"I Am," It Said: The Saving of Public Barnsdall

Marlan Warren guest-blogs for Arts for LA



Guest blogger Marlan Warren talks about her experiences with the Barnsdall Art Park campaign, and what the future might hold for the beloved cultural facilities.





I came to the Save Barnsdall Art Park campaign the way I came to most things in my life: late. Married late, divorced late, graduated late, and embarked on a film career at the same age Aline Barnsdall was when she hired Frank Lloyd Wright to design an artists compound on her Hollywood property on Olive Hill.

What I’ve learned so far is that when it comes to activism, late is better than never.

Recently I returned to L.A. and landed in Little Armenia/Thai Town near Barnsdall Art Park. A longtime Tai Chi practitioner, I soon discovered the park’s serene nature and artistic ambience is perfect for centering oneself and jumpstarting “flow.” In the 90s, I’d visited the park once for a free festival that included a Hollyhock House tour, outdoor movie, and gallery show, but its charm failed to "stick." At the time, it struck me as a fun place, but as aloof as pheasant under glass.

Barnsdall Art ParkThis time around its charm grabbed me. Early mornings at Barnsdall are enchanted. The scent of the pine grove greets you while birds call. If you get there early enough, you might glimpse an older couple eating breakfast at a table facing the sunrise. In January of this year, after I had finished Tai Chi, someone called to me. He wanted to tell me that the City could no longer afford to solely maintain the facilities, and that Barnsdall had been placed on a Request for Proposals list that could lead to private ownership.

"They were going to lock the gates," he said, "at the end of last year."

That moved me. Just the thought of not being able to come into the park whenever I wanted seemed so unfair. An Asian couple walked by and waved. He waved back, "They know. They support us."

I decided to get involved. Attended a few meetings, wrote a couple blog pieces, and even spoke at the last City Council meeting. Marginal involvement . But it is involvement that makes or breaks any cause, right? Nobody can deny that it was community involvement that finally pushed the Los Angeles City Council to unanimously vote to remove Barnsdall from the RFP list.

So far nobody has asked if I’d like an orange “Save Barnsdall” t-shirt. And that’s okay. Nevertheless, what screams as loudly as an orange shirt at an LACC meeting is the movement’s need to widen its base of supporters to include more neighborhood residents for this next round. To make Barnsdall Art Park a household name among the neighbors it towers over. To let them know how accessible it is. Not just for art or artists or theater, but for the pleasure of all. Yes, it’s true that there are no barbecue grills and sports on the lawn is verboten, but for that there will always be Griffith Park.

This next round is all about finding non-City public funds to keep the facilities going. It will require meetings, ideas, proposals of the non-RFP kind, and momentum from community support and action. To find out about meetings related to this issue and how you can get involved (no matter what side of the RFP issue you might find yourself on), check out these Facebook community pages:

Contemporary Cave Painting, Barnsdall Art Park; Arts for LA blog The Barnsdall Alliance
Advocates for public space and access. Posts documents and questions relevant to City Hall’s process.

Save Barnsdall 
Advocates of public spaces and access. Posts updates and meeting opportunities.

Barnsdall Gallery Theatre
One of four Barnsdall facilities run by Department of Cultural Affairs. Posts related news along with theater event updates.

Barnsdall Art Park
A centralized site run by the non-profit Barnsdall Art Park Foundation that keeps the community informed of news and events being held at each of the park’s venues.

This is a good start. However, the success Barnsdall 2011 wishes for itself requires relentless public relations on a grand scale. Not just a Save Barnsdall "campaign" but—dare I say it?—a P.R. campaign. To prove to Barnsdall's neighbors why they should care in the first place. I bet if you walk down Hollywood Boulevard and ask folks where Barnsdall Art Park is, most wouldn't have a clue.

That’s good news for people like me who long for the peace and quiet mostly enjoyed by hermits in the upper mountainous regions of China. But not great news when you need a public art park facility to gather momentum as a force that deserves public funding.

Obscurity is fine for some endeavors. Like, say, the lives of hermits. When it comes to activism though, a joyful noise gets the most grease. Barnsdall Art Park needs to stand up and shout to all its neighbors, "I AM HERE FOR YOU AND I NEED YOUR HELP." As a line from the "Contemporary Cave Painting" mural on one of Barnsdall’s walls states:

“All people ancient and contemporary yearn to leave their mark. Everyone needs to say:  I AM.”



Marlan Warren is a Los Angeles journalist, novelist, playwright and filmmaker. She hosts two blogs on Open Salon ("Swimming in the Experience Lane") and Blogger ("L.A. Now and Then"). A graduate of USC film school, she is currently producing a documentary about activist Yuri Kochiyama, based on her play "Bits of Paradise" that was produced at San Francisco’s Marsh Theatre in '08. She is also the author of "Naked Roadmaps for the Sexually Challenged."

Barnsdall Park

I must really be out of the loop.  I moved from North New Hampshire down Vermont about 4 blocks and got on the internet today and find out Barnsdall Park is in danger of closing.

I used to go there to a poetry workshop, and I've attended Shakespeare in the Park (with helicopter 'voice-overs') for the past 4 or 5 years. 

Oh, well, no one cares about my specifics.  The thing is: I never thought about it being closed up.  We're going to turn into cement garden gnomes without someplace green with trees -- and I don't mean Vermont Avenue (with those feisty gigantic fica trees).

I wonder out of whose mouth in particular this bad idea issued?

Because it's a bad idea.

Keep Barnsdall Park open, for heaven's sake.

Barnsdall Studio Classes

Please, please do not cancel the Studio Arts program!!!

There are few, if none at all, alternatives to these inspiring courses, that not only educate but bring very different populations of the city together--to share their passions.


-creative outlets

-stress valves

-brings together different ages, neighborhoods, ethnicities that ordinarily would not experience each other


Do not wipe out arts education everywhere!!!!!


art matters

brava for writing this! you are helping the PR campaign. 

art matters

Thank you. I'm tryijng. Hopefully more will do the same.