February 10, 2011; Source: Los Angeles Times | Earlier this week, an NPQ Newswire reflected on some of the challenges facing the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which recently contracted with the city to serve as conservator of the Watts Towers, which we called “a storied outdoor sculpture” comprising “17 intricate structures, some as high as 99 feet, with a rough mosaic of glass and ceramic and other dibs and dabs set against mortar and metal.” 

With only $150,000 in city funding available in 2011 for restoration the towers require, the big question was whether money could be found elsewhere.  On Wednesday, the James Irvine Foundation announced a $500,000 grant, which the Los Angeles Times said will “help fund repair and preservation of the landmark folk-art masterpiece.”  While supporting the arts to the tune of about $20.8 million a year, few if any of those grants from the Irvine Foundation go for preservation projects. However, in this case the foundation felt compelled to step forward, said James Canales, president, because “we see Watts Towers as an important cultural icon for Los Angeles.”  

According to the Los Angeles Times, the $650,000 in combined city and foundation funds will pay for some of the fixes the towers require, the result of “erosion, cracks and corrosion from moisture and temperature swings.” In addition, the paper reports that some of the money will be used to determine “which techniques and materials work best, then creating protocols for the towers’ ongoing upkeep.”  Olga Garay, executive director of the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs, which manages the towers, spoke for many, including NPQ, when she said this about the grant: “We’re thrilled.”—Bruce Trachtenberg