As the LA Forum wraps up its 30th year, we continue to reflect on our past to find a way forward as an organization. This week, we talk to the LA Forum’s Co-Presidents from 2014 to 2015, writer and critic Mimi Zeiger and architect Ella Hazard, who provide key insights into our recent history and ongoing issues in the architecture community at large.
You two were the first and only co-presidents in the LA Forum’s history so far. Why did you team up and how did you work together during your tenure?
MZ: We became co-presidents at a moment when the Forum was going through a big strategic planning initiative that was poised to reboot not only our programming and publishing, but also our visibility and fundraising. It was more work than any single person could take on. It was important to us that the Forum be forward-looking but not lose its rich intellectual history and conceptual underpinnings to challenge what architecture and design means in a place like Los Angeles. We each tackled the areas that played to our strengths, experience, and interests, and we collaborated on leadership and outreach. Together we were able to relaunch the LA Forum’s graphic identity, designed by Jessica Fleischman of Still Room, which led to Folder Studio’s redesign of the website.
EH: When Mimi and I inherited the LA Forum, it was approaching its 30th anniversary, the perfect time for a bit of an identity crisis. We realized that in order to take on the infrastructural strategic work that we felt was necessary and continue with our significant load of programming/publications, that it was definitely more than a one-person job. It seemed like the obvious and necessary solution for what the organization urgently needed in the moment.
Looking back, what were some of the highlights from your time as LA Forum co-presidents?
MZ: While I’m really proud of our exhibitions and programming, including the series Host: Natural Histories for Los Angeles, which was done in partnership with WorldWide Storefront and with collaborators Big City Forum and the Neutra VDL House, it was ForumFest 2015 that really captures what Ella and I were hoping to achieve: a big party that brings the best of LA architecture and urbanism together. Ella worked tirelessly to secure the venue under the now-demolished 6th Street Viaduct. I coordinated the Out There Doing Participants who the Forum commissioned to make site-specific installations. There were DJs, films, food trucks, and even a New Orleans Jazz Band. Did I mention a bridge-shaped piñata?
EH: I feel particularly proud of how much Mimi and I were able to accomplish together. The deep dive into the strategic planning effort wasn’t a particularly glamorous process, but it was the type of thought leadership that felt appropriate for where the Forum was at the time. It was necessary for us to clarify our focus in order to better engage our community and continue to curate inspiring programs and publications. Also, throwing a crazy party under the 6th Street Bridge was a pretty incredible experience!
Only three out of thirty-one LA Forum presidents have been women, including yourselves. Was this significant to you during your co-presidency? What can be done to improve this ratio in the future?
MZ: The LA Forum is not alone in its failure to represent women in design. It’s a structural issue within architecture that can only be fixed with deliberate effort in schools, in the profession, and in organizations like the Forum. During my five years on the board, I was dedicated to making sure our programming included not just a token woman on a panel, but many women, with many different design points of view. We need to remember that equality is not limited to gender and must address race, class, and sexual orientation. Alas, architecture and the Forum hasn’t gotten there yet.
Any parting wisdom or words of advice?
EH: I think that it’s really important to have fun. I joined the LA Forum as member because I really enjoyed the programming, events and publications that the organization produced. It’s always had deep roots in the community and an independent critical voice – yet the manner in which the conversations are curated leaves room for levity and feeling of community. It never took itself too seriously and I believe that this spirit will live on.