The old factory building on the corner of E. 4th Place and S. Hewitt Street in the Arts District is covered in a dynamic angular mural by Danish artist Mikael B. that resembles neon-colored crystals. The Arts District is home to plenty of vibrant street art, but in this case, the building’s exterior reflects the creative people and programming found inside.

It’s been 21 years since Chip Hunter bought the building and founded Art Share L.A. For the past five and a half years, Cheyanne Sauter has been the nonprofit organization’s executive director. She says, “It launched with the intention of being an afterschool program and a place for youth to come to have access to arts education when arts education was so, so dire in Los Angeles and constantly being stripped away from budgets in our L.A. Unified School District systems.” The second floor of the 28,000-square-foot space was turned into low-income housing, and currently has a waitlist of more than 3000 people. Sauter says, “People are just clamoring to get into these spaces because they’re so unique. It’s in this building where creativity is rampant and everyone’s just kind of working toward their goal of becoming a financially-successful artist.”

When Sauter joined Art Share L.A., the Arts District neighborhood was already changing — buildings were being renovated and long-time residents evicted. In response, the organization shifted its focus to become a space for adult artists. “We essentially grew up with the youth that were accessing our space and realized that once people left the school system at 18, or once they graduated from ArtCenter or Otis, they didn’t have a lot of places to go to perform or to create their artwork. So we made Art Share, the bottom floor, really speak to that and give artists a space to exhibit, give them a space to perform in our theater, give them spaces to prepare and develop and practice their works in our classrooms — and all of that is done either free or below market rate.”

Art Share L.A. Theater Space; Credit: Courtesy of Art Share L.A.

Art Share L.A. Theater Space; Credit: Courtesy of Art Share L.A.

Art Share L.A. gets most of its funding from renting out its spaces and selling artwork, and they hold an annual fundraising gala to make up the difference. Sauter says, “The funding that comes from the gala accounts for about 30 percent of our overall budget and supports us so that we can support the artists without making them pay to be an artist.”

The 21st Anniversary Gala takes place on May 30, 2019, from 6-9 p.m., and honors Mark Walsh, an artist and philanthropist. The event is held in Art Share L.A.’s building, which still reflects its factory past, down to the freight doors and concrete floors, but the organization’s creative staff makes it work. “We class it up as much as we can in what we have. If it happens to be raining, we will have buckets out to catch the water,” says Sauter, who plans to wear sequins. “At Art Share, we have a way of making something really fabulous and wonderful, but we allow it to be accessible.”

During the gala, 12 pieces of Mark Walsh’s artwork will be on display. Sauter says, “The show Buzzsaw came from really looking at Mark’s work and seeing how we can show him among the next generation of artists, and artists that are working in and around wood and metal and augmenting it to create beautiful forms.” Among the featured artists are Jackie Amézquita, who recently walked from Tijuana to Los Angeles to demonstrate the hardships of immigration, and Yrneh Gabon, whose sculptures focus on the marginalization of people with albinism in Africa.

Art Share L.A. Main Gallery; Credit: Courtesy of Art Share L.A.

Art Share L.A. Main Gallery; Credit: Courtesy of Art Share L.A.

Cheyanne Sauter believes Art Share L.A. will continue to be a haven for artists long into the future. She hopes the nonprofit will grow to become an even stronger advocate about arts and culture’s value to economic development and job creation. She says, “I would love for the city at large to understand how important arts and culture is to the fabric of our society. You can put up beautiful buildings. You can add more retail space… but unless you have arts and culture, and unless you care about and protect the people that are creating this art and culture, you’re just going to have a shiny city that’s devoid of emotion, a city that’s empty.”

Art Share L.A., 801 E. 4th Place, downtown; artsharela.org.

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