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The Abstraction Known as Art Walk

By Eric Richardson with Ed Fuentes
Published: Thursday, December 10, 2009, at 05:56PM
What is Art Walk? Ed Fuentes (Photo Illustration)

Downtown Art Walk has always been an event open to definition and interpretation, so when Richard Schave tells you that "Art Walk doesn't exist," you have to understand that he views the monthly event as an abstraction.

Schave, along with wife Kim Cooper, resigned last month after just five months as the Executive Director of the event, amid reports of gallery unhappiness and a breakdown in communication between Art Walk management and the community. Specifically targeted was Historic Downtown BID head Russell Brown, who Cooper has accused of "bullying and interference" in Art Walk operations.

Perhaps, though, the core of the issue was simply a disconnect in management language.

Schave's Art Walk focus was on big ideas and overarching philosophies. He found his model for the event's management in a visit to the United Lodge of Theosophists, which hosts spiritual and philosophical discussions. The Lodge places no requirement on members to believe a certain way or to take any set responsibilities. "No one is in charge," Schave said. Yet, behind the scenes a non-profit handles the necessary gruntwork of keeping bills paid and the 1927 facility maintained.

"I realized at that moment that that was really my vision of what the Art Walk management should be," he said. By getting the management get out of the way, Art Walk could stay an organic event.

"My goal is to create policy so we can have one sentence or two sentences that when we throw the problem of 'food truck' at it, you get an intelligent response that's in line with what you believe."

While Schave focused on drafting wording that established Art Walk ideals, he did not consider it the organization's role to police participants.

"The Art Walk is not here to tell anyone what to do or what not to do. Hence, complaints that the Art Walk was not enforcing the distribution of liquor in galleries -- that's a job for the LAPD. The LAPD enforces municipal codes regarding alcohol. I don't do that. The Art Walk doesn't do that. I'm not as the director going to engage in a policy where we tell people what they can and can not do."

Art Walk founder Bert Green, who handed the reins over to Schave, approached managing the walk in a differently, finding that organizing "all this fun stuff" was what he enjoyed. "But the unglamorous side is trash pickup, alcohol issues, underage drinking, crowd control, safety," said Green. "The stuff that really is the nitty-gritty . . . of dealing with the unfortunate impact that large numbers of people bring into the neighborhood."

If no pressure was applied to make sure those participating in Art Walk know and follow ordinances, "you're creating an environment within which someone feels it is ok to flaunt the standards of the event that you have created," said Green. "It is your responsibility to do that [policing], absolutely."

Both Green and Brown praise the work Schave and Cooper did creating tours and curating Art Walk events. Still, as head of a BID that spends 75% of its budget on security and trash pickup, Brown takes issue with any management absence from policy.

"As it got really big, there didn't seem to be an understanding that a huge part of the management of the Art Walk was the logistics of the Art Walk," said Brown. "It was the trash, it was the vendors, it was working with the LAPD."

"If you don't have that clean and safe foundation, the rest of it can't grow."

"I think in many ways, they were moving in the right direction," said Brown. "I hope that there is a way to continue those."

As for Schave, he has an appropriately philosophical way of looking at the last month's events. "I decided to move forward in this direction and people are responding and acting accordingly," he said. "I just happened to be the person who all of this is getting acted out through."

"I genuinely believe this is just how it plays out. It doesn't have to be nice or pleasant."


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