In the last decade or so, Los Angeles has increasingly emerged as a leading national, and even an international, center of art. There are multiple reasons for this, starting with the presence of a community of boundary-pushing artists who have grown up in or been drawn to the city. Other factors include the arrival of a number of top-notch galleries and the batch of colleges with renowned curriculums and instructors.
Downtown has historically had a role as a location where art is made, going back decades to the emergence of the Arts District (even if many of the pioneering artists have now been priced out of the neighborhood). Yet just as overall Downtown evolves, so too is the local art scene shifting — today the community is the preeminent place in L.A. to enjoy free art.
Downtown’s role as an art-viewing locale rocketed forward when The Broad opened on Grand Avenue in September 2015. Eli and Edythe Broad’s $140 million museum was an instant hit, and not only because admission is free. The display of impressive work by seemingly every contemporary artist of note on the top floor, along with a consistent slate of thoughtful first-floor exhibits (some with a ticketed entry), has kept the crowds coming. Nearly four years after debuting, there is still usually a line on the sidewalk outside The Broad.
The Bunker Hill institution is not the only spot offering free exhibitions of high-quality art. The Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles gallery opened in March 2016 in the Arts District and mounts museum-caliber shows. This benefits the greater community; just consider the weekend crowds that thronged the recently concluded Annie Leibovitz photo exhibition. Many people followed a visit by hitting the area’s restaurants, stores or ice cream shops.
The momentum continued the following year, when the former Santa Monica Museum of Art ditched the Westside and opened in a new location on Seventh Street as the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Again, admission is free.
Last month brought another momentous shift. At a fundraiser event, leaders of the Museum of Contemporary Art announced that, thanks to a $10 million donation from Board of Trustees President Carolyn Clark Powers, it too will offer free admission. No date has been announced as a roll-out plan must be executed, but this is a major advancement for the 40-year-old institution with locations on Grand Avenue and in Little Tokyo. Expect attendance to soar.
Even that is not the end of the list — last month Pasadena’s ArtCenter announced that it has inked a 10-year lease to operate developer Gilmore Associates’ former Main Museum in the Historic Core. The rechristened ArtCenter DTLA will have a lineup of classes and free shows.
Put it together and Downtown Los Angeles has clearly emerged as the city’s center of free art. While L.A. offers other great places to enjoy gratis art, such as the Getty Center, no community offers so much high-quality work in such a compact area.
Count this as another victory for Downtown, and another element that will draw Angelenos and tourists to the community, now and into the future.