street are especially excited about the expansion of the Metro to Santa Monica, with a rail station to be built next door at 17th Street. A walkway and bike path will connect the arts center with the station. “We all know of the challenges of getting East and West LA together,” Williamson observed. “It will be a fantastic game changer for our organization.”