LA Marler’s art and studio--a popular venue during the annual mid-March Art Walk.

Santa Monica’s two largest artistic hubs could soon be under the same management.

On Tuesday, City Council will discuss awarding the 18th Street Art Center (18SAC), which runs the largest residency program in Southern California, a bid to manage the Santa Monica Airport Art Studios. More than 50 studios spread across several former airplane hangars provide space for artists to create and exhibit their work.

“We believe that artistic excellence and community engagement go hand-in-hand and felt this was an extraordinary opportunity to unite our campus with the airport,” said 18th Street executive director Jan Williamson. “We will be very privileged to work with the artists at the airport, and we have many (professionals) who will be able to help the artists in their career aspirations.”

The City of Santa Monica has leased the majority of the spaces to a private partner, Santa Monica Fine Art Studios (SMAS), since 2004 at a subsidized rate to keep the studios affordable for artists. The Daily Press reported in June 2015 that SMAS founder Yossi Govrin charged artists more than three times per square foot what he paid to lease them from the City.

The revelation that artists were not getting the deal City Council had envisioned prompted a reevaluation of how the City would lease and manage the studios.

Council prohibited subleasing at the airport in March 2016 and its February 2017 agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration to close the airport in 2028 requires that all non-aviation airport tenants be charged market-rate rents. Artists will now lease space directly from the airport and pay market-rate rents. The majority of the artists will pay less in rent under that arrangement, staff said.

The City assembled an independent committee to choose between three organizations that applied to manage the studios. The committee recommended contracting with the 18th Street Art Center because of its national reputation and decades of experience working with artists. The committee also said its budget invests more funding directly into programming than the other proposals.

“Its programming plan is specific, realistic, and yet innovative,” the staff report said. “The proposal includes a carefully crafted budget that supplements the City’s budget with substantial existing and new funding sources.”

Govrin submitted a proposal under the newly-formed Maxima Arts Initiative, which the committee said presented an imbalanced and unclear budget that invested most of its funds in salaries rather than programming.

The staff report Council will hear on Tuesday revealed that a number of artists told officials that Govrin verbally abused them and entered their studios without giving notice. The committee did not consider those allegations in the selection process because the City was not in a position to verify them, staff said.

Some artists maintain that Govrin has created a respectful and creative space for artists over the years. More than 1,300 people have signed a change.org petition in support of his directorship.

Luigia Martelloni, who has rented a studio at the airport since 2004, praised Govrin for the events, exhibitions and lectures he brought to the studios.

“Yossi has been a professional, honest and wonderful leader of our artistic community,” Martelloni wrote in an email to the City. “He has always been helpful to everyone that asked for help in many different situations – even assisting artists who at times had become economically disadvantaged (by) allowing them to stay in their studios.”

Many artists attended a Nov. 19 Arts Commission meeting to speak in support of Govrin. The commission recommended that Maxima manage the studios for the next two years with increased City funding. The motion passed six to one with three abstentions.

Arts Commission Chair Mike Myers said the process of selecting a new manager sowed division among Santa Monica’s artistic community, which he attributes to a lack of transparency around why the City wanted the studios to change hands.

“It feels like the City just wants to take it away from somebody,” he said.

Myers said the commission may ask City Council to redo the selection process in a way that is more responsive to community input.

Council will meet to authorize the new management agreement at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 18 inside City Hall, 1685 Main St.

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1 Comment

  1. As an artist who used to rent a studio from Yossi Govrin I call the city to take these studios away from the tyranny control of Yossi who has been acting in the studios as if they were his own and gaining lots of money for doing basically not much. Yossi has created a little mob throughout the years and the ones who are not in his close net are suffering. How can the city for 30 years give the control over two important studios in the airport and SM to one dishonest person?
    Artist who care

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