Artist Mark Bradford Brings Hope, Hammer and a Little Hollywood to Leimert Park

Daniele Brazzell, Ann Philbin, Garcetti, Bradford, Wakeland, DiCastro, Gaines and Harris Norton (Photo by Andreas Branch)

The MacArthur Genius Award-winning artist has spearheaded the opening of Art + Practice, an innovative project that combines art studios, an exhibition space (curated in collaboration with the Hammer Museum), a bookstore and offices for a foster youth group, in L.A.'s historic Leimert Park

Perhaps as known for his intelligence and easy charm as for his multi-meter collages, artist Mark Bradford has lined up a host of Hollywood names to help support both foster kids and local artists through Art + Practice, a new nonprofit founded by Bradford, his partner, social activist Allan DiCastro and philanthropist Eileen Harris Norton. Mingling art with community-based social advocacy, A+P is nestled in the heart of Leimert Park, a historic neighborhood in South Los Angeles situated between Crenshaw and USC. Its board of trustees includes WME head Ari Emanuel and Atom Factory CEO Troy Carter, and attendees at a recent kick-off event included actor Will Ferrell and producers Marcy Carsey and Larry Marx (both avid art collectors who serve on the board of the Hammer Museum.)

Spanning nearly an entire block on Leimert Boulevard, Art + Practice provides studios for artists and an exhibition space curated in partnership with the Hammer. There’s also a new location for the neighborhood’s legendary Eso Won Bookstore, where everyone from Spike Lee to Barack Obama and Bill Clinton have done signings. Lastly, there are offices for the social outreach initiative, the RightWay Foundation, which works with foster youth once they have reached the state’s cut-off age of 18.

 “A lot of these kids may still be in high school, but once they turn 18, they are out on the streets,” explains RightWay’s director Franco O. Vega. “Our goal is to keep them off those streets.” The foundation champions self-sufficiency, providing everything from counseling services to financial planning to shopping for job interview outfits. “The fact that we rely on private funders gives us some flexibility,” Vega admits. “We don’t have to fill out a lot of paperwork if we want to take the kid to get a haircut before an interview. But that same flexibility means we’re constantly having to look out for new support.” With Los Angeles Country reporting the highest number of children in foster care of any other county in the nation (33,000 out of the US total of 400,000), this search gets more urgent by the day.

Art+Practice has gifted the RightWay Foundation two years of rent-free office space in the A+P campus, which has taken over the buildings formerly home to Bradford’s studio, as well as his mother’s old hair salon, where the artist famously got his start as a “beauty operator.” In fact, Bradford reports that the first work he ever sold – purchased by none other than A+P co-founder Norton – was a collage created out of the end papers used for perms, airily titled Dreadlocks caint tell me shit (2000). Bradford went on to develop a powerful formal vocabulary that abstracted the visual experiences of the streets of South Los Angeles, chronicling the entire alternative economies encapsulated in painted signs and homemade advertisements like “Cash for Homes” and “Child Custody.” In addition to the accolades and exhibitions befitting his meteoric rise in the art world, in 2009, Bradford was honored with one of the MacArthur “Genius Awards.” While many an artist in this same position might be tempted to lie back and let the art fair money roll in, DiCastro urged Bradford to think about starting a foundation.

While Hollywood support is key, A+P has also actively engaged its neighbors in Leimart Park. One of its first artists-in-residence is Dale Brockman Davis, who, with his brother Alonzo, co-founded the influential Brockman Gallery - the first African-American-owned commercial gallery in the city - in the late 1960s. This was just after the Los Angeles Museum of Art had split with the Los Angeles Museum of History, Science and Art (now the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County), moving its art collection from near USC up to Wilshire’s Miracle Mile. The move left a cultural vacuum in the area. “We could no longer just walk to see art,” Davis recalled. What’s more, as artists of color, seminal figures like David Hammons, Betye Saar, Noah Purifoy and Romare Bearden were actively excluded from museums and galleries. Brockman Gallery filled both purposes, bringing attention to these artists while bolstering the cultural life of Leimert Park.

Continuing in this legacy, Art+Practice’s debut exhibition spotlights artist (and Bradford’s former CalArts professor) Charles Gaines, who is currently featured with a companion show at the Hammer Museum. The February 28 opening brought out Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and his wife Amy Wakeland, along with a wide range of supporters including Hammer Museum curators Jamillah James, Connie Butler and Anne Ellegood, fashion writer Richard Buckley, artists Barbara Kruger, Andrea Bowers, Sam Durant, Ana Prvacki, Ruben Ochoa and Edgar Arceneaux; and the A+P gallery assistants, many of whom are former RightWay alum. “It’s so wonderful seeing how many different audiences this project can reach,” observed art dealer Michelle Papillion, who last year opened up a gallery outpost just a few doors down from A+P on Degnan Boulevard. “It’s especially wonderful that this project has the potential to be many people’s first introduction to Leimert Park.”

In the upcoming months, Art+Practice will host a survey of assemblagist John Outterbridge, followed by a solo show from rising talent Njideka Akunyili-Crosby, as well as artists’ talks from the likes of Kevin Beasley and Jennie C. Jones, giving Los Angeles locals and visitors alike the perfect opportunity to (re)discover Leimert Park.

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