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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

East LA College goes after the art crowd

Perhaps the biggest annual event at East Los Angeles College is the East Los Angeles Classic, which draws thousands to watch the Garfield and Roosevelt high school football teams face off in the campus stadium. But college leaders want to attract a new type of fan to campus, the art lover and culture vulture, and they are spending big to attract them. ELAC is building a new $65 million Fine Art Complex that includes not only classrooms but a new 335-seat recital hall, a 167-seat drama theater and a new home for the Vincent Price Art Museum that features three floors of galleries and exhibit space. The hope is that this trio of buildings rising on the southeastern corner of the campus will emerge as a new cultural hub east of downtown Los Angeles.

But will people come to ELAC for fine art as well as football? And how will the district's budget crunch affect the complex, conceived a decade ago, when it is scheduled to open in the fall of next year? It's not clear but college officials remain confident about the complex.

"It will serve as the arts center for the community," said Richard Anderson, assistant to the president. "It will be stunning."

The arts center, designed by Miami-based Arquitectonica, is part of a burst of new construction that is remaking the Monterey Park campus. The new buildings will replace facilities that are considered too cramped or, in the case of 2,000-seat Ingalls Auditorium, too big for the campus' arts and performance programs. Theater arts, for example, operated for decades out of a cluster of World War I bungalows, said Anderson. The school's dance program often has to rehearse or perform off campus. The Vincent Price Museum, which recently closed for a year until its new building is ready, has never had enough space to showcase its 2,000 piece permanent collection as well as other rotating exhibits. The arts department is currently working out of some temporary bungalows near the baseball field.

The 167,000-square-foot, three building complex in many ways fulfills decades old promises to expand the college's arts offerings. Anderson, who is also chair of the theater department, recalls that as a new hire he was told not to store too many materials in those World War I bungalows because they would soon be replaced with a new building. That was back in 1973.

While the staff and students are looking forward to the new arts compound, there are nagging concerns about how much money will be available to operate the place, in particular those spaces and programs used by the public. Karen Rapp, director of the Vincent Price Museum, for example, is part of a full-time staff of two who will be supervising 9,000-square feet of exhibition space spread over three floors. "We will be juggling a lot of balls. I don't know what the reality will be given the economy."

But Rapp said forming stronger partnerships with nearby arts and cultural groups will help. For example, she is scheduled to meet soon with officials at Self Help Graphics in East Los Angeles as part of what she hopes will be a closer working relationship. At the very least, she said, it would help if the Vincent Price Museum, Self Help Graphics and the gallery at nearby Cal State LA could could coordinate art events so visitors could take advantage of the three relatively close locations.

"To galvanize this as an arts district would make a lot of sense."

Images from East Los Angeles College

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