Income & Employment / 2013
An Rx for LA Combining Art & Technology to ReBuild Los Angeles
Our idea is to expand an existing program that has created dozens of new businesses and hundreds of new jobs – while helping revitalize an entire neighborhood - and attracting over 150 new businesses and working creative individuals – all without one dollar of public funds. An RX for Los Angeles will take what one person working with the assistance of dozens of different community members on each project - accomplished in Downtown and to now expand that program's scope in DTLA and then the reach out to the rest of Los Angeles. So rather than it being a program to get one LA business to move to another part of LA – or competing with programs offering financing from the same pot of money or promoting facade improvement grants - RXforLA will look at the needs of each geographic area and the needs of each of the different major business categories (fashion, film, tech, small retail stores, food) to see what is working or not working. Concurrently, the different creative and tech industries are also examined to see how each of them might help any of these projects. And, finally, each potential solution will also be examined by how it might impact any of LA's other indicators. Now this may sound complicated, but there are those who quickly learn how to think in this way – and having multiple eyes look at each deal also makes it easier. It also helps that - at times - the more constraints you have– the easier it might be to see the one thing that will work best. It also helps that we have a team of serial entrepreneurs who have started multiple businesses and have experienced just about everything that can happen. The program's initial expansion will be to target specific social and industry wide problems within Downtown – and then follow that with looking at specific industries & social problems outside of the greater Downtown area. These focuses will make it easier to judge the results outside of the Downtown area. And now for a successful example of the process. When the Last Bookstore opened its vastly expanded space at 5th & Spring, the newspapers were filled with all the local bookstores closing - new, vintage and even antiquarian bookstores. They were closing due to not just AMAZON discounting new books but because AMAZON was also selling other people’s used books - as were on-line booksellers’ abebooks and eBay. But after researching those challenges – and making the necessary business – and artistic - decisions, the store was profitable from the day it opened. And the fact the store has expanded twice within a year after it opened – is no accident. The plan was developed by store owner Josh Spencer and supported by the person who leased him the space – Brady Westwater, who started RXforLA , after he helped negotiated a lease structured to make it financially possible for the store to first open – and then be able to expand. And – again – none of this this was a fluke or an accident. It was all planned And it has also fulfilled two other markers. It has created not only a far connected local community, but a regionally connected larger arts community that didn’t exist before from all over Southern California. And again – this was no accident – it was all planned from the very beginning. Lastly old store - 7 employees, new store - 27 employees. Turning to fashion, we have team members who run some of the leading LA Fashion Week shows for LA designers but, unfortunately, most designers don’t do shows in LA because our fashion week seems to be thrown together at the last minute – spread out all over town, in multiple venues on different days – and that makes it impossible to attract the buyers and critics who attend New York's Fashion Week. So everyone is finally asking– why can’t we all show under one big umbrella in one place with one set of dates? But for that to happen – planning would need to start now to select a site and dates and then start to promote the hell out of the fact that LA will – finally – get its act together and try and have a real fashion week. RXforLAT, if it is successful in getting the grant, will develop a site promoting the major cultural industries of Los Angeles – a single place where people from around the world can come and see what is being planned. And once that site is launched – it will be a lot easier for the different producers of Fashion Week to agree upon dates and venues – since once everyone agrees to lock them down – then a serous effort can be made to lure buyers and critics from New York – and many other cities - to LA Fashion Week. But first we need to create that infrastructure and even then - it won’t happen over night, But it needs to start somewhere – and it needs to start – now. And to accomplish even just that – would be a huge win this fall for LA2050.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
The RXforLA program is an expansion Brady Wastewater’s long work with a wide variety of stakeholders in DTLA. Since moving there full time, he was a founding member of Downtown LA Neighborhood Council where served as both president & VP. He also recruited the founders of Gallery Row, Nic Cha Kim and Kjell Hagen to DLANC and worked with them and Art Walk founder Bert Green with their projects since their inceptions and leased the majority of the first galleries on Gallery Row. He also helped start – and was president of LANCC - a city-wide Neighborhood Council organization and he was one of the five members of the DWP MOU Committee that negotiated the first MOU with a City Agency. Since then. he as leased (at no charge or helped create – over 150 different creative businesses or individual artists studios and when he saw the need for local fashion designers to show at reasonable rates, he organized two major Fashion Week Shows – first BOXeight – and now CONEPTU Fashion Week –with only six weeks notice. He has also searched out individuals he felt would be successful in Downtown and convinced them first to move here – and then to opens businesses. He also helped Downtown residents sell their art or their other products during Art Walk and then leased them stores. He also convinced online sellers – such as THE LAST BOOKSTORE – to open physical spaces and convinced brick and mortar stores to do more sales on-line. When he read the Company of Angels lost its lease and was having a garage sale of all their equipment - he found them a new space 24 hours later and over the years, he helped over 50 homeless individuals find their way off the streets.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
Among our partners are the over 100 community members who have helped or worked with over the past decade. It also includes institutions such as Gallery Row, Spring Arts Tower, the Los Angeles and the Palace Theatres, The Industry Opera group, Poor Dog Theater Company, Skin Graft, the HDBID and Bringing Back Broadway.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
First, we are somewhat unusual in that we have already been very successful with our project - more successful in generating new businesses than any other economic development organization - even with six and seven figure budgets in our market area.
So for a start we will take a base-line survey of our core market area and gather what statistics we can about the various local industries. We will also monitor all of our new contacts to determine how many of them we convert to being ‘clients’.
And each of our many individual projects will also need a base line to be determined at the start so that there will be something to compare the later results with.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
One of our fashion projects is working with groups and individuals who are trying to bring manufacturing jobs back to LA. They are either setting up or working with existing groups of workers so that not matter or how large - or how small a job is - and no matter what skill that job will require - any designer will be able to get affordable quality work done. This helps make up for all the lesser skilled jobs LA has lost over the years by creating higher skilled and higher paying jobs.
Live Broadway theater is the number on tourist draw in New York - and it is now the only one of the major performing arts that has continued to grow both in grosses and in audience.
That is why one of our goals is to help develop a major theater district between the theaters in Downtown Los Angeles and - joined by the Red Line - the theaters of Hollywood and North Hollywood. And besides the billion dollars that New York reaps every year from the theater industry - it also creates more film and TV jobs in New York. Live theater makes New York - and London - the only cities where an actor, director, or writer can have a major theatrical and film or TV career - concurrently. And it is one of the many reasons why LA is losing so much of the film and TV industry to New York.
That’s why we are working to assist all levels of the theatrical community from 49 and 99 seat equity waiver theaters to successfully finding tenants for existing DTLA theaters to working to create a major international theater festival to helping develop technological advances that could change the future of live entertainment forever. It’s also why we have supported the Festival of New American Musicals and our new contemporary opera company - The Industry - since their inceptions. A strong live theater community is essential to the long term health of two of our largest existing industries - film & TV and tourism.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
The simple answer would be a Los Angeles that was as economically healthy as it once was. The more complex answer would be enough good paying jobs for everyone who wants a job - to be able to get one - and a business climate that supports and rewards business. Going much beyond that would require far more space to properly discuss.