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California City Solutions: West Hollywood Creates Tools to Make Art a Part of the Community

April 18, 2014
This story is part of an ongoing series featuring Helen Putnam Award for Excellence program entries. These entries are also now available on the League’s website as a resource for cities in a searchable database called California City Solutions. West Hollywood’s Urban Art Program was submitted in 2013 for the Economic Development through the Arts award category.
The city of West Hollywood, also known as “The Creative City,” is home to very colorful, creative and diverse clusters of communities, from senior citizens and Russian immigrants to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) communities and members of the local entertainment industry. Integrating art into the urban fabric and delivering art and cultural experiences that appeal to such a varied audience and demographic base without stifling or overtaxing development in a growing community challenged the city.

That challenge led the city to develop the Urban Art Program to effectively promote the interest in the arts and add vibrancy to West Hollywood’s urban fabric. In 2001, the city revised its Urban Art Ordinance requiring developments of most projects greater than $200,000 to place art on-site equal in value to 1 percent of the project cost, or to contribute an equal amount to its Public Art and Beautification Fund. The ordinance has helped site more than 50 public art projects on private developments throughout the city and has generated more than $1.2 million for arts and cultural programming including outdoor temporary and permanent public art exhibits as well as arts grants to nonprofit organizations.
Just three years after the city incorporated in 1984, the West Hollywood City Council established the Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission. The commission comprises city council appointed residents and community leaders in the arts, and identifies the communities’ arts needs while analyzing methods of fulfilling these needs.
Working in conjunction with other city departments, constituents and local nonprofit arts organizations, the commission manages a number of projects and programs to broaden citizen participation in the arts. Since being established, the commission has grown significantly and today includes three sub-committees focused in the areas of Urban Art, Art on the Outside, and Performing Arts and Cultural Affairs.
The Performing Arts and Cultural Affairs Subcommittee manages an Annual Arts Grants process, which is a competitive process providing up to $60,000 each year for arts, education, social service, or community-based organizations to assist in bringing art and cultural events to West Hollywood.
In summer 2011, as part of an Art on the Outside initiative, the city partnered with the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Vanity Fair and Cadillac to commission murals from three well-known street artists to beautify the outside of the city’s library parking structure. The city created an Urban Art Walking Tour Map for self-guided tours as well as an Urban Art Google Map with a virtual tour to enhance the collection’s visibility, which comprises metal sculptures, tile mosaics, murals and more.
West Hollywood’s almost 30 year investment in arts and the community has been significant, inspiring the local business community to promote arts. The large privately owned Pacific Design Center (PDC) began offering rent-free space to artists for art galleries on the second floor of the 750,000 square foot Blue Building. This gives artists an opportunity to be seen by a bigger audience and for PDC to fill vacant retail spaces. Participants get free space and in return give 10 percent of their art sales to PDC. Galleries continue to be the dominant tenant on the second floor with up to 15 galleries holding opening receptions together.
Building on the success of this venture, the West Hollywood City Council approved the waiver of temporary use permit fees for applicants utilizing empty commercial storefronts for pop-up galleries and performance spaces. To encourage and promote this type of alternative temporary use while a storefront awaits a new tenant, the city’s Economic Development Division held a Commercial Broker’s Roundtable at one of the pop-up art storefronts. Staff created an information sheet on how to implement a successful pop-up art project. More than six projects have taken place in pop-up art galleries during the last few years, including a site-specific series of dance performances and Los Angeles Nomadic Division’s “Perpetual Conceptual: Echoes of Eugenia Butler” exhibit.
Investment in the arts can mean a truly positive economic impact. A 2012 Americans for the Arts Economic Impact study of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations and their Audiences in West Hollywood showed that the economic impacts of art include job creation, an increase in cultural tourism, and the support of local restaurants, hotels, retail stores, and parking garages. The study cited that in FY 2010 alone, the aggregate nonprofit sector spending by both the city of West Hollywood’s nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences totaled $29.2 million. This resulted in 776 full-time equivalent jobs and generated $2.8 million in local and state government revenue.

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