Home to a theatre company and the site of a bustling art gallery, discover the creative heart of the NoHo Arts District.
Drivers and pedestrians along busy Lankershim Boulevard zip by every day—most of them completely unaware they are passing not only a registered cultural landmark but also one of the busiest art hubs in the Valley. For over 20 years, the Lankershim Arts Center, overseen by the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, has flourished.
The center started its life as a building for the LA Department of Water and Power, circa 1939. By the early ‘90s, the structure had fallen into disuse and was in need of a purpose. At the same time, an effort by a group of arts-inclined locals was underway to create the NoHo Arts District. The district was formed in 1992 and after extensive renovations, including the addition of a second-floor, 99-seat Equity theater, the Lankershim Arts Center became its hub.
Today the Center is home to The Road Theater Company, a nonprofit troupe, which administers the building in lieu of rent. The Road produces exciting socially and politically relevant original productions throughout the year. An annual highlight is the much-touted, eight-day Summer Playwrights Festival. “There are between 35 and 40 staged readings of new plays over the course of those eight days. Usually between 1,000 and 1,200 people come through the building over the course of the week. We have readings upstairs in the theater, downstairs in the gallery, and there’s a parking lot out back that we convert into a cantina,” explains Center administrator and playwright Meagan Daine. Live music and receptions are held there after the shows.
That’s half of the action at the Center. The other half happens downstairs where Gallery 800, the art gallery of the IATSE Local 800 Art Directors Guild, mounts six annual shows. Scenic artist and volunteer Leslie Diller Zollo sees the gallery as a way for the guild to showcase the considerable talent within its ranks. “It is a venue for us to show our fine artwork because we do all the grunt work crap over there,” she explains, motioning toward the studios. The gallery is currently featuring an exhibition (through March 4) exploring the work of the late Jaroslav “Jerry” Gebr, a renowned Hollywood scenic and portrait artist known for his work on such projects as Murder She Wrote and The Sting.
The Center also serves as an affordable, well-maintained resource for a plethora of artistic groups in the area. “But there is a lot of room for people to come in,” Meagan explains. “If you want to collaborate on something, if you want somewhere to produce your project—this is a good space for it.” She adds, “Downstairs we have classes. We also have performances occasionally. We have meetings with different government groups or art organizations … upstairs in the theater we have other groups that come in and perform, and we currently have two groups running outside productions.”
Though “under the radar” in some respects, the Center continues quietly on its purposeful way. The walls are lined with beautiful works of art and vibrant production posters. Inside the theater, the stage waits for The Road’s next thoughtful production. The feeling of contentment and creativity is everywhere. “It’s a cool service to provide to the community,” Meagan says, smiling. “It’s a wonderful thing that the city does, that they support this building and support the arts here, so being able to be part of that—just to make it happen—is really a good feeling.”
Gallery 800 is open Thursday and Friday from noon to 8 p.m.; Saturday from 2 to 8 p.m.; Sunday from 2 to 6 p.m. For more go to adg.org.