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City may close or privatize art centers including the Watts Towers Art Center


In an effort to cut back spending, some arts centers including the Watts Towers Art Center (WTAC), and the William Grant Still Arts Center have been rumored to either being closed or being privatized by becoming linked to non-profit organizations. Members of both centers and the community have been trying hard to get their voices heard about the possible detrimental impact that the removal of the facilities could have on the community.

WTAC, actually started a campaign to save the center allowing member of the community to go online and sign a petition to show their support. The petition read:
“As advocates for the preservation of art and culture, the undersigned request that Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles City Council immediately remove the Watts Towers Art Center (WTAC) and the Charles Mingus Youth Art Center (CMYAC) from the city’s list of art facilities that are slated for privatization. The Watts Towers Art Campus provides invaluable art education, cultural programming and open green space to under-served youth and community members as well as providing a cultural destination to the diverse national and international tourists that visit the Simon Rodia Watts Towers. Cultural tourism is the leading industry in Los Angeles. Attracting over 300,000 visitors annually, the Watts Towers are designated as a U.S. National Historic Landmark, California Historical Landmark and a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument. The Watts Towers Cultural Art Park needs to remain in the public domain.”

The hard work on the part of the center and the community paid off, when WTAC Director Rosie Lee Hooks was notified that that the art space had been removed from the list.

“Thankfully, we have gotten a reprieve; we are off of the chopping block. The community demanded it. They rose up really hard, and they came together voicing their opinions and writing letters. The center is vital to the community. Trying to close it down or privatize it, is not what the community wants and its not what the community deserves. So, thanks to City Councilwoman Janice Hahn, at least for this fiscal year we are safe. We hope its forever, and we are keeping pressure on the powers that be to make it so,” said Hooks.

The William Grant Still Community Arts Center has not been as lucky. They are still fighting for the opportunity to remain open and public.

“The community supports us and Herb Wesson supports us. The community has gathered together and sent off hundreds of letters to city council,” said the center’s Director of Education, Ami Motevall. “The center needs to stay in service. The taxpayers have already paid for it, and in my opinion it shouldn’t be privatized. When it isn’t privatized and it belongs to the people, although it can be difficult at times the people still have a voice. They can still voice their opinions in meeting and do whatever it takes to get heard. The center needs to stay under the control of the Cultural Affairs and still be part of the city.”

Motevalli also said that there will be future meetings to discuss the fate of the center but that nothing has been finalized yet.

Assistant Chief Deputy Edward Johnson said after the meeting this week, “No draft of a proposal has been offered at these meetings so we still aren’t positive of what will happen. The upkeep of the centers is definitely an issue and if the center were to become privatized, the non-profit would be responsible for the management and upkeep of these centers. Wesson’s major concern is what is going to happen with William Grant Still, and we are moving towards RFP (Request for Proposal),” Johnson continued. “Wesson is not an advocate of the partnership. He has been very influential in keeping the center open this long. The money to run the center ran out in March, but he has kept it open by getting funding through Cultural Affairs, and doing everything he could to move money around, but at the end of the year, funding expires, so a decision needs to be made, and we are trying to make sure it is what is best for the city.

James Burks of Cultural Affairs said, “The community really wants to keep this center open, and we also want to keep it open. There is nowhere else nearby where the community has access to the services and programs that this center provides. It’s about the social welfare. This center has the ability to educate the young about moral values, and there is an economic value from the jobs it provides. So when it comes to the value of the center over, lets say, a supermarket, you cant really see it, or taste it, or feel it, but those who are in the middle of it understand (its value).

According to Motevalli, at a meeting earlier this year Wesson pledged $250,000 to keep the center open for an additional two years. “We have yet to see the money, we don’t know where it is.

Wesson’s office says they have transferred the money to Cultural Affairs, and Cultural Affairs says they don’t have the money. It’s possible that the money was transferred to Cultural Affairs but was put into a general fund, meaning that it will be distributed among different entities, but that isn’t what that money was supposed to be for. Without it in its entirety that money still won’t be enough to keep the center open. We have been calling and calling, and the community has been calling trying to get answers, but right now we still don’t know. But we are hoping for the best and we will see what happens. As we say in my language, Inshallah, (God Willing).”