An Embattled DTLA Gallery Is Building Something Big in Little Tokyo

Forced out of its Fashion District loft, Think Tank Gallery is cornering the market on immersive art in a new space

DIY artist collective Think Tank Gallery is set to open a new venue in Little Tokyo for immersive installations and other and experimental art and theater productions.


The group will hold a soft opening on January 5, curated by street-art syndicate Bloody Gums, to preview upcoming exhibits at the space. Some of the artists featured include neon-worker Ginger Q, photographer Willie Gomez, and painter-designer Teddy Kelly.

Event curator Jacob Patterson says the site will be dedicated to hosting the kind of exhibitions Think Tank has helped put on in recent years, including its month-long We Stole the Fire show in West Hollywood last summer and Scott Hove’s popular Break Bread installation in downtown Los Angeles.

“For a good period of time we felt like we were fighting for the throne of the immersive art experience in DTLA,” Patterson said. “[Now], we’re trying to build a permanent business model of a ticketed experience like Meow Wolf in Santa Fe.”

In the wake of the Ghost Ship Fire in Oakland, Think Tank was forced out of its original warehouse space in the Fashion District after receiving orders from the city to vacate the 17 artists living there illegally. Without live-in tenants to help cover lease payments, the collective began renting out the venue for separate events while hosting its own pop-up shows throughout the city.

The group also started a consulting business to help artists and promoters navigate the byzantine event permitting process in Los Angeles, which only became more difficult after Ghost Ship. It also founded Think Tank Creative Solutions to help land event sponsorships with brands including Vans, Stumptown Coffee, and Playboy.

The added revenue streams kept Think Tank afloat after the city stopped allowing events at its Fashion District space because of after-hours parties put on by its upstairs neighbors, Patterson says. That prompted the move to the new space, a former standing set for independent film shoots on the edge of Skid Row and Little Tokyo.

Patterson says the group aims to make the venue an affordable alternative to the hot-ticket installations designed primarily to capture the perfect Instagram pic. Think Tank’s first full exhibit, titled Nothing Cheesy, is a collaboration with streetwear collective Pizzaboyzzz that both embraces and critiques the pop-up craze. The show will be a riff on the Museum of Pizza exhibit that came to L.A. in October, asking whether artists often end up being exploited in this new selfie paradigm.

“We want to make something fun that people want to come to and then they stumble upon something meaningful,” Patterson said. “That’s the way we run our business and how we decide whether we do something or not. Can we inject something meaningful into this consumer experience?”

The soft opening will be held on Jan. 5 from 8-11 p.m. and Jan. 6 from 12-7 p.m. at 516 East 4th St.

RELATED: Here Are the Angelenos We’re Rooting for in 2019

Stay on top of the latest in L.A. food and culture. Sign up for our newsletters today.