Carren's Pitch

Life by Design

Watts has been on my mind a lot lately, which is probably why I find so many reasons to write about it. Here's another clip on Watts, this time for British paper, The Art Newspaper, my first for this publication. 

Year-long partnership with museum is up for review
Text by: Carren Jao
Edited by: Charlotte Burns
Published: October 2011, The Art Newspaper

A year-long partnership between Los Angeles' department of cultural affairs and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma) to take joint responsibility for the restoration of the Watts Towers is up for review in January 2012. At that point the museum must present its plans for the site and give an estimate of the funds needed, expected to be around $5m, according to Olga Garay, the executive director for the cultural affairs department which is footing the bill for the year-long project. A Lacma spokeswoman said that a large future donation is being discussed, but has not yet been confirmed. An announcement is scheduled before the end of the year.

The towers, which took more than 34 years to build and were finished in 1954 by Simon Rodia, are a well-known part of the Los Angeles skyline. Nonetheless, they have historically been somewhat neglected by the city and overlooked by tourists reluctant to travel to Watts, a part of the city most famous for the riots of 1965

The city has been responsible for the site since 1978 when the land on which the towers stand was handed over to the State of California. However, the budget for the towers' maintenance fell from $361,500 in 2009 to $150,000 this year. "All of a sudden I didn't have anybody on my staff that was responsible for the towers," says Garay.

She approached Lacma, which stepped into the breach in December 2010. "Lacma has a level of expertise that is much deeper than anything we can afford to do," says Garay, adding: "They can provide scientific expertise, fundraising expertise, programming. There's no way we can mirror that in a cost effective manner." The James Irvine Foundation gave $500,000 to the museum to go towards the project in February.

Garay is hopeful that the partnership will continue, as is the museum. The towers are one "of the more monumental, important works of art and are in Lacma's backyard", says Brooke Anderson, Lacma's deputy director for curatorial planning

There are plans to redesign the nearby 1904 Watts train station to include a visitor centre. The cultural affairs department won a $250,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in July to pay for designs, which are due by the end of 2012. The grant will also cover an "artists pathway" between the station and the towers.

Lacma and the cultural affairs department are taking steps to gain local support. The museum operated a shuttle bus to and from the towers twice a month between July and September and has also arranged tours of the towers for presentations to potential donors.


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