The city of Los Angeles has voted to save the former studio of Corita Kent, the artist, educator, and former Catholic nun who turned Pop art into a tool for activism.
The nondescript Hollywood building at 5518Franklin Avenue where Kent worked from 1960 to 1968 had been slated for demolition, but has now been designated a historic landmark in an unanimous vote by the Los Angeles City Council.
Born Frances Elizabeth Kent in 1918, Kent was fresh out of high school when she joined Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a Roman Catholic religious order, in 1936. She studied art at the Chouinard Art Institute (now CalArts) and at Immaculate Heart College. But it was a visit to Andy Warhol’s 1962 Ferus Gallery exhibition that truly set her on her path.
“Corita Kent’s artwork was intentionally bold and challenging, to both the public and the Catholic church, awakening them in the 1960s to pressing issues of racial and social injustice,” Christina Morris, manager of the national Where Women Made History campaign, said in a statement.
“It’s a story that is deeply inspiring and incredibly relevant even today. Her studio is a place where outspoken women gathered to break barriers, challenge norms, and to make history.”
Kent left the order in 1968, and the sisters became an ecumenical lay community, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, two years later. The organization, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary, has remained committed to preserving Kent’s legacy through its work at the Corita Art Center in Los Angeles.
Landmark status was at one point a long shot for the artist’s studio, which in recent years had served as a dry cleaner. The property owner wanted to raze the building to create five parking spaces for a planned market.
But the Corita Art Center, which is just across the street from the old studio, started a petition calling for its preservation.
Bolstering the campaign was an alarming statistic: Only three percent of cultural monuments in L.A. relate to women’s heritage. Across the U.S., only eight precent of monuments represent women or people of color.
“The Los Angeles City Council giving landmark status to Corita’s studio is one critical step in redressing this disparity. This work to uphold the legacies of women artists and cultural leaders is ongoing in Los Angeles and across the U.S.,” Corita Art Center director Nellie Scott said in a statement.
“There remains a long road to walk together in preserving and promoting the legacies of significant women artists like Corita Kent.”
“I’m so thrilled that Corita’s studio has received its proper recognition,” Lucy Mulcahy, a preservation associate at Hollywood Heritage, said in a statement. “Such a humble building that has cultivated community, facilitated teaching, and inspired the creativity of artists like Corita is really a Los Angeles story.”