The arts nonprofit LAXART is a step closer to realizing its new home on Western Avenue in Melrose Hill after receiving a “transformative” gift of $1 million from Los Angeles philanthropists Jarl and Pamela Mohn.
With the gift, LAXART’s $5-million building campaign is 65% complete. The Mohn’s donation is the largest the organization has received from an individual donor since it opened in 2005. The main gallery in the new space, at 518 N. Western Ave., will be called the Jarl and Pamela Mohn Gallery.
“It helps us fulfill our mission in the most direct sense,” LAXART Director Hamza Walker said of the gift. “But the move, what does it mean for an arts organization to own its own space? It’s about stabilization and sustainability. So at the end of the day, that’s what this money really counts towards.”
LAXART, which presents exhibitions, performances and other public programs with an eye toward giving voice to emerging and under-represented artists, had been renting a former recording studio on Santa Monica Boulevard in Hollywood since 2015. But rising rents in the gallery-thick area forced the organization to take a hard look forward, Walker said, and around 2017, the need for a permanent home became apparent.
“By 2024 we were probably looking at a 20% increase in rent, and then it would go up from there,” Walker said. “So Roman numeral number one at that point, on the long range plan for the organization, was a permanent home. Then the pandemic really threw that into stark relief. The very question of places having to go dark, lots of organizations had to do soul searching at that moment.”
LAXART acquired its new building in March and closed its Hollywood gallery in June. Demolition and other pre-construction work is complete, and primary construction begins next week. LAXART board member John Frane of the design firm HGA is doing the renovations, which are planned to be complete in winter 2023.
The new, 5,000-square-foot building — a red brick, former furniture showroom — nearly doubles LAXART’s exhibition space to about 3,000 square feet.
“It’s a more efficient space, unbroken, and it’s flexible,” Walker said. “Before we had to work with columns and different ceiling heights. This is much more dynamic in terms of how we can use it.”
Funds have come from sources including the board and other donors, as well as fundraising events.
Artists Laura Owens, Albert Oehlen, Glenn Ligon and Mary Weatherford, the latter two of whom are board members, contributed money to the campaign. LAXART also held a fundraising auction at Christie’s in November, with donated artworks from Barbara Kruger, Ligon, Christina Quarles, Jonas Wood, Jacqueline Humphries and Arthur Jafa. The event raised $1.2 million.
Jarl Mohn is president emeritus of National Public Radio; he stepped down in June 2019. The Mohns said they see the new building as a pivotal point in LAXART’s history.
“We want to recognize the important role that LAXART has and will play in inspiring and shaping the future of arts in Los Angeles,” they said in the organization’s announcement. “We hope this gift will move LAXART into a new era and serve as a catalyst for further progress.”
LAXART is also growing its board. It announced three new members on Thursday: artist, architect and exhibition designer Sebastian Clough; retired estate lawyer and art collector Kim Allen-Nielsen; and Tequila Casa Dragones’ global brand director, Teal Black.
LAXART was founded in 2005 by curator Lauri Firstenberg. Its first home was in Culver City on La Cienega Boulevard. Walker took the helm as director in 2016.
The Mohn funds, Walker said, will also go toward the first year of exhibitions, performances and other public programs. The idea of long-term, bricks-and-mortar security, he added, especially at this moment in time, cannot be valued highly enough.
“Being a nonprofit in the arts is not for the faint of heart,” Walker said. “An organization that owns its own space, that’s a different organization, one that has roots. It means viability over the long haul.”
This story originally appeared on LATimes