A new Westwood is coming, and the UCLA Hammer Museum, as well as more than a dozen artisans, is at the forefront.
Last spring, the Hammer Museum entered and won the Arts and Cultural Vitality category for the Goldhirsh Foundation’s My LA2050 challenge, a program committed to revamping Los Angeles. The Hammer Museum was awarded a $100,000 grant for its program, Arts ReSTORE LA: Westwood, an initiative designed to revitalize the declining retail market in Westwood Village by inviting community fashion designers, jewelry makers and artists to occupy and sell from some of the many vacant storefronts in the neighborhood.
After months of planning and preparation, Arts ReSTORE LA: Westwood launched on Friday with an opening celebration. The program will run until Nov. 24, and will spotlight events held in Westwood Village that are hosted by UCLA student organizations and the new, temporary vendors.
Occupying a previously vacant building, the launch party took place on 1028 Westwood Blvd. The party featured food and live music by DJs, as well as poetry performed by the UCLA Center for the Art of Performance Poetry Bureau.
Attracting large amounts of people, pop-up shops by a selection of the program’s many vendors like ERMIE X Weltenbuerger and Tanya Aguiniga allowed partygoers to see a preview of products being sold throughout the month-long program. Attendees browsed and shopped curated selections of goods ranging from home decor to textiles and accessories priced from $1 to $3,000 until 8 p.m.
Kicking off the start of a revitalization program, the party’s conviviality seemed to be ubiquitous among both its attendees and vendors throughout the night.
“I think the awareness of craft and art-making and artists (of Los Angeles) in general isn’t as much as it could be sometimes, so it‘s cool that they’re opening this program to the creative folk,” said Krista Feld, who attended the launch party in support of a few friends. “These artists can have their little spotlight as well as have other people become more aware of what’s going on artistically.”
Hammer Museum Director of Communications Sarah Stifler said participating vendors were selected through an application process or recommendations and referrals from respected community artists. The hope is that the program will inspire other community members to help craft a better Westwood Village .
Stifler also said this will be the first time several of these artisans have sold their goods out of a physical location, some of them having only sold to other businesses or online in the past.
“It’s been an interesting part of the process (to help) some of these smaller vendors figure out what it means to have a storefront,” Stifler said.
Ceramics artist Heather Levine is one of these participating vendors. Levine usually works out of her studio and sells her ceramic wall hangings and table lamps to interior designers and retail stores, but said she has never worked out of her own retail space.
She said the experience of running a personal storefront is something most artists never attain, and that she’s glad for the opportunity.
In addition to selling her goods from one of Westwood Village’s vacant spaces, Levine will hold a “Handmade Bowl and Cup Party” where she will feature 10 ceramic artists from the community and their works. All proceeds for the night will go to the Inner-City Arts Organization to benefit inner-city youth art education programs.
Other participating vendors will hold their own events throughout the month, including guest artist lectures, a macrame workshop and a do-it-yourself gold leaf class where attendees will learn how to apply gold leaf to create new works of art.
UCLA student groups, such as the Hammer Student Association, will also join vendors in occupying a storefront throughout the program, specifically the former Chili’s building on Westwood Boulevard. The venue will serve as the location for the student-run OPEN FORUM, where the HSA will hold events such as a Ping-Pong and DJ night, as well as a swap meet, an event where students can exchange or barter for clothes or other items.
HSA Events Committee Co-chair and fourth-year fine arts student Eva Slusser said she is most anticipating the swap meet because she sees it as a representation of the program’s positive effects on Westwood Village.
“I think (the swap meet) is aligned with the idea of reusing a space, an idea of repurposing items, seeing them in a new light and sharing them around,” Slusser said.
The Westwood Village Improvement Association, a group dedicated to restoring the neighborhood, has been working closely with the Hammer Museum on this program by successfully encouraging property owners of the vacant areas to get involved, said Andrew Thomas, the association’s executive director.
He said most of the vacancies are centralized on Westwood Boulevard, and that the buildings’ sizes are partially to blame for the number of vacancies.
“Many retailers aren’t looking for 12,000 or 15,000 square feet of space. They’d rather have 2,000 or 6,000. So I think it’s a different climate now than when those spaces were built out,” Thomas said.
According to the two-year-old study “Westwood Village Vision,” conducted by UCLA’s Architecture and Urban Design think tank CityLAB, Westwood Village has been declining in popularity for the last few decades because of neglected streets, lack of parking and a high-profile gang shooting that occurred in the late ’80s.
CityLAB’s director and UCLA Architecture and Urban Design professor Dana Cuff said Westwood Village also suffers from a lack of common goals among community members. Residents are clinging to what the neighborhood used to be like in the ’70s and ’80s, and are reluctant to see Westwood Village take on a more modern urban design approach.
She said the neighborhood needs a collective understanding that Westwood Village can be a better location, and that Arts ReSTORE LA: Westwood is just the start.
“It’s not as if setting up four weekends in November is the beginning and end of this project,” Cuff said. “It’s really that by doing this, people who are skeptical of the district undergoing any changes can see that there’s real potential that would be in everyone’s interest to see happen.”
Even though Cuff said it will take a lot of enthusiasm and momentum to re-energize Westwood Village, she has high hopes for Arts ReSTORE LA: Westwood and what the Hammer Museum is attempting to do.Now she is looking toward the community for a response.
“(The people of Westwood) all need to find their reason for being there,” Cuff said. “And it needs to be a place they want to come to.”