Former art studio receives historic monument status

Wave Staff and Wire Reports

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles City Council has unanimously designated social justice advocate and artist Sister Mary Corita Kent’s former studio a historic cultural monument.

The building, located at 5518 Franklin Ave. in Hollywood, becomes one of a handful of sites affiliated with women to be designated for cultural or historical significance in Los Angeles. According to the Los Angeles Conservancy, 3% of the city’s historic cultural monuments are “associated with women’s heritage.”

Corita Art Center Director Nellie Scott called the designation “one critical step in redressing this disparity.”

“This work to uphold the legacies of women artists and cultural leaders is ongoing in Los Angeles and across the U.S.,” she said. “Corita reminds us that hope is not just optimism; hope is hard work. Hope means showing up every day for others. As we turn the corner from this pandemic, we will need spaces like the one at 5518 Franklin Avenue.”

The Corita Art Center applied for the designation after learning of a developer’s plan to demolish the studio. The center partnered with architectural historian Kathryn Wollan, Hollywood Heritage and the Los Angeles Conservancy to apply for the designation.

With a historic cultural monument designation, city law allows the commission to formally object to the issuance of a demolition permit, delaying the demolition for up to 180 days, plus another possible 180-day extension, if approved by the City Council, to allow for time to preserve the monument, according to the city Planning Department.

The Cultural Heritage Commission voted unanimously last Dec. 17 to recommend the designation for the Kent studio.

We hope that this designation, in all that it symbolizes, will inspire present and future generations to use their talents, time and tools for the greater collective good, and will ensure that those ethos are not only valued but recognized locally and nationally,” Scott said.

The commission found that the studio met two of the categories for designation: the studio’s association with the Pop Art Movement in L.A. in the 1960s “exemplifies significant contributions to the broad cultural, economic or social history of the nation, state or community;” and as the studio of Sister Mary Corita Kent, it “is associated with the lives of historic personages important to national, state, city or local history.”

The commission noted that Kent was an American pop artist surrounded by mostly male contemporaries, like Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Edward Ruscha, Robert Indiana and David Hockney. The commission added that Kent used her studio to “create pop art serigraphs with religious and activist overtones from everyday sources such as newspapers, signage, advertisements and billboards, pushing the boundaries of art making and helping to shape a distinctly Los Angeles identity in the art world.”

City Councilman Mitch O’Farrell supported the designation of Kent’s former studio as a historic cultural monument.

“This designation not only acknowledges Corita’s important legacy in Los Angeles, it elevates the stories of female artists, whose contributions have too often gone unsung,” O’Farrell said. “Corita Kent was a champion for women’s rights, equity and social justice, and the impact of her body of artistic work continues to loom large in Los Angeles and beyond.

Born Frances Elizabeth Kent in Fort Dodge, Iowa, in 1918, she moved with her family to Hollywood in 1923. She graduated from Los Angeles Catholic Girls’ High School (now Bishop Conaty-Our Lady of Lourdes) in 1938 and entered the Order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, taking sister Mary Corita Kent as her religious name.

She attended Immaculate Heart College, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1941 and obtained a teaching job in British Columbia.

She returned to Immaculate Heart College in 1947 as a faculty member in the art department, and began screen printing. She continued teaching at Immaculate Heart College, becoming chair of the art department in 1964.

She became interested in the pop art medium after seeing an Andy Warhol exhibit at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles and soon began turning out pop art prints that brought her national recognition.

In 1968, she took a sabbatical to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and at the end of the sabbatical announced she was leaving the Immaculate Heart of Mary Order.

She moved to Boston in 1970 and was living in Boston when she died of cancer in 1986.

The Immaculate Heart of Mary community, which received her unsold works and copyrights when she died, opened the Corita Art Center in 1997.

Since then it has facilitated hundreds of exhibitions of Corita’s work, overseen her images rights, sold her prints and developed educational programs based on her methods and work.