The country’s second largest city of Los Angeles is also home to the historic, small-town community of San Pedro, where the arts and the waterfront are primary sources of the area’s revitalization. San Pedro’s thriving arts and culture scene is a result of innovative urban placemaking in the community’s collage of architecture and port-related technology. Former storefronts, warehouses and commercial buildings have been repurposed into artist studios, nonprofit organizations, and live/work spaces, all participating in the community’s 22-year-old First Thursday ArtWalk, drawing thousands of local residents to downtown San Pedro every first Thursday of the month to celebrate the visual arts and shop local businesses. CRAFTED at the Port of Los Angeles doubles as a hub of artists selling their artwork at the permanent weekend market, featuring handmade apparel, home decor and food goods; and the Angels Gate Cultural Center offers studios in former army barracks to more than 50 artists of all disciplines, with vacant spaces remaining open to new artists and organizations to make way for new opportunities.
Amy Eriksen brings her dedication to expanding arts education instruction in public schools to her role as executive director of the Angels Gate Cultural Center. She works with various partners to provide high quality arts experiences to groups of all ages, including interactive classes, gallery exhibits of both local and international artists, professional artists’ studios, and art education programs in schools.
“Our mission has always been to bring art to the community, which has evolved into making space for artists not only with studio space but also placemaking areas so that the community can engage directly with artists and vice versa,” Amy shared. “Angels Gate is a big part of our community as a whole, and we aim to live up to its fullest potential by partnering with several local organizations.”
Angels Gate extends its space for artists to work and engage the community with in-house gallery spaces and classrooms for community programs and classes. The organization also sponsors art education to Los Angeles Unified School District and Long Beach Unified School District schools through 12-week art residencies in more than 120 classes.
Amy and Linda Grimes, Managing Director of the San Pedro Waterfront Arts District, represent a powerhouse of community leaders who organize the state sanctioned San Pedro Arts & Cultural District. The Cultural District’s partner organizations include the San Pedro Waterfront Arts District, Angels Gate Cultural Center, San Pedro Chamber of Commerce, Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, the Office Council District 15, and Grand Vision Foundation.
The San Pedro Waterfront Arts District was developed as a result of the San Pedro ACE District, a collective formed in 2009, with a grant from the now defunct Community Redevelopment Agency. The group developed a funded strategic five-year economic plan to prioritize the arts in historic downtown San Pedro, successfully creating more than fifty projects and collaborations and providing more than $300,000 in grant funding to San Pedro artists, galleries and arts organizations. In the fall of 2013, they transitioned from their grant-dependent model to the non-profit San Pedro Waterfront Arts District to build a sustainable organization capable of raising funds via grants, sponsorships of public art projects, and public education programs.
As managing director Linda leads the San Pedro Waterfront Arts District’s initiatives to cultivate new partnerships and opportunities to support local arts, culture and entertainment; and maintain and nurture the accomplishments and cultural roots of San Pedro through arts advocacy, education and promotion. During Linda’s fellowship with the ACTIVATE Arts Advocacy Leadership Program, a program of Arts For LA, Linda initiated conversation for what felt like a natural next step to apply for the Cultural District Designation.
When reflecting on the California Cultural District Designation’s impact, Linda and Amy agree that the designation has enforced their community’s identity as a hub of innovative arts, culture and entertainment. It’s given the District a platform to maintain their authenticity and culture, while drawing new projects and opportunities for collaboration to their local community.
Today the San Pedro Arts & Cultural District is a collective of local movers and shakers, with collaboration and sustaining the authenticity of their community as two of their top priorities. The district partners employ a rotating leadership model within their meetings and projects to maintain objectivity and ensure collaboration. They’ve developed strong communication with their stakeholders by creating a comprehensive list of organizations and their strongest points of contact; and by hosting Chamber Mixers to share assets and messaging with stakeholders to leverage in their own marketing and grant seeking. With their differing priorities and audiences, they’re able to deliver on their individual strengths and focuses to collaborate in new ways.
“Choose your partners carefully! Consider what you want to look like five years from now and be intentional in reaching those goals,” Linda shared when asked what advice they might give to other Cultural Districts or community organizations.
Amy shared, “Be sincere in your connections, so that when you’re going into something as a collaboration it remains collaborative and transparent. We have over 60 assets in this district and it’s difficult to get them all in one place at one time, making it even more important to share with them what you’re doing and thinking about doing so that everyone has an understanding of how they can contribute.”