Inquiring Minds Want to Know Why the Silence Surrounding the Cancellation and Eviction of Two of L.A.’s Most Celebrated Black Cultural Events?

African Marketplace Quietly Canceled & Pan African Film Festival Receives Eviction Letter from Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2008, Blacks accounted for 9.4% of the residents of Los Angeles County. Of those Blacks, Los Angeles ranks number 4 in U.S. with the largest African-born population. Los Angeles is home to large groups of Africans from Nigeria, South African, Ghana, Ethiopia, Cameroon, and Senegal. In addition, thousands of Jamaicans, Trinidadians, and Belizeans call L.A. home.

For African-Americans and African-born Angelinos, the African Marketplace and Cultural Faire and the Pan African Film Festival are highly anticipated events where Africa is front and center for a short period in L.A. each year. Attended by African and Caribbean dignitaries, both events allow Angelinos to experience Africa without ever stepping foot on plane. One through a seven day summer cultural marketplace the other through the exhibition of film and fine art over twelve days during Black History Month.

As of now, the 2009 African Marketplace has been quietly canceled and the Pan African Film Festival is being evicted from the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, it’s home for the past decade.

So what gives?  Here’s what I found out.

African Marketplace and Cultural Faire Canceled

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James Burks, Founder of African Marketplace and Cultural Faire Looks Over 2005 Festival Blueprints

Every year tens of thousands of Angelino’s look forward to the annual African Marketplace and Cultural Faire that signals the close of the summer. With August almost over, hardly a word has been said about the cancellation of the African Marketplace and Cultural Faire, which in years past would be live and in full effect right now as it has been for the past 23 years.

Founded in 1985, the African Marketplace was designed to connect Africa and African Diaspora communities and included a Village Gourd Festival, a Brazilian Trade and Music Festival, the Celebrity Village Games, an African Business Expo, entertainment, and arts and crafts.

On July 18, 2001, the Los Angeles City Department of Parks and Recreation began repairs on Rancho Cienega Park, just days before the would be opening of the Marketplace’s 16th year. This event caused the Marketplace to have to pick up and temporarily change venues to the Los Angeles Sports Coliseum, a move that didn’t sit too well with the community and one that Burks credits with almost destroying the Marketplace and a major drop in the events attendance numbers. In 2006, Los Angeles Councilman Herb Wesson played a pivotal role in the Marketplace returning to its familiar grounds at Rancho Cienega Park.

Bright goldenrod signs announcing the cancellation of the African Marketplace appeared this week around Rancho Cienega Park, its main home throughout the past decade.

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Recently quoted in the Our Weekly newspaper event founder James Burks explained, “We have a situation where there is not enough money and not really a corporate community here that we can call on.” Burks made the difficult business decision to cancel the 2009 African Marketplace and focus on celebrating the 25th anniversary of the cultural fair in 2010.

“The African Marketplace does not just rely on (corporate sponsorships). There are private sector and public sector dollars. There’s earned income. There’s amortized costs. There’s strategic alliances, and in-kind contributions. In fact, the majority of the income from the African Marketplace is earned income, and it has been for the last couple of years. That’s the box office, vendor fees, and concessions revenue.”

Burks also said that the African Marketplace struggled to handle costs connected to utilizing parks and other services. Costs that included a $4,000 facility use fee, $100 per day per vendor, staffing, maintenance, and restoration fees, all of which amounted to about $50,000 in fees paid to Los Angeles’ Department of Parks and Recreation. He also says that had the fees not been so enormous to utilize a public park, that he would have produced the festival this year.

“The reality is that the Marketplace received no assistance from Rec and Parks,” commented Burks. “There was no programming or marketing support given. We did it all ourselves.”

Pan African Film Festival Asked to Leave Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza

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Just down the street from the Rancho Cienega Park,  at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza the Pan African Film and Arts Festival (PAFF) has been blindsided by a recent letter of eviction from The Festival Companies, the leasing agent for Capri Capitol Partners, owners of the mall—an unneeded, unbudgeted, and unnecessary hardship on the PAFF right in the middle of planning February’s festival.

The backstory.

Earlier this year the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza suffered a string of armed robberies, including one at the Creole Chef forcing the closure of the celebrated New Orleans restaurant. Shortly after the exit of the Creole Chef, the Sizzler closed its doors, leaving the southwest corner of the mall’s parking lot almost vacant with the exception of Wells Fargo bank.

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Enter Debbie Allen, who recently moved her dance academy from Culver City to the corner of Marlton and Santa Rosalia Avenues in the former location of Mattye’s Bistro. Known for her diverse clientele that also includes a large number of Caucasian children who are now studying dance in Baldwin Hills verses Culver City, there was an immediate presence of L.A.P.D. officers and mall security upon the first week of her arrival. A presence that includes the parking of squad cars adjacent to her building and regular security patrols. Normally the L.A.P.D. parks their squad cars on the first level of the mall’s parking garage adjacent to Walmart and mall security is usually somewhere chillin in the cut sitting in their car.  But not anymore, not only do they make regular car patrols, but the mall has now invested in those motorized people carts that the mall security zooms around the parking lot on.

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With fall and winter on the approach, including daylight savings time, which will bring the sunset even sooner, the mall management has decided to coincidentally terminate the film festival’s month-to-month tenancy to make way for a new L.A.P.D. substation just adjacent to the Debbie Allen Dance Academy. Currently the L.A.P.D. substation is located inside of the mall on the south side of the first floor.

The film festival currently occupies 3775 Santa Rosalia Drive, formerly The Gas Company and American Savings Bank. It sits right next to the vacant building previously occupied by Golden Bird chicken.

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Rather than take up occupancy in the empty building directly next door to the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, the mall has entered into an agreement with the L.A.P.D. to take up residency in building currently occupied by the film festival.

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With nothing more than a letter, the mall’s management decided to terminate the film festival’s nine year tenancy giving them until October 20, 2009 to vacate the property. In addition, the mall is seemingly unwelcome to the idea of having the much-celebrated Pan African Film Festival’s Art Market return to the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in February 2010. Leaving festival organizers wondering if this more about getting rid of the festival than it is public safety.

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Vice President of Portfolio Leasing Lori Jones with The Festival Companies was unable to offer comment on the issue but plans to coordinate with Capri Capital Partners, the mall’s owners for future comment on the situation.

In a recent Our Weekly newspaper article, PAFF founder Ayuko Babu explained how the festival found itself priced out of its traditional and preferred home at the Magic Johnson Theater in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.

“We moved for two reasons,” said founder Ayuko Babu. “One was that the cost of screening films at the Magic Theater were prohibitive. We cannot afford to pay these (prices),” explained Babu.

In the past, when the theater was owned by Magic Johnson (AMC acquired the chain in 2005), Babu said Johnson reduced the price of screenings as part of his sponsorship of the festival. That was not going to happen in 2009, consequently PAFF moved the film portion of the festival to Culver City and left the art exhibit at the Baldwin Hills Mall.

The other reason Babu moved from the mall was what he called the lack of infrastructure in the community to support the film festival.

“Traditionally we try to use different buildings on the plaza property and the mall (for filmmaker meetings, receptions etc.).

This year however, a few of the spaces were not available which forced PAFF to take many of its affiliated activities away from the festival and outside of the Black community.

And that is a direct nod to the lack of infrastructure, said Babu.

The PAFF founder describes infrastructure as restaurants and meeting facilities where filmmakers can comfortably meet with distributors from around the world, or places people can go before, in between or after screenings for meals or just to congregate.

That environment was one of the reasons Babu said he moved the PAFF to the mall in the first place, but after 10 years, the theater was the only thing to really materialize.

Now in the middle of planning for February’s signature festival, the PAFF finds itself without a base to work out of or a space to hold its coveted Art Market.

Both the African Marketplace and Cultural Faire and the Pan African Film Festival organizers say that they are not giving up without a fight.

While the Marketplace is closing its store location in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza it will continue to keep open its business center located in Leimert Park and looks forward to the returning in 2010.

The film festival has met with Los Angeles Councilman Bernard Parks and is hoping to work out something with the mall owners and management so that it doesn’t have to interrupt its festival planning for 2010 which is already underway.

More on this to come…

The Court of Public Opinion

  • Damien

    The Kodak Theater can get $30,000,000 from the city, yet the African Marketplace can’t get a waiver of $50,000 in fees?

    I’m sorry, why again do we have 3 black members of the City Council?

    Re: PAFF, they would be welcomed in Leimert Park Village if they were to take one of the several vacant properties or storefronts.

  • No one cent of the New stimulus Money earmarked for the National Endowment of the Arts went that came to the City of L.A. went to any Black or Hispanic Arts Independent Organization in SO. L.A. I’m sorry, why again do we have a Black President?

  • Jboogie

    The Hollywood Foreign Press Association and Time Warner Cable in partnership with Ovation TV have each committed $75,000 to help the Los Angeles County Museum of Art “extend continuous film programming through next summer.” Director Michael Govan says in the press release:

    “In a tight budget year when many programs were reduced, we suspended the weekend film series in order to rebuild its foundations. We’ve been incredibly impressed by the public outcry of support for film at LACMA, and thrilled that just a few weeks later, the first new sponsors have stepped forward. We’re grateful to the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Time Warner Cable, and Ovation TV, for expressing their tangible support for the art of film at LACMA, and we’re very pleased that we can keep film rolling while we build for the future. Our goal is to create a field-leading film department that captures the ever-growing importance of film and moving images in the history of art.”