“This is my 40th year. It’s something that surprises me too,” said Lydia Takeshita, founder and administrative executive of LA Artcore. Now 91-years-old with no set plans to retire, Takeshita started the non-profit organization-cum-gallery space in the late ‘70s. Then a professor of Fine Art at California State University Los Angeles (a period of her life she refers to as “ancient history!”), she was spurred on by the eagerness of her students and her own everlasting and infectious rise-to-the-challenge attitude—a quality she describes as “impractical.” “It was the kids that wanted to have a continuing context with professionals in the art world. And I said ‘okay!’”
The space was originally located in South Pasadena, near Cal State LA. Once the artwork began to sell, LA Artcore established its own 501(c)(3) status and moved to 652 South Mateo Street, in what was then the first stirrings of the Arts District. At the time, the neighborhood consisted of hollowed-out warehouse spaces and industrial buildings slowly filling with artists fleeing the high cost of living in Venice and Santa Monica.
In 1981, the City of Los Angeles passed the Artists-in-Residence ordinance, a regulation that allowed for residential occupation of former industrial and commercially-zoned buildings. The ordinance made legal what was already being done illegally, and the area quickly exploded with performance venues and exhibition spaces. Takeshita said she remembers hundreds of people coming from all over to walk from gallery to gallery for openings of exhibition back then. “It was just amazing. At that time, in the ‘80s, in a one-block area, we had over 20 galleries. We’d rent buses and bring people in. The city was overjoyed, they’d help us with transportation and publicize openings and events. We’d have people from all over the United States come to see an event sometimes. We were just beginning [as a gallery space] and we just joined in. Then, all of a sudden, it just stopped,” she said in an interview with Fabrik.
The influx of drugs in the area during the late ‘80s propelled the deterioration of the neighborhood, and LA Artcore moved to Union Center for the Arts, a de-sanctified church in Little Tokyo. The exhibition space is imbued with same ideas that propelled and sustained Takeshita’s discussions with her students years earlier. LA Artcore was intended as a venue to provide exposure for emerging as well as mid-career artists, regardless of age or background. “It is just a space for the artists to come and use whenever they’re ready to show,” she said. “I don’t go out and find the artists, it’s the other way around. So, for me, it’s an opportunity to meet the artists and help them in any way I can.”
A few artists, such as Bryan Ida, whose work was exhibited last November at the Union Center space, are also represented by commercial galleries. The work Ida shows at George Billis Gallery in Culver City is abstract, while his LA Artcore exhibit featured figurative paintings that flirt with abstraction: portraits of local artists and friends, made of tiny dots. In some of these portraits, the facial plane is fragmented by a series of thin, exact lines that echo in a precise pattern across the surface. The effect is holographic. The vertical lines produce a psychedelic sense of motion; imagine viewing the Mona Lisa on acid. LA Artcore’s second location, at the Brewery Annex, always has two or more concurrent shows, such as the paintings by Carla Viparelli and Lore Eckleberry shown in November 2017.
Most of the funding for LA Artcore comes from Takeshita herself, “I was totally, naturally impractical. I did what I wanted to do and didn’t question how I was going to survive,” she laughed, “I just did it. I think that it’s been hard to keep this space alive… In the late ‘70s and ‘80s we were able to sell work and that sustained the space. But now, people don’t buy art like they used to… It’s an extraordinary event that people would buy art. They don’t have to buy art. They can just take their phones and make a copy if they like something.”
LA Artcore’s downtown space programs 12 shows annually, often featuring two or more artists at once, making it a gallery that gives voice and visibility to approximately 48 artists each year. “We have shows booked through 2020,” Takeshita said. In an exceedingly competitive industry, the notion of unrepresented artists having an established venue where they can show their work is somewhat of a real-life fantasy. Takeshita explained that she rarely turns anyone down. The experience artists gain from this exposure is invaluable: it allows for a necessary questioning of the material, the sometimes-harsh discernment of the public gaze. The shift from studio to gallery is a catalyst for artistic development and for Takeshita’s satisfaction with her still-quixotic project. “It’s just wonderful to have young people with some hope to even try to make it as an artist. For them to come and put up work…it’s a real joy for me.”