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LOS ANGELES — The mood was festive last Saturday as throngs flocked to Art + Practice, a new hybrid art space in Leimert Park, for the opening of their inaugural exhibition. “We were expecting 400 guests and we had close to 700,” said Sophia Belsheim, Partnership Liaison and Senior Program Lead, when we reached her by phone. “All of the responses that we received from the community, from politicians, from contemporary art lovers, were all ecstatic.”
Founded by artist Mark Bradford, philanthropist Eileen Harris Norton, and social activist Allan DiCastro, Art + Practice will serve the dual roles of contemporary exhibition space and social services agency. Curatorial support will be provided by the Hammer Museum, who organized the first show, Charles Gaines: Librettos, featuring a new body of work by this veteran conceptual artist. This series pairs the score of an early 20th century opera with the text of a 1967 speech by Black Panther Stokely Carmichael. (Gaines has a survey of early work currently on view at the Hammer as well.)
For the social services component, they have partnered with the RightWay Foundation, who provide educational, job training, and mental health services to foster youth. “LA county has the largest concentration of foster youth in the nation,” Belsheim told me. “40% of those attend the local [Leimert Park] high schools.” The cause has a personal resonance for Bradford whose mother was a former foster youth.
In addition to the gallery and RightWay offices, the Art + Practice compound includes studios for their artist residency program, a space for events and talks, and the future home of Eso Won books. During the opening, most of these spaces were open to the public, making visible the founders’ diverse goals.
The location they have chosen is significant as well, given that most of LA’s contemporary art spaces are located on the Westside, Hollywood, or Downtown. “Mark, Allan and Eileen really wanted Leimert Park as well as the 90008 zip code and beyond to become part of the conversation,” added Belsheim. It also is meaningful to Bradford since part of the site had housed his mother’s hair salon, and later his own studio.
Their first public program held last month featured Dale Brockman Davis and Alonzo Davis, founders of Brockman Gallery, one of the first spaces for contemporary black art in LA, active from 1967–89. The enthusiastic public response was a sign that Art + Practice is filling a much needed cultural role. “Their talk sold out in 5 hours,” said Belsheim. “LA is thirsty for this type of programming.”
Charles Gaines: Librettos: Manuel de Falla / Stokely Carmichael is on view through May 31 at Art + Practice (4339 S. Leimert Blvd., Leimert Park, Los Angeles)
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