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18th Street Arts Center Turns 25

Svetlana Darsalia, performance at Crazyspace, 2003 | Courtesy of the artist
Svetlana Darsalia, performance at Crazyspace, 2003 | Courtesy of the artist

By Anuradha Vikram

In October, 18th Street Arts Center celebrates a quarter-century of service to the artists of Los Angeles. 18th Street’s origins reflect a turbulent time when the mainstream of art and culture was being called into question for exclusionary tendencies and an attraction to the ever-present lure of money. Founders Susanna Bixby Dakin and Linda Frye Burnham sought to create a non-profit that would serve the needs of Los Angeles artists directly by offering studio space, opportunities to exhibit and perform, and a community of peers. They developed a home for artists operating on the edges of artistic practice and social visibility. Time seems to flow in cycles, and so on the eve of 18th Street’s 25th anniversary, we meet again at a crossroads: one path illuminated by the hot flame of the avant-garde and DIY traditions of Los Angeles; the other by the cool, neon glow of the global contemporary art market. As 18th Street prepares to celebrate with a benefit on Saturday October 25 and the annual Beer, Art, and Music festival on Sunday October 26, the institution looks back on its beginnings and its role in the development of Los Angeles as an international art destination since 1989.

Writing in “The Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism” in 1990, Burnham recalled how in the mid-1980s, “I was fed up with the art world entirely.” She recounts that her reconciliation with art was brought about through the work of John Malpede and Los Angeles Poverty Department, a collective whose performances created with and for the inhabitants of Skid Row continue to liberate art from its baser concerns and refocus it on issues of importance — poverty, incarceration, addiction, and human rights. Malpede and partner Henriëtte Brouwers, who have called 18th Street home for the past several years, have recently been acknowledged for their radically accessible artistic practice with a retrospective exhibition, “Do you want the cosmetic version or do you want the real deal?” Los Angeles Poverty Department 1985-2014 at the Queens Museum, which called the collective “an uncompromising force in performance and urban advocacy for almost 30 years.” In addition to creating transformative art, LAPD has helped to transform policy by working tirelessly on behalf of downtown L.A.’s poorest citizens, who lack access to basic utilities and services.

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