Arts & Cultural Vitality / 2013

We are an experimental food and art space in Los Angeles.

We are an experimental food and art space in Los Angeles.

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Thank You For Coming

Thank You For Coming is an experimental food and art space in Los Angeles that opened its doors to the public in December 2012. We are a collectively-run and permitted restaurant -- this means that our crew rotates through volunteer and artist residency programs which offer people with varying interests and skills opportunities to cook for the public, play with a space, and experiment accordingly. By presenting these opportunities and their resulting ideas in a permanent and public restaurant space, we are able to provide accessible, unexpected, and participatory cultural experiences for Los Angeles residents. By intentionally operating Thank You For Coming as a place that draws ambiguous lines between art space, community center and food facility, we want to demonstrate that arts and cultural vitality can thrive in everyday spaces and via the endeavors of everyday life -- in our case, as it pertains to the basic acts of eating and feeding and through the universal medium of food. This school of thought can help move Los Angeles towards providing access to arts for all because its low-barrier process invites the populace to create and participate in its own creative experiences, thereby encouraging the proliferation of autonomous cultural production in countless pockets of the city, whether occurring in living rooms, neighborhoods, restaurants, libraries, parks or parking lots. Thank You For Coming was conceived and built on dreams, lots of people power, and a highly-involved collaborative process. We are a rag-tag crew of teachers, builders, scientists, gardeners, activists, and artists, but we are all firm believers that we have the ability to harness our own creativity and bring attention to it through careful resource appropriation and a do-it-together, collaborative approach -- which means that in the process, we are creating our own culture (and sometimes, economy) and building our own community. For as long as we remain open, we are committed to figuring out different ways we can transfer this empowering outlook to as many participants as possible.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

The first milestone we reached was opening our doors December 5, 2012. After 9 months of fundraising, drawing, re-drawing, building, permitting, re-permitting, installing, inspecting, re-building, re-installing, and re-inspecting, we opened as a fully permitted restaurant, allowing us to legally sell food to the public. Throughout the process, our friends and neighbors continuously offered their hands and tools, making it possible to finish, install, and outfit TYFC for under $20,000.

We’ve begun building a volunteer force and forged dozens of relationships, enabling us to source local produce, accept time dollars as currency, or offer a class on the History of Art and Food.

We are proud to have hosted 3 diverse residency projects by multidisciplinary artists who each contextualized food in a different manner through their work at TYFC–

Cristina Victor/ L.A.Novela Special: “As the daughter of Cuban-American exiles born and raised in Miami, exile experience is at the root of my desire to contextualize a sense of cultural displacement. Through performance/food events, I create environments where parody, contradiction and nostalgia are ingredients to addressing the complexities of representing identity. My practice often involves appropriating stereotypes present in mass media, specifically about Latinos, through my alter ego Miami. By way of humor, kitschy aesthetics, and ‘authentic’ food, I intend to seduce people into a situation in which they are immersed in stereotypes that are familiar yet very clearly performed.”

Jennifer June Strawn/Superstition & Sustenance: “Reportedly, superstitious belief is on the rise in modern society, neck-and-neck, it seems, with an ever-widening faith in scientific fact. The purpose of this project is to examine the mechanism of superstition, its role in our private and public lives, and its relevance. As sensitive creatures vulnerable to the harsh realities of the world we live in, superstition, as a complicated system of smoke-and-mirrors—regardless of its actual efficacy—is necessary to our survival as a species. Through the scope of whimsy, play, and humor, my mission is to present superstition in the form of food and food-for-thought.”

Japanther/69¢ Only: “In our research, we found that a nickel in 1930 is valued, coincidentally, at 69¢ today. But while automats used to provide public dignity for pennies on the dollar, in 2013, questions about value, quality and service are still highly contended. Our intention in creating a 69¢ Only store is to provide a place where people can eat and hang out affordably in LA. We’re challenging ourselves to fully consider the costs and value of things that are too-often omitted in the conversation: labor, modern manufacturing processes, etc. It is without a doubt that we will need to rely on creative resource gathering, careful proportioning, DIY processes, and the generosity of friends and strangers to realize a 69¢ Only store.”

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Every single resident artist, volunteer, advisor and organization that has contributed to Thank You For Coming, whether by giving us farm-fresh produce, being a 501c3 fiscal sponsor, working a kitchen shift, teaching a class, making one-of-a-kind ceramic platters, or executing their creative vision. Each is important, and all together, they are integral. Mostly, we remain anonymous and amorphous – but here, we list as many names as possible to demonstrate how many collaborators have helped realize Thank You For Coming in the short time we’ve been open. This list is yet incomplete, and we can only imagine that it will expand immensely:

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

We rely on people to activate our space and so many of our evaluations are based on conversations or observations of interactive experiences. Though impossible to document and evaluate all of these experiences, we’ve defined a few parameters that will help us measure success: 1. Number of active volunteers (around 30 right now); 2. Continued support and involvement of past artists-in-residence (only time will tell); 3. decibel level due to lively conversations during family suppers (definitely holding steady around 95dB); 4. Number of people with full bellies (safe to say over 1,000 so far); 5. Every single day we are able to remain open (114 and counting!).

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Thank You For Coming is dedicated to an always-open, inclusive and connected “vibe” where people of all-ages, families, and loners can congregate to feed and be fed and nourish and create; allowing for the possibility of an unexpected discovery of art and culture. We provide a place where people can hang out, have fun, develop personal relationships, and then choose their own mechanism for participation. Our approach encourages opportunities for social connectedness while participating in autonomous cultural practices such as organizing, creating, bartering and volunteering.

We offer food as an accessible medium that can break down barriers of hierarchy in order to include more people into a conversation about our streets, neighborhoods, communities and city. By presenting and supporting Los Angeles residents’ creative projects and offering opportunities for true participation, we encourage coherent discourse addressing a bevy of Los Angeles-specific topics, including: food costs and sources, economy, education, transportation, recreation, cultural histories, etc.

Additionally, Thank You For Coming houses an artist-in-residency program which provides a monthlong opportunity to use our kitchen, garden, and volunteer resources to play and explore. Through an open application process, we invite people with varying experiences and backgrounds to propose and develop a creative project in the context of sharing food. Residents then utilize our restaurant space as a platform for public engagement and creative experimentation. This program has and will continue to strongly support local applicants as the majority selected to be artists-in-residence at Thank You For Coming live in LA.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

By 2050, Allan Kaprow’s wisdom about the blurring of art and life will be 100 years old: “They will discover out of ordinary things the meaning of ordinariness. They will not try to make them extraordinary but will only state their real meaning. But out of nothing they will devise the extraordinary and then maybe nothingness as well.”

We’re at the midpoint of a journey that’s built upon those who’ve come before us. We’ve learned the most important thing is not to underestimate ourselves and our friends and our soon-to-be friends, all of whom are capable of accomplishing the extraordinary –

Everyday, we learn of examples of this occurring, and through this practice, we hope that all Angelenos will understand that they can create their own culture which views art as something that can be accessible and present in everyday life. By 2050, these types of practices should be embraced and encouraged in public and private spaces, institutional and non-institutional places and integrated across all sectors.

In order for this to happen, we hope to see more funding for public art, nontraditional practices, and underdog organizations and individuals in Los Angeles by 2050.