Former Bootleg Theater to become performing arts center and arts cooperative

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Former independent music venue the Bootleg Theater, which last week announced its closure after more than 20 years in operation, will reopen this fall as a new community performing arts center and arts cooperative, according to the building’s new owners. 

The multi-room space at 2220 Beverly Blvd. in Historic Filipinotown has been acquired by a team of several LA-based independent curators and arts nonprofits, including Andrew Maxwell of the Poetic Research Bureau, who will serve as managing director of the yet-to-be-named space. 

“We want this to be a performing arts center and to carry on the legacy of the space,” says Maxwell, explaining that the purchase came together at the last minute after an initial bid from an entertainment company fell through. “We're trying to assemble a group of independent curators and artists who've been programming in the city for a while. A few of us pooled our money together and thought maybe we can bring all these nomadic series and storefront avant gardes together into one big space.”

The new endeavor will focus on cross-pollinating LA’s music, film, literature, and performance arts communities to create a hub for organizations and one-off events that otherwise lack a centralized home. In addition to the Poetic Research Bureau, other groups set to move into the space include LA Filmforum, experimental music curators, label, and event series Black Editions/Unwrinkled Ear, and independent artist and curator Harmony Holiday’s jazz and poetry archive project Mythscience Archives. Maxwell says the collective will include other collaborations, pop-up series, and spot programming as the space develops. 

The center is expected to open to the public in September with two to three events per week, including film screenings, performances, readings, and forums. The space will also be home to its organizations’ extensive libraries and archives, which will be made available to the public during events, with the possibility of eventually hosting open hours. 

“The hope is to evolve the creative commons and build out the public domain,” Maxwell says. 

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The new owners have also purchased the Bootleg’s existing sound and performance equipment, and are planning to upgrade its projection capabilities for 16 millimeter film and a DCP system for cinema-level projection. Maxwell says the group is also talking with a few former Bootleg employees towards maintaining some event staff continuity as they build up programming. 

Above all, Maxwell hopes the new space will provide a source of post-pandemic stability for LA’s fragile independent arts communities and help preserve the city’s cultural legacy. 

“A lot of the organizations that will be living there have been operating for a long time, and we're vulnerable in the pandemic. Hopefully, this is just one collective act of rescue,” he says. “When I look at the venues that have closed down, I really worry about places like [shuttered jazz club] the Blue Whale. It's going to be much easier to reconstruct an indie rock scene in LA than it is a vulnerable jazz club. So I really hope we can make the space open to a diversity of genres and identities going forward that resembles LA.”

Andrea Domanick is KCRW’s Digital Producer, Music and Culture. Follow her on Twitter