How Two of L.A.’s Beloved Indie Arts Spaces Are Surviving the Pandemic

Junior High was forced to shutter its Hollywood location, but found a new home in Glendale. In La Puente, Bridgetown DIY struggles to hold on.

Junior High is an art and performance space–but calling it a “gallery” doesn’t quite capture what it means to the community that has grown around it.

“I try to describe Junior High as the feeling you get when you are with your best friend in her basement watching the same movie on loop for an entire weekend. When you laugh so hard your ribs hurt, and her mom feeds you because you live there just as much as her own daughter does. It’s a chosen family, where laughing and connection trump anything else you could possibly want out of life,” says founder Faye Orlove. 

Launched in 2015, Junior High describes its mission as “serving artists marginalized by cis-hetero patriarchy, capitalism, and white supremacy.” Its storefront on Hollywood Boulevard hosted gallery shows, workshops, and events that catered to those who rarely see themselves in the typical art world scene, particularly young people, and contained a retail space for branded Junior High goods and publications. For some, it became a kind of clubhouse.

“I choose to believe that the work we are doing is changing the world. I truly believe that each person who comes through the space leaves feeling like they were meant to be there, just as they are. That they are celebrated for what makes them feel weird, or different, or out of place.”

Orlove says she picked the Hollywood space for its central location and access to public transit, and for its affordability. But over the years, the neighborhood around Junior High continued to gentrify–a process Orlove concedes her gallery likely played a role in–and rents increased.

“The area changed in kinda heartbreaking ways,” she says. “Little mom-and-pop shops were turned into bougie food spots. In a way it was nice, there was more to eat and everyone was friendly, but I was worried about the small POC business owners. It wasn’t all bad, a little WOC-owned flower shop opened across the street, and the Thai food place next to it was always thriving, but I definitely saw an influx of a Silver Lake-y type crowd.”

She began thinking about moving to a new location, but before that came to pass, the pandemic hit. While Junior High derives some money from magazine and merch sales, the bulk of the organization’s income came from selling tickets to events. Amid the shutdown, that revenue evaporated. Orlove could no longer pay rent.

“I reached out to the landlord about rent forgiveness, or even offering a discounted rate. He let us pay half rent for two months, April and May, but was adamant about paying the full $3,000 per month for the space after that.”

With no information about when gatherings and events might be able to resume and a year left on the lease, Orlove made a tough call. She and her team moved everything out of the space and into storage, broke the lease early, and forfeited the security deposit.

Seeing the space vacant for the last eight or nine months has been so brutal. Like, he could have just let us stay there until it was safe to resume operations. Instead, it just sat empty,” Orlove says now. “Anyway, lawyers got involved and settled things via wordy letters back and forth. It sucked. I cried loads on the day we moved out of the space. It was surreal because when we moved in there I was completely alone, and when we moved out there were a ton of people helping. It was really surreal for me, recognizing the love for Junior High that existed as we piled four years of memories into boxes.”

This month, after sitting vacant for almost a year, it was announced that the space has been leased to a new tenant, restaurateur Steve Livigni. Livigni operates Flaco, a restaurant in the space next to what was Junior High, and intends to turn the former gallery space into a companion concept. Livigni tells Los Angeles he has been in contact with Junior High to explore the possibility of a collaboration, perhaps allowing them to display art in the storefront windows in advance of the build-out or holding some type of event together once the new restaurant is open, though Orlove, who learned of the flip only after it was posted on Instagram, says she was only contacted by Livigni amid the reporting of this story.

While it may have spelled an early end for the Hollywood Boulevard storefront, Junior High has found a way to weather the pandemic. Junior High has stayed active and engaged with its community online, through social media and podcasts, an online book club, charity projects, and its magazine.

And, soon, there will be a new clubhouse where this “chosen family” can reunite. Orlove found a new home for Junior High, this time in Glendale. If all goes according to plan, it will open to the public in mid-May.

“We cannot wait to get back to hosting events IRL, open-mouth kissing, and balmy nights with body heat that makes our windows fog,” she says. 

Not all of L.A.’s art and performance spaces may have Junior High’s ability to land on their feet post-pandemic. Erica Estelle of Bridgetown DIY in La Puente says the closure of their small, volunteer-run space has “dealt a critical blow” to the organization’s finances.

Patreon donations from supporters and a couple of small grants have helped them scrape together enough money to stave off eviction–but, with indoor events and performances still not scheduled to reopen, it isn’t clear how much longer they can survive. Strapped resources and a lack of volunteers even forced Bridgetown to scale back the mutual aid programs and food and supply drives it staged earlier in the pandemic.

Unfortunately, towards the end of the year, we had a number of break-ins and issues with vandalization,” Estelle says, leaving them saddled not only with back rent but also costs associated with repairs. Any additional expenses or a lengthy wait to resume concerts could be disastrous for the project.

Still, Estelle says she thinks there is hope that Bridgetown DIY will return whenever indoor concerts and events are allowed.

“We recently decided to put a call out looking for anyone willing to participate in an on-going clean up and revitalization of the space in anticipation of restarting programming and, eventually, hosting events when it is safe to do so,” she says. “So far we have seen an increase in volunteers who are eager to continue serving our community when the time comes.”

Like Junior High, Bridgetown DIY offered a space for art and community that found little other outlet–and which many are eager to return to as soon as possible.

Bridgetown DIY’s intent from the very beginning was to provide a space to both learn and educate through activism, art, solidarity, and their various intersections, which translates to an increased quality of life for our community,” Estelle says. “Without spaces like ours, many may lose the opportunity to build solidarity and community with others, which would be tragic given our current political and social climate.”

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