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

City Council decided the 18th Street Arts Center will manage the art studios at Santa Monica Airport for the next five years despite some artists calling for the studio’s original director to remain in his role.
Council voted 6-1 Tuesday to follow the recommendation of a panel of experts identifying 18th Street Art Center (18SAC) as the best organization to manage the majority of the 50 studios spread throughout several former airplane hangars. But many artists said at the meeting and in letters to Council that they feel Yo ssi Govrin, who has run the studios since 2004, should continue as manager of Santa Monica Airport Studios (SMAS).
The revelation that Govrin had been renting out the studios for three times the cost per square foot that he leased them from the City of Santa Monica prompted Council to reevaluate how it would lease and manage the studios.
The City previously leased the space to Govrin at a subsidized rate to keep the studios affordable, but artists will now lease their studios directly from the airport at market rates. Staff said most artists will pay less in rent under this arrangement.
Changing the lease terms for the airport meant the City could also reconsider the management. Three organizations, including 18SAC and the Govrin-led Maxima Arts Initiative, submitted proposals to manage the airport.
An independent panel of artists and art administrators said 18SAC was best-suited to run SMAS, praising its sustainable funding plan and emphasis on programming. It also praised 18SAC’s reputation as an institution that has successfully run the largest artist residency program in Southern California since 1992.
The committee said the budget Govrin submitted was imbalanced, unclear and invested more funds in salaries than programming. Staff also wrote that a number of artists told officials Govrin had verbally abused them and entered their studios without prior notice.
Despite these concerns, dozens of SMAS artists and the City’s own Arts Commission wanted Govrin to manage the studios for at least another two years and more than 1,300 people signed a change.org petition to that effect. They told Council he had been a passionate and effective director who went out of his way to help artists.
“He has organized numerous successful community wide art events, from art walks to compelling and cutting edge art shows … to fundraisers for important community needs,” Rachel Grynberg, who rents one of the studios, wrote in a letter to Council. “He has also worked to foster an inclusive and cohesive artistic environment.”
Councilmembers who voted in support of 18SAC said they believe Govrin should be celebrated for building an artistic community at SMAS. But they maintained that the City must follow the recommendation of outside experts.
“What’s before the council tonight is not a choice between (18SAC executive director Jan Williamson) and (Govrin) based on their personalities or popularity,” said Councilmember Kevin McKeown. “This is a professional services contract … it was an objective determination made using the expertise of five professionals in the field.”
Councilmember Greg Morena, the only dissenting vote, said he is uneasy about pulling a popular leader away from an organization.
“I think some artists … may leave with (Govrin),” Morena said. “I’m sure there will be people to fill those spaces … but what we’re doing is dividing a community.”
Councilmember Terry O’Day said Morena raised some important concerns, but believes 18SAC has a proven track record in Santa Monica and will also foster community at SMAS. No artist at the airport is in danger of losing their studio, he added.
Williamson confirmed in an interview with the Daily Press that all the original artists will remain in their studios unless they wish to leave and said 18SAC will provide them with extensive professional support.
“While change can be hard, we know the City’s selection process for this program was sound,” said Mayor Gleam Davis in a statement. “Council is confident that the selection of (18SAC) will bolster our commitment to the arts and breathe new life into a program that allows our artist community to continue to thrive at (SMAS).”
madeleine@smdp.com

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1 Comment

  1. What “new” life will bolster the art community by changing hands? I don’t take sides on this issue but for goodness sake–There have been so many good exhibits at Santa Monica Studios! Just this past year I have seen at least three great ones. How about a little respect for what has been–a couple years is not so much to ask. 18S has lots of present space for their agenda. I think something else may be at hand in city management and I hope 18S knows what they stepped into.

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