Arts Incubators

Published in: GIA Newsletter, Vol 8, No 2 (Fall 1997)

Andrew Campbell

On March 7, 1997, the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, in conjunction with Community Partners, ARTS Inc., and the California Assembly of Local Arts Agencies, convened a workshop titled "Arts Incubators: Building Healthy Arts Organizations and Healthy Economies." The seventy-plus participants included representatives of arts organizations, local arts agencies, municipalities, and foundations.

The arts incubator concept takes as its model business incubators, which are designed to foster the creation of new jobs through the development of new businesses. Incubators provide an economy of scale through shared resources — facilities, technology, equipment, and personnel. The arts incubator assists artists and emerging arts organizations, while drawing to its neighborhood new small arts-associated businesses such as cafes, markets, and arts-related suppliers.

Judith Luther Wilder, President of Women, Inc., delivered the keynote address, “Creating Arts Incubators as an Economic Development Strategy.” In her remarks, Ms. Wilder spoke to the viability of arts organizations as significant players in the economic development of communities.

Four Los Angeles-based organizations functioning within incubator-like structures were presented as case studies.

The 18th Street Arts Complex is a cultural center that promotes the development of innovative art forms among people of diverse cultures. Individual artists and arts organizations benefit from the complex's shared resources of two art galleries, a performance, space, and studio work spaces and equipment.

St. Elmo Village provides a place to explore and develop creativity, direct youth in the community to pursue achievable goals, and help adults rediscover the creative spirit. Through shared facilities and resources, individual artists are able to work within their artistic discipline while also offering classes in painting, computer graphics, and sculpture welding. Several artists also reside at the complex or in nearby residences.

The Little Tokyo Service Center is a business consortium established to assist in the redevelopment of the Little Tokyo area in downtown Los Angeles. Its initiative includes the renovation of the historic Union Church, which will be renamed the Union Center for the Arts, and will house three arts organizations: East West Players, L.A. Artcore Center, and Visual Communications.

Community Partners extends legal, corporate, and fiscal sponsorship to fledgling charitable initiatives by allowing them to operate under the auspices of a fully qualified tax-exempt public charity. Community Partners provides financial and administrative oversight along with management training and technical assistance to social service organizations as well as arts organizations.

The afternoon session focused on the topic “Developing Localized Incubators to Support the Arts in Los Angeles County.” In facilitated small group discussions, based on either arts discipline or geography, participants looked at opportunities for sharing resources in incubator-like collaborations. Many organizations were introduced to resource-sharing opportunities that they had not previously realized were available. In discussion following the group reports, one of the strongest needs to surface, not surprisingly, was for office, rehearsal, and performance space.

The workshop received high marks from participants. One of the key messages heard was that in the geographically diverse County of Los Angeles, where there is no one center for the arts, convening opportunities such as this workshop were important to combat the isolation many artists and arts organizations feel, and to begin to find ways to share the wealth of resources that arts organizations have to offer to each other.