Away from the glitz of Rodeo Drive and the hills of Hollywood, lies a hodgepodge of sprawling vacant lots in Downtown LA. Dubbed DTLA by the locals, the past few decades have seen a slow transformation of the scrappy streets into a fashionable cluster of pop-up bars, restaurants and independent galleries.
Venture down and you’ll find roads are wide and tired, criss-crossed with abandoned tram lines, and trimming vacant lots of bitumen and desolate warehouses. Look a little closer and you’ll discover a young community sprouting. This is a suburb shifting to a new identity.
In decades past DTLA was occupied by artists, filmmakers and iconic personalities. It seems this tradition of bohemian living is back. Lofts are being renovated into AirBNB rentals and Brooklyn style homes, breathing new life into old facades. Money is being pumped into this district to make it a “museum mile”. One of the biggest contemporary galleries, MOCA, has moved into the hood, as has the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Music and culture is taking root again.
As new developers scramble to join the pulse of DTLA, travellers should head there now to savour the low-key, familial feel of the arts district gallery scene. Young creatives have grabbed affordable, dusty shop-fronts and booming factory spaces, transforming them into no-rules art hubs. These experimental spaces offer emerging artists a place to showcase their talents, and even though most of the indie galleries are hard to find, they’re close enough to hop between a couple at a time.
Four indie galleries in particular, are making their mark in the art world. Time your visit for opening nights and you’ll witness a relaxed kinship between up and coming talent, young art lovers and budding entrepreneurs.
#1 Night Gallery
Where: 2276 E 16th St, Los Angeles
As the name suggests, this artist run gallery is open very late. Known for daring intern shows and installations, Night Gallery is housed in a cavernous industrial factory near the “wrong” side of town. Run by two female gallerists with an instinct for art trends, this is as much a social space as it is a gallery. Opening nights turn into huge, sprawling parties overflowing into nearby car parks and back streets.
#2 Francois Ghebaly Gallery
Where: 2245 E Washington Blvd, Los Angeles
The Ghebaly space is the equally impressive neighbour to Night Gallery. Don’t be fooled by the posh name. Shows here are street-wise and exciting, with French-focused curators encouraging inventiveness with exhibit layouts. Shows at the Ghebaly envelope the senses and transform their echoing maze of rooms into a visual delight. Time your visit here with a Night Gallery opening for a double whammy of socialising.
#3 Wilding Cran
Where: 939 S Santa Fe Ave, Los Angeles
Originally a virtual space selling artwork online, owners and art advocates Anthony Cran and Naomi deLuce Wilding, couldn’t skip the chance to set up a brick and mortar gallery in DTLA’s affordable zone. Representing select international artists spanning contemporary photography, painting and conceptual art, this gallery has two adjoining exhibition spaces for you to discover. Their engaging shows often include multiple artists exhibiting under a central theme.
#4 Harmony Murphy Gallery
Where: 679 S Santa Fe Ave, Los Angeles
Gal about town, Harmony Murphy, is a writer and art critic with a solid career in art research. Her newish gallery has an earnest but relaxed feel. Openings often draw locals with dogs, children and homemade brews in tow. It’s another giant space revived in the heart of the district, for shows that capture the pulse of young artists. Spanning 185 square metres, spend time in the sunny outdoor exhibit space often filled with sculpture or interactive displays.