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Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk hires Joe Moller as executive director

The already heavily attended monthly Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk just got a little bit bigger — by one person, to be exact.

Today the 6-year-old nonprofit organization that puts on the event announced the appointment of the first full-time, salaried executive director: Joe Moller.

Moller, 36 and a Southern California native, works as an event producer and lives in the historic core of downtown L.A. His company, Joe Moller Events, has a client list that’s as varied as Dr. Dre and OfficeMax, and he’s produced events for the Hollywood Film Festival, Outfest, the Hammer Museum and the Santa Monica Place mall, among others.

Moller, who uses his bike as a primary means of transportation within downtown, has received multiple event industry awards, including one for environmentally responsible design

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“I was really excited about being part of the process of Art Walk that has had such a positive impact on the downtown area,” says Moller. “To me, the Art Walk by nature is about longevity and sustainability and community.”

Art Walk Board Chairman David Hernand says that finding the right candidate was tricky. “This is not an easy position to fill because it’s a blend of arts, community events, event planning, and it’s a nonprofit. Finding someone who has experience in all those areas was the ideal. And that’s what we found in Joe,” he says, adding that Moller is “a pretty young, dynamic, energetic guy.”

Moller’s position was made possible with seed funding of about $200,000 that was pledged to Art Walk in October by eight property owners in the historic downtown and Old Bank districts, brought together by developer Tom Gilmore. Some of that money will also go toward office space, an assistant for Moller, marketing, and other administrative and logistical costs, says Hernand. Moller will report to the board and meet with local gallery owners, representatives from the downtown business improvement districts, nearby residents — “all the constituencies that have a voice in Art Walk,” Hernand says.

One of his goals in his first year, Moller said, is to "…secure corporate sponsorships that would allow us to be self-funded; also to reinvigorate the relationships with business owners and building owners and gallery owners … and to seek out and communicate with [groups] who may not be attending the Art Walk but might be interested.”

Moller is taking the helm of a somewhat unsteady ship. The popular event, held the second Thursday of the month, has doubled in size every year since its launch in 2004. The summer of 2009 saw about 10,000 attendees; the event drew up to 20,000 people at its peak last summer.

But the organization found itself tangled in controversy in September, with critics arguing it had devolved into a street party that was more about alcohol than art. A lack of funding for security, cleanup and other logistics put the organization’s future in doubt until the property owners’ pledge was secured on Oct. 1.

“Everyone wants Art Walk to continue under their own direction,” says Moller. “As opposed to all these fragmented parties sitting down together and congealing their visions and moving forward in a unified manner. One of the things I’m optimistic about being able to achieve is better communication between our stakeholders.”

Based on its growth pattern, Art Walk could draw up to 40,000 attendees next summer. Hernand isn’t concerned. “Having a professional full-time staff is going to help a lot with managing the logistics related to Art Walk, including cleanup, safety and promotion,” he says. The organization also has plans to expand its geographic footprint, in order to spread out the dense crowd, by extending into the business corridors on Grand, Flower and Figueroa.

Wednesday the board also announced new partnerships with The Times’ Brand X and LA Canvas magazine, both of which will distribute gallery maps each month. Hernand says he’s also speaking with MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch about further integrating the museum into Art Walk nights. One example would be running shuttles from downtown’s historic core to the Geffen Contemporary in Little Tokyo and MOCA’s main campus on Grand Avenue.

But overall, says Hernand, Moller’s challenge will be less about changing Art Walk’s direction and more about realizing a vision that already exists. With a full-time executive director, says Hernand, “I feel like we are finally going to be able to do the things we’ve talked about doing for the last year and a half — and that we can finally grow up as an organization.”

deborah.vankin@latimes.com


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