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Council Votes for Changing Guard at Airport Arts Community


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December 21, 2018 -- Santa Monica's largest artist community will have its first new operator since moving into what had been a pigeon-infested hangar at the municipal airport 14 years ago.

On Tuesday -- after hearing from dozens of artists who work in the two-story space -- the City Council voted 6-1 to award a $1.25 million five-year lease to the 18th Street Arts Center.

Yossi Govrin with sculpture The 30-year-old local nonprofit will take over the artist community assembled by Yossi Govrin, who moved his Santa Monica Art Studios (SMAS) to the hangar with the City's help during an artists' exodus driven by skyrocketing rents two decades ago.

"I could smell the paint here tonight," Govrin told the council during the meeting packed with artists. "This is what life is about. You create something for nothing.

"It's really regrettable that we have come to this point," Govrin said. "I would never ever ever try to take away something that belongs to somebody else."

Yossi Govrin with his bronze sculpture "The Mermaid" (Photo by Sabine Pearlman)

Council members said they had little choice but to abide by the decision of an expert evaluation committee tasked with choosing an operator for the City-owned space ("City Council to Choose Operator for Airport Arts Complex," December 17, 2018).

Govrin who had held the last master lease at the airport on a month-to-month basis since 2014 has been subletting the beehive of spaces at rates that are often above market, City officials said.

The new leasing policy approved by the Council in March 2016 barred subleases, while a 2017 agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and the City requires non-aviation Airport tenants to be charged market rates, City staff said.

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"This is very sad for us," said Councilmember Sue Himmelrich. "In a sense this is the end of an era and the beginning of an era.

"I believe in processes," Himmelrich said. "We followed it."

Had the Council not approved the committee's choice, Council members said, the selection process would have to have been repeated likely with the same results.

18th Street Arts Center, staff told the council, has a national reputation, decades of experience and a strong management plan that will lower rents for the majority of the current tenants.

Still, the artists rallied around Govrin, who last month unsuccessfully appealed the committee's decision that placed SMAS a distant third among the three applicants.

They circulated a petition on to "Protect Yossi Govrin's vision" that garnered more than 1,300 signatures and showed up at Tuesday's meeting to make their case to the Council.

In the end, newly seated Councilmember Greg Morena was the lone vote against changing leaseholders, making an unsuccessful motion to find a way to accommodate both SMAS and the 18th Street Arts Center at the airport.

"I do believe that in pulling the leader of a movement away from an organization dissenters will follow," Morena said. "What we are doing is dividing a community."

Mayor Gleam Davis said the decision was a necessary one for the arts to "flourish" at the airport.

"A lot of the discussion has been about this being an end," Davis said, adding that it is "the next step in the evolution of the artists at the airport.

"While change is hard, we'd like the arts to flourish," the Mayor said. "The longest journey begins with a first step."


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