After nearly a year of wondering whether they would have a home for their artistic and literary performances, the board of directors of Beyond Baroque can rest easy.
The widely recognized cultural arts center, which for 29 of its 40 years has made its home at 681 N. Venice Blvd., signed a 25-year lease with the City of Los Angeles on December 22nd.
The new agreement stipulates that Beyond Baroque must also share the building with L.A. Theatre Works, a 35-year old theater company that produces and preserves dramatic works of art on audio.
The leases were signed in the West Los Angeles office of City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, completing an eight-month wait endured by the Beyond Baroque board of directors, who feared at one time that they might lose their home of nearly three decades.
“The lease maps out the spaces the two organizations currently occupy and sets this structure in place for two and a half decades,” Beyond Baroque executive director Fred Dewey said following the lease signing. “That means preserving our theater, bookstore, archive, gallery, offices, and closets. [The theater group] preserves its offices, the tower room and a storage room.”
The news that a new long-term lease had been signed thrilled Grace Godlin, a newly appointed board member of the venerable arts institution.
“I have been an admirer for decades,” Godlin, a Venice resident, said in a recent interview. “Under Fred Dewey’s leadership, Beyond Baroque has continued to be a steward for the literary arts.”
Rosendahl said, “These leases guarantee both of them access and the use of that building for the next 25 years.”
Well-known Venice artist, painter and sculptor Laddie John Dill said he is happy that the longtime poetry and performing arts venue will be in Venice for at least another 25 years.
“That’s great news,” said Dill. “Beyond Baroque is another of the cornerstones of the artistic scene in Venice.”
Dill noted that it was important to keep the artistic institutions that Venice is known for intact due to the fact that the eclectic enclave has recently lost a number of legendary figures, including poet Philomene Long in April 2007 and sculptor Robert Graham in December 2008, in addition to the potential loss of leases for various entities.
“When you define Venice, you can’t help but mention Bob Graham,” he said.
Representatives from the theater company expressed satisfaction that the long-term rental agreement had been signed.
“It’s a big help to us to have a lease now,” Douglas Jeffe, L.A. Theatre Works board president, told The Argonaut from London after the lease was signed.
Beyond Baroque had been lobbying for an extended lease for several years before reaching an agreement with city officials in Febru- ary. But four months later, as the poetry and writers venue approached its 40th anniversary, Dewey and other board members began to worry that they might not be as safe as they once thought.
“I’m surprised that there is an institution with this much public support in Venice and in the artistic community and this [lease] still has not been wrapped up,” Beyond Baroque’s executive director said during an interview in July.
Because L.A. Theatre Works shares the building with Beyond Baroque and also wanted a long-term lease, it was necessary to iron out the particular needs and uses that each tenant has for the building. In addition, with fewer rental spaces available on the Westside, city officials are seeking to make optimal use of existing structures.
“The city is the landlord, and as a good landlord we should do the best we can to maximize this space for the best public use,” Rosendahl pointed out.
The new leases also spell out the guidelines that each organization must conform to, which, according to the councilman, is best for all parties.
“We’ve worked out the issues between them, we worked out the issues that give them accountability to the city, including transparency of their books, expenses [and] the repairs of the building,” Rosendahl said. “We felt that all of these issues that were put into the agreement were important from a public policy standpoint.”
Rosendahl is confident that the partnership between the two entities will be successful and amicable.
“With a 25-year lease, both groups can now do the fundraising outreaches they need to do and put together the programs that they so rightly believe in,” he said. “They have to learn, and I think that they will, to cooperate with each other.”
“I’m sure that there will be a workable relationship with L.A. Theatre Works,” she said.
Jeffe sees an amicable partnership between his organization and Beyond Baroque as well.
“We’re in the business of producing quality theater, not in the rental market,” Jeffe said. “We’ve been coexisting and sharing the building for several years, so I don’t believe that there will be any problems. We’ve been good stewards to the building and we are committed to paying our way in public service.”
Rosendahl, who once lived in Venice, feels that the community, which has long been a haven for poets, artists, writers and residents who prefer an eclectic lifestyle, will greatly benefit from having both organizations there.
“My position has strongly been that a literary group like Beyond Baroque, which is so unique and special, needs to control some space,” Rosendahl explained. “I was determined to make sure that they would be able to control that space.
“This is a good lease for the community that believes in Beyond Baroque and L.A. Theatre Works.”
Godlin, who read her play A Night With the Barbarians at Beyond Baroque prior to joining its board, characterized the literary institution as one of the few places in Los Angeles that nurtures budding writers and poets.
“I can’t tell you how invaluable that is for emerging writers,” she said. “It’s the only institution of its kind that’s free [and] that promotes the literary arts.”
Dewey reflected on the last several months of negotiations with the city and how grateful he is that Beyond Baroque will remain in Venice, especially during such a turbulent time in the nation.
“It has been a long, arduous struggle and it is now over, with a much-sought-after and favorable conclusion for Beyond Baroque,” he concluded. “It is probably, given the [economic] climate, nothing short of a miracle, and just in time.”