In the heart of Lincoln Heights, northeast of the downtown L.A.'s arts district, lies the largest art colony in the world. Easy to miss from the road, the Brewery Art Colony is a thriving, eclectic community that, as the name suggests, was once the old Eastside and Pabst Blue Ribbon breweries.
The Carlson family bought the Brewery in 1979 as an industrial rental property. In 1982, the Artist-in-Residence code was passed in Los Angeles, meaning artists could live and work in industrial buildings, so the family decided to put an ad in the paper for its first “artist loft." The phone rang off the hook, and there was a line around the block. The family realized that they were onto something and immediately began the decade-plus-long process of converting the entire property into artist lofts. The Carlsons still own and manage the Brewery to this day, and though the Artist-in-Residence code has changed substantially through the years, they still only rent to artists.
In July 1997, the LA Weekly called The Brewery "the world's largest artist-in-residence community" and in a March 1999 Los Angeles Times article, the Brewery was quoted as the "world's largest art complex. With 23 buildings covering 16 acres, it's easy to understand why. The industrial buildings are the basis of what is a vibrant and creative community space filled with 500 artists.
The Brewery Artwalk is a free public arts event that allows artists at the Brewery to open their studios to the community. It's been going for 32 years, and more than 100 participating artists join in the twice-yearly event. All members of the public are welcome to view the artists' work, meet the artists and purchase work.
President of the Artwalk and Brewery Art Colony resident Kristine Schomaker is a new media and performance artist and painter and has been living in the Brewery for three years. She loves her unique loft: “My space is over 100 years old and used to be a gumball machine factory." The artistic community makes it a living space like no other, she explains. “There's nowhere else that has this kind of community — my neighbors have my key and vice versa. If I need paint, I can ask the neighbors".
Kristine shares a loft with Wini Johnson Brewer, a 71-year-old working artist who's lived in the Brewery with her husband Bill Leigh Brewer, a photographer, since 1984. “We have lived all over the Brewery, we've had big lofts and now I have my little nest here with Kristine." Despite having a 1,000-square-foot studio in the Californian desert, Winnie says the Brewery keeps her inspired and active. “I really need the Brewery energy. It's like vitamins. We feed off of each other."
The ages of artists in residence is vast, ranging from 18 through to the 80s, including acclaimed painter and sculptor Roland Reiss, whose work has been seen at the Whitney Museum of American Art and at Documenta in Kassel, Germany. But it's not just artists that live at the Brewery: architecture firms, photo labs, galleries, furniture makers, writers, professors, and a restaurant and bar are all within the grounds — as well as a gym complete with a rock climbing wall! Kristine says the sense of creativity and community at the Brewery is unparalleled.
“I can't imagine living anywhere else", she says, “I think I'll live here for the rest of my life."
The Brewery Artwalk is from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 25 and 26, 2014. Admission and parking is free. For more information, visit the Brewery Artwalk website (www.breweryartwalk.com).