Laid-off Marciano Art Foundation workers find their next target: Olivia Marciano

LAXart Director Hamza Walker receives a letter from former Marciano Art Foundation workers, who were laid off last week. The letter requests that the foundation's artistic director, Olivia Marciano, be removed from the LAXart board if she does not address the workers' questions.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

About 20 Marciano Art Foundation staff members who had been part of a mass layoff last week, only four days after announcing plans to unionize, gathered Friday at Shakey’s Pizza in Hollywood. And they were hungry. But it wasn’t the all-you-can-eat buffet they were craving. This group was ravenous for answers.

“The lack of communication is frustrating. We’re totally in the dark,” said Eli Petzold, a Marciano visitor services associate on the union organizing committee. “So we’re putting on pressure for public comment.”

The specific target on this day: Marciano Artistic Director Olivia Marciano.

The employees, all dressed in black, walked across the street to deliver a letter to LAXart, the nonprofit exhibition and programming space where Olivia Marciano sits on the board. The workers said Marciano Art Foundation’s abrupt closure and layoff of employees was in direct opposition to the nonprofit LAXart’s socially conscious mission, which states, in part, “that contemporary art is a means of understanding key issues of our time.”

Workers abuptly laid off from the Marciano Art Foundation workers bring their protest at LAXart.
Workers abruptly laid off from the Marciano Art Foundation bring their protest to LAXart.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

“LAXart is a small nonprofit. We want to uplift them; we don’t want to hurt them,” Petzold said. “But what happened at MAF was not OK. Firing your employees for simply asking for a living wage is not consistent with the social issues of our time. So we’re asking for Olivia to speak up.”


The Marciano employees carried signs that read “Silence = Complicity” and “Girls just wanna have Financial $tability.” A stunned Chris Oliveria, LAXart’s chief art preparator, answered the door, eyes wide. He quickly summoned LAXart Director Hamza Walker, who listened intently as 25-year-old Izzy Johnson read the group’s letter aloud.

“As an ambassador for the art world, why isn’t Olivia standing by her employees and the public to ensure that a space like the Marciano Art Foundation remains open, protects workers’ rights, welcomes in the art community?” she read.

The letter urged LAXart, which had no direct affiliation with the Marciano Art Foundation, to “hold Olivia accountable by urging her to reopen the Marciano Art Foundation, reinstate all of the laid off employees and recognize our union.” If she did not, the group wanted LAXart to remove her from the board.

Former workers from the Marciano Art Foundation pose for a group portrait before heading off to LAXart. Their former artistic director, Olivia Marciano, sits on the board of the nonprofit LAXart.
Former workers from the Marciano Art Foundation pose for a group portrait before heading to LAXart. Their former artistic director, Olivia Marciano, sits on the board of the nonprofit LAXart.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Walker listened and nodded.

“Thank you for coming,” he said. “I’m delightfully shocked. You guys — I respect your position.” He added that he would look into the issue.

“I can’t say I’m not sympathetic,” he said. “I run a nonprofit art space, just trying to keep it afloat and keep a hospitable back of the house.”

Afterward, Walker told The Times he sympathizes with the workers but doesn’t see Olivia Marciano’s involvement with LAXart as a conflict.

The future of the Marciano Art Foundation, which opened in 2017 as a home for Guess co-founders Paul and Maurice Marciano’s art collection, remains a mystery. A day after the Nov. 5 layoffs, the foundation told The Times it would be “closed to the public until further notice,” citing low attendance at the free museum. The next day, the museum said it had “no present plans to reopen.”

The foundation did not respond to The Times’ inquiry about the closure and its request for comment from Olivia Marciano.