Almost a year after it expanded into Downtown Los Angeles, Pasadena’s ArtCenter College of Design has started ramping up its programming at its Historic Core outpost.

After months of sporadic use, ArtCenter is now using its ArtCenter DTLA facility as a workshop, exhibition and event space. The most recent program was a look at 300 black art and design students who attended the college since its founding, told through collections of professional work and video interviews organized in the exhibition “90/300.” Among the work exhibited is a collection of commercial photography sets from Barbara DuMetz. The show was the second major exhibition this year, following a January showcase of the works of fine art graduates.

The turn around from sporadic use to full-time programming at the space came in time with ArtCenter’s spring semester, and with the hiring of a dedicated staff to plan the facility’s use. Christina Valentine, ArtCenter DTLA’s program director, started in the fall, with the task of figuring out how best to use the location.

“There was no central individual running or programming this space,” Valentine said. “The college was planning to use the space, but it took time to set it up. I created a master plan and now a few months later we’re off and running.”

Valentine said that given the size and design of the Downtown location, it’s not meant to serve as a lecture space or traditional education site, but rather as an exhibition and workshop facility for students, faculty and partner artists. She said that, given the proximity to museums on Bunker Hill and in El Pueblo de Los Angeles, plus nearby colleges like the Southern California Institute of Architecture and the University of Southern California, the imperative is to build cross collaborative exhibitions and events.

The Downtown space is located in the Hellman Building at 114 W. Fourth St., in what had been the Main Museum. Created by Downtown-based developer Gilmore Associates, the original intention was to make the space a multi-level contemporary art museum spread over three buildings at Fourth and Main streets. It launched inside the Hellman Building as an initial “Beta Main,” but funds were short and expansions were halted. Despite a number of shows highlighting local artists, the Main Museum faltered and the ArtCenter stepped up in late 2018 to provide financial assistance. In May 2019, ArtCenter fully took over the 6,250-square-foot location, spread over a ground floor and mezzanine level of the Hellman Building. The college has a 10-year lease with property owner Gilmore Associates, at a rate of $1 per year.

Now that the college is fully utilizing the space, Valentine said that the focus is mixing ongoing studio work with panel discussions and workshops. The early plan includes hosting its artist-in-residency program. Like the Main Museum before it, the college utilizes studio spaces in the facility’s upper level for guest artists to work on their own projects. Currently, artists Hannah Kim Varamini and Bridget Rosalia Driessen have the space through 2020, working on their “Love’s Remedies” arts initiative. The project focuses on depictions of caring, but also is a collaboration as well, with Driessen and Varamini bringing in guest artists of their own to use the space.

The Downtown campus allows the college to better connect with the artists in Downtown’s Arts District, only blocks away, according to Aaron Bruce, ArtCenter’s chief diversity officer. 

Although ArtCenter DTLA isn’t set up solely to show works from minority artists, Valentine said that the programming for spring and summer is intentionally showcasing the art of communities and identities not traditionally represented in gallery spaces. She said the college wants to be able to provide a platform, both for creation and exhibition, to a diverse range of artists.

Bruce echoed that sentiment, adding that the other benefit of the Downtown location is that it simply adds more gallery space to the ArtCenter’s collection, which in turn allows for wider selection of artists to be shown. The college has several galleries, but as one of the biggest in its assortment of venues, the amount of space in the Hellman Building allows for multiple exhibitions at once. That works both ways, he said. Being in Downtown, provides Downtown residents one more opportunity to see the local art.

“Our campuses in Pasadena are wonderful, but can be stressful to reach for some families,” Bruce said. “It’s good to meet them where they are and make it easier.”

Bruce added that the Downtown extension also allows ArtCenter to serve as a resource to local high schools that might not have robust art and design programs. He said that as well as being a space for the college’s students, the campus can provide educational opportunities for Los Angeles’ teens, both directly through programs and through exhibitions. 

“90/300” wrapped on March 13. The next show at ArtCenter DTLA is “Sell for Everything,” an MFA showcase, in April. That will be followed by a show looking at immigration at the southern border, according to Valentine.