Comparing the non-profit model in two Los Angeles galleries

October 3, 2019

The non-profit model for art galleries and institutions enables these institutions to have an impact beyond the immediate experience of their exhibitions and programming. Two such iterations of the 501(c) 3 model, Art + Practice and The Mistake Room, employ this model in very different ways. The methodological and programmatic differences between these two institutions reflect their fundamental difference in scope. Art + Practice has a very local scope – they aim to service and increase access to the arts for the Los Angeles and Leimert Park communities, and their shows commonly include local artists and perspectives. On the other hand, The Mistake Room is global in scope, prioritizing global/international? perspectives, artists, partnerships, and audiences. Both Art + Practice and The Mistake Room are white-walled galleries with rotating shows and the most recent exhibitions in these spaces demonstrate the divergent interests, objectives, and methods of these two non-profits.

Art + Practice’s exhibition program had an intense focus to enhance the understanding of works and critical skills of its audiences and community members. In conjunction with the Broad for their run of Soul of Nation, Art + Practice hosted Time is Running Out of Time: Experimental Film and Video from the L.A. Rebellion and Today. Curated by the Broad’s staff, the exhibition consists entirely of film and video works by black filmmakers and artists. Most works are shown on wall-mounted monitors, with each playing two films on loop, with one video by a member of the L.A. Rebellion and one by a contemporary artist. While the Director of Operations, Nikki Lewis, was unsure of the reasons behind the specific pairings, all the films encompass similar themes like family, lineage, identity, diasporic consciousness, matriarchs and characterizations of women, and community. Additionally, all the videos experiment with formal video elements and story telling techniques. There are didactics with every monitor with information about both videos and artists on that monitor and the curators employ usual/customary methods of display to construct meaning in the exhibition.

In general, The Mistake Room models their curatorial programming as “projects,” of which an exhibition is only one part. Garcia places an emphatic focus on the production of original research and scholarship that drive their exhibition programs. Where the Sea Remembers explores contemporary art produced in and about Vietnam, and incorporates artists working both in Vietnam and across its diasporas. Overall, this project represents an initiative to collaborate and build relationships with independent artists and arts institutions in Vietnam. The objective of the exhibition, programming and discursive elements is to expand knowledge about Vietnamese and diasporic cultural and historical narratives and art histories. 

Thematically, the works in Where the Sea Remembers explore include the role of technology in shaping the economy, personal narratives and histories, refugee experiences, the body and performativity. There was a conscious decision to exclude film and video works from this show, and rather to display them on the corresponding website. This was a decision made in order to maintain the cohesiveness of the show, as well as a means to most effectively create meaning as video display presented a technical challenge in the exhibition space. Another intentional decision is the exclusion of wall didactics for each work – the effect is a more seamless flow between the high concentration of works. The lack of didactics also allows the viewer to generate meaning through their own experience of the works individually and cohesively. Again, excellent writing here!  

Both institutions are brainchildren of an institutionally-trained artist and curator, respectively, who are critically engaged with their practices.  Artist Mark Bradford founded Art + Practice in 2013 with the objective of providing access to curated contemporary art spaces for the community and providing social, educational, and employment opportunities for foster youth. Located in Leimert Park, the Art + Practice campus spans multiple buildings and faces the historic Leimert Park Plaza. Closer to downtown and the hub that is the Arts District is The Mistake Room. The Mistake Room began as a curatorial endeavor by Cesar Garcia, who recognized an intense regionalism among Los Angeles arts institutions and sought to bring a more global perspective to the local arts scene. While The Mistake Room encompasses only one building and gallery in Downtown Los Angeles, Garcia and staff have formed partnerships with artists, curators, and galleries worldwide to exhibit work, produce scholarship, and develop programming. Each institution attempts to challenge traditional models of galleries and museums through the themes of their exhibitions and their extracurricular efforts.