Tucked within an open-air urban center along Downtown’s iconic Seventh Street corridor, a sanctuary is being built. The collection of curated shops, artisans, premier retailers, restaurants and bars known as The Bloc lies at the convergence of the financial, fashion, jewelry and theater districts, and will become the new home of nonprofit DTLA Proud’s A.R.T. Community Center.
As an organization that’s sought to empower the LGBTQ+ community of Downtown Los Angeles, DTLA Proud is looking to expand its reach and celebrate the city’s diversity through the opening of A.R.T., which stands for Accessibility, Representation, Thrive.
“We are so fortunate to have Rhe Bloc support and sponsor us,” said Oliver Alpuche, founder, board member and president of DLTA Proud. “They’ve been a longtime sponsor of DTLA Proud throughout the years, and this year a conversation started. They were so excited, and we were able to broker the deal of getting a space.
“It represents is a lot more than just the space itself, because if you think of The Bloc, it’s a mall with everyone coming together and we would have 365 days of representation just by being in the space. We have visibility. We have people that might be questioning, or don’t even know, who will have some familiarity or access to this space. And the accessibility of it is amazing because it’s literally at the entrance of a Metro stop.”
Set to open by the end of the year at 700 W. Seventh Street, the community center will provide year-round programming while offering a safe and welcoming environment and active gallery for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
DTLA Proud made the announcement from the main stage of the DTLA Proud Festival over the weekend. Held every year since 2016, the festival began as a block party celebrating the growth of the LGBTQ+ community in Downtown.
“We realized very quickly that there was a lot of talent that never had the opportunity to perform on a stage,” Alpuche recalled. “So, as we were organizing our block party, we invited everyone to participate and it really started for the community, by the community. It blossomed into what DTLA Proud is today, and it shined the light on the fact that there is a missing need within our community for accessibility and representation.”
Growing up in Highland Park, Alpuche himself would take a two-hour bus ride to access any LGBTQ+ resources, with the nearest being in West Hollywood.
“That is a very lonely feeling,” Alpuche described. “How do you find comfort within yourself when you don’t have any accessible space to be comfortable in?”
Alpuche and the team at DTLA Proud not only wanted to create a comfortable space but to also curate programs that are specific to the Downtown community’s needs.
“We realized we needed to open up a center in the heart of Los Angeles, in the heart of Downtown,” Alpuche explained. “Our goal is to have an entire building full of resources that is extremely visible within Downtown where we could have a theater space, dance rehearsals, we could house different nonprofits within the upper floors to provide services, a coffee shop … all these things. A.R.T. is our launching space. It’s where we’re able to connect with the community.
“It’s crucial not only to the Downtown community but the surrounding area. Downtown is so centrally located. You have East LA, Boyle Heights, Highland Park, El Sereno, Eagle Rock. … This is a place where people could feel comfortable, and a place for parents, too, actually. It’s a place for them to bring their children who are questioning their sexuality and want to just meet people within the community.”
Through A.R.T., Alpuche hopes to provide a safe, supportive and enriched space that will act as the first of its kind in Downtown’s core. The center will host an array of artists, have a shared workspace and serve as a hub for LA’s LGBTQ+ community.
“Every month we’re going to be showcasing different artists,” Alpuche described. “We’ll have rotating artists come through once a month for three weeks, an opening and closing gala, a co-working space built in with a library and then a marketplace where we could showcase and highlight different vendors. This will act as a day-to-day place for people to either come and work, come and visit, or come and walk the art gallery 365 days a year. We’ll be open five days a week.”
Alpuche also wants to create youth and family-focused programing, such as after-school programs, to start opening channels of communication between Downtown families and the center.
“Within the community, for the 21-plus there are bars that become our safe havens, but what that shined a light on was that there is no real space for our community that’s 21 and under,” Alpuche explained. “I remember the first year we had a conversation about how these spaces don’t exist and how sometimes the youth don’t have a space to explore and be themselves. … They don’t even have a space to have an open mic night where they can express their feelings in written word or spoken word to process everything. How do we give them that space?”
For those eager to support DTLA Proud’s mission, Alpuche explained that while financial support is always helpful, community input is also heavily valued.
“What I love is when someone has an idea and we’re able to work together and make it happen,” Alpuche said. “We have so many wonderful people that are ready to support, and we would love that people come with fresh ideas. … How do you want to support your community? Because we all have different talents and strengths. How do we utilize and share them?
“I’m so excited to actually put that in place. I can see in my head at the end of the year the grand opening and how wonderful that’s going to be for the future. … With this opportunity that The Bloc gave us, the possibilities are endless. We start now. Where can we take this?”
A.R.T. Community Center
WHERE: The Bloc, 700 W Seventh Street, Los Angeles
WHEN: Set to open by the end of 2022