Op Ed: The Destruction of Bergamot Arts Center is Fake News


An overhead view of Bergamot Station Arts Center with the city-owned parcel outlined in red.

Bergamot Arts Center has been a vital part of the arts fabric of Santa Monica since its inception in the 1990s. On Tuesday night, the Santa Monica City Council will be asked to look at a proposal for Bergamot Arts Center that ensures galleries and other cultural uses have affordable space in the City of Santa Monica for generations to come.

Amid the fervent public debate on this topic, an insidious introduction of “alternate facts” has clouded the issue. Contrary to statements made by people who oppose change at Bergamot, the proposal before the City Council will not only ensure that Bergamot continues to be a central part of the cultural fabric of our city, it will add new artistic uses and opportunities designed to help whittle away the cultural deficit that currently exists in the city.

It is an accepted fact that the cost of real estate in Santa Monica is prohibitive to the arts. We are a virtual gated community to artists and presenters. Artists and art presenters alike agree that the conversation about space for the arts in Santa Monica mirrors the national debate on housing and healthcare: There may be access to space, but without subsidies from the City, the costs make it impossible to attain.

It is a fact that rents will continue to rise in Santa Monica.  Yet, the Santa Monica City Council, Arts Commission and Cultural Affairs staff have ensured that the five-acre city-owned parcel has a density lower than any other commercial property in the city. The rents at Bergamot are projected to stay below $2.00 per square foot through 2022, and rent increases will be held to an average of five cents a square foot per year.

So where does this jejune premise that Santa Monica wants to destroy the arts come from? Why have so many “alternate facts” been interjected into this debate?

In 2014, when redevelopment of Bergamot was discussed, many of us in the arts community felt that the cultural-arts deficit in the city was so dire that we needed a plan for Bergamot that solved the problem immediately. Some questioned subsidizing for-profit galleries on public land when valuable non-profits like The Santa Monica Museum of Art and The Virginia Ave Project were hanging by a thread.

This lead to a paradigm where art makers and presenters began to cannibalize each other over who deserved affordable space. But this unfortunate division created an unexpected opportunity.

With the development process slowed down, stakeholders were able to engage each other in public discourse.  After much deliberation, an approach was crafted that we believe honors and protects Bergamot’s past while planning for its future.

The Santa Monica Arts Commission has taken several unanimous actions that honor the gallery culture at Bergamot Arts Center and ensure that artists, non-profits and performing arts groups  have the space and opportunity to not just survive but thrive for years to come.

Additionally, the Arts Commission and the Arts Commission’s Bergamot Ad-Hoc Committee have sought to make Bergamot Arts Center a more diverse environment where every resident  of Santa Monica feels welcome and has the opportunity to experience artistic fulfillment and enjoyment.

There is currently 55,000 square feet of gallery space at Bergamot. The Plan moving forward calls for a total of 99,800 square feet of dedicated arts space, with over 83,000 square feet of that total made available at rates that would be deemed affordable.

Here are the highlights of the Arts Commission recommendations made to council with respect to the gallery culture:

  1. All current galleries will be offered a lease extension.
  2. Rents and fees associated with a triple-net lease shall increase no more than the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
  3. Tenants who have lost their leases due to the recent sale of Bergamot Two Art Space shall have priority leasing opportunities of the affordable arts space as it comes available.

It is a generally accepted fact that Bergamot Arts Center is a unique and special part of our city. It must be preserved and enhanced. That’s why there have been so many community meetings, public hearings and private debates and discussions.

Great art is made possible by a commitment and dedication to presenting the truth. An Art Center that serves ALL of Santa Monica will only be achievable if we follow that very same premise.

We hope this will continue to be the case as the process moves forward.

Michael R. Myers, Chair, Santa Monica Arts Commission
Phil Brock, Santa Monica Arts Commission -Bergamot Ad Hoc Committee
Ed Horowitz, Santa Monica Arts Commission -Bergamot Ad Hoc Committee
Michael J. Masucci, Santa Monica Arts Commission- Bergamot Ad Hoc Committee
Laurie Yehia, Santa Monica Arts Commission- Bergamot Ad Hoc Committee


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