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I’m pleased to introduce a new TPG column. “Cultured” sets out to explore the arts and cultural attractions  in top cities around the world. With so many emerging and established arts scenes out there, we know these attractions are often at the top of travelers’ lists when it comes to discovering a city. To get the ball rolling TPG Assistant Editor Melanie Wynne takes us to LA and introduces us to the monthly Downtown Art Walk. 

Los Angeles’ Downtown Art Walk celebrates the artists, galleries and nightlife of downtown Los Angeles’ Art District. Held on the second Thursday of each month, this hip evening out is an exploration into an edgy, fun and thought-provoking art scene that’s reemerging in America’s second largest city.

Downtown Art Walk in Los Angeles (photo by Nat George)
Downtown Art Walk in Los Angeles (photo by Nat George)

First held in 2004, Downtown Art Walk has grown from a small local gathering to a popular citywide event that attracts upwards of 15,000 people – especially during the summer months. In the last 10 years, the Walk has played a significant role in transforming downtown Los Angeles (locally referred to as DTLA) from a Skid Row-adjacent wasteland of former movie palaces, shopping arcades and banks to a once-again hopping part of town where it feels far more safe (and fun) to hang out at night.

One of the great joys of Art Walk is strolling wide avenues strung with carnival lights and lined with tall, ornate Classical and Art Deco buildings that are being returned to their former glory. Some galleries, like those found inside the Fine Arts Building (1927) and Eastern Columbia lofts/tower (1930), allow you to experience the area’s artwork and architecture at the same time. As you wander between area galleries, keep your eyes peeled for splashy, surreal murals and graffiti throughout the Arts District, as street art has a big stylistic influence on DTLA’s gallery scene.

Street art has a huge influence on the art scene in Downtown Los Angeles

There are upwards of 50 galleries in the Arts District, but most Art Walk visitors stick to the borders of the Historic Core (between Spring, Main, 2nd and 9th streets), where you’ll find the largest concentration of bars and restaurants (such as wine/charcuterie bar Mignon; farm-to-table Artisan House; Mexican tipples and tapas at Bar Ama; and partners Cole’s French Dip and The Varnish).

Come nightfall, the heart of the action is found at Art Mart (620 S. Main Street), where artisans and craftspeople, DJs and food trucks gather on the evening of Art Walk. Standout galleries within the Historic Core include PYO Gallery LA and Hatekayama Gallery, as well as the Spring Arts Tower, where a warren of artists’ galleries and boutiques sprawls one floor above L.A.’s largest independent bookstore/record shop/coffee bar, The Last Bookstore.

Literary-themed artwork on the second floor of the Spring Arts Tower
Literary-themed artwork on the second floor of the Spring Arts Tower

However, some of the most interesting galleries are found outside the Historic Core. According to Nat George, an Associate (and frequent guest curator) at the comprehensive DAC Gallery, “We’ve been featured as a participating gallery in the Art Walk since 2009, but now that we’ve moved to Broadway – just a block away from where most of the action is – we have to do a lot of work to promote our openings on Art Walk nights. Broadway is still in the awkward phases of revitalization, so people aren’t yet familiar with several of the galleries that have moved there in recent years.”

To more fully explore the DTLA gallery scene, George suggests that you extend your reach to Figueroa, San Pedro and 1st streets, as well as Pico Boulevard. To see maps of downtown and the Arts District as a whole, check out the site for Experience LA.

DAC Gallery during a recent Art Walk night (photo courtesy of DAC Gallery)
DAC Gallery during a recent Art Walk night (photo courtesy of DAC Gallery)

The Walk officially runs from 12 noon to 10pm, but be aware that not all the galleries are open at the same time, and schedules can vary from month to month. Between 6pm and 10pm, the Walk is at its most lively and more galleries tend to be open; from 6pm on, the ideal starting point is the Art Walk Lounge (618 Spring Street) where you’ll find a self-guided tour map. If you want to skip the evening crowds, the largest number of galleries with daytime hours are open between 12 noon and 3 pm.

Live painting demo by artist Robert Vargas at the Downtown Art Mart
Live painting demo by artist Robert Vargas at the Downtown Art Mart

If you choose to drive to the Art Walk, prepare yourself for one-way streets, congested traffic and parking lots that charge $6-10 on average. A couple of other options to consider are taking the Red or Purple lines of the Metro Rail or a first-time free ride (up to $20) with Uber.

No matter how you arrive, enjoy yourself at the Downtown Art Walk!

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