Bringing Artists Back to Venice

A man paints on the Venice Boardwalk. Despite its vibrant art scene, many artists struggle to live in Venice. Photos: Sam Catanzaro.

The exodus of artists from Venice and efforts to bring them back.

By Sam Catanzaro

Venice, with all its murals, street art and galleries, may seem like a hub for artistic creativity but behind all the paint and colors is a world of high rents and development that make the reality of being an artist in Venice an opportunity very few can afford. This was not always the case, however.

“Venice was one of the places you would go to find all the artists,” said artist John Park. Park over the years has done many live paintings in Venice, are used to live in Venice, but was forced to move out when the influx of tech companies to the area began to significantly drive up real estate rates, forcing Park to move.

“I saw it first hand because the same year I moved in is when Google moved in,” Park said. “We were part of that first wave of artists and musicians who got pushed out of Venice. We had no idea that the gentrification would ripple out so fast. Now you go to Venice there are no more artists, no more musicians.”

Sunny Bak, president of the Venice Arts Crawl and an accomplished photographer who has shot the everything from the Beastie Boys and Madonna to the cover of Newsweek, moved to Venice from New York in 1992. When she arrived, Venice was a funky art town and real estate was affordable. And while communities always develop to an extent, Bak is struck by how rapid the change has been in Venice over the past few years.

“It’s rapidly changing just in the last few years,” Bak said. “There are just so many displaced artists here and it’s getting worse. I’ve seen the people I have met over the past few years disappear and move to Inglewood, Mar Vista, New York, Santa Fe, Phoenix and just sort of disappear.”

Park, like many of the artists who have been forced to move, believes that it may be too late to reverse the impact Venice’s rapid development has had on the artistic community in the area.

With all its murals and art, Venice may seem like an artistic hotspot, but living as an artist in Venice is difficult.

“There’s too much money at stake. I really do feel that at this point it’s beyond the point of no return and obviously the next thing they are looking to get rid of is all the boardwalk vendors,” Park said. “As soon as you see the boardwalk vendors disappear, that’s when all those shops become Forever 21’s, GAPs, Louis Vuitton or whatever they can find to move there and turn it into the Third Street Promenade.” 

Bak, while alarmed about how rapid the development in Venice has been, is not convinced that the change is irreversible and is now leading an effort to make Venice a place for artists to live again. One of the ways, she believes, is to get the help of the very companies that drove out the artists in Venice in the first place. 

“If it wasn’t Snapchat or Google, it would be some other large corporation so I don’t want to villainize them really but I am also trying to get them to participate in supporting art in Venice, and I am doing all I can to do what I can and to keep art thriving in Venice,” Bak said. “I decided to join the [Venice Neighborhood Council] Homeless Committee to get a grip on what is going on and how it’s changing and why.”

Bak’s experience on the homelessness committee has led her to working to create a Venice Arts District alongside Venice Art Crawl founder Daniel Samakow, owner of Venice-based eateries James’ Beach, Canal Club and Danny’s Venice.

The idea behind this would be to have an area in which the City of Los Angeles would fund or support housing for artists in Venice.

“One of the things I am actually working on is Danny Samakov’s vision of having an Arts District in Venice on Venice Boulevard,” Bak said. “I would like to see the City somehow subsidize or recognize that an Arts District is needed in Venice and that Venice is an arts community and the City has to do more to support that with affordable housing, or subsidized housing or designated housing.”

While Bak has not worked out the specific details of what this Arts District will look like yet, she does know that she and Samakov will need help from the community to fulfill this vision.

“It’s not just one person. It has to be an organized community effort,” Bak said. “To that end, I am trying to get all the different art venues to meet and create an arts district and have one vision on what that could be.”

Bak says that there will be a meeting in October where more details will be established so be sure to check back for more information regarding this.