The Art World at Home: Curator Nellie Scott Is Fighting to Save the Studio of Pop Art Nun Corita Kent and Registering New Voters

We caught up with the director of the Corita Art Center in Los Angeles.

Nellie Scott. Photo courtesy of the Corita Art Center.

In this series, we check in with curators, historians, and other art-world professionals to get a peek into their day-to-day.

This year, the Corita Art Center in Los Angeles, which is dedicated to the life and career of Corita Kent—the nun-turned Pop artist and activist—had hoped to break ground on a new art space. Since those plans were put on hold, director Nellie Scott has been fighting to save the studio where Kent taught screenprinting (at what was then Immaculate Heart College) from demolition.

The Corita Center, located on the grounds of the old college, is just across the street from the building—now a dry cleaner—where Kent ran her studio from 1960 to 1968.

The property owner plans to demolish the building to make way for a parking lot, but the Corita Art Center is pushing to have the building recognized by the Office of Historic Resources and the Cultural Heritage Commission, and has started a petition calling for its preservation. Scott hopes the second annual Corita Day, celebrated on November 20, which this year would have been Kent’s 102nd birthday, will help bring attention to the crusade.

We talked with Scott about that effort, continuing Kent’s mission of art education, and helping the homeless register to vote.

Corita Kent at work in her studio in the 1960s in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of the Corita Art Center.

Corita Kent at work in her studio in the 1960s in Los Angeles. Photo courtesy of the Corita Art Center.

What are you working on right now?

With Corita Day now celebrated in Los Angeles and Boston, we are as busy as ever.

This year, we began Corita 101, an arts education initiative. In the process of creating a curriculum and making it more widely available, we wanted to center the opportunity to champion the important work of art educators. We have been working really closely with the amazing Karina Esperanza Yanez, an art educator and founder of Greetings From South Central LA, to distribute art boxes and curricula in mid-November.

In addition to this work, our motto at the moment is Corita’s quote: “Flowers grow out of dark moments.”  We are working on some exciting things for 2021 with our galleries Andrew Kreps and Kaufmann Repetto, continuing our partnership with Chloe, and some other really great projects.

The Corita Art Center has nearly 30,000 artworks, objects, and archival materials. So our focus at the moment is looking at how we can digitize them to make the collection more accessible.

The largest part of my day has been dedicated to our efforts to save Corita’s studio. When we found out that it was slated for demolition to make way for five more parking spaces, it was like a gut punch.

Corita Kent, <em>ten rules</em>. Courtesy of the Corita Art Center.

Corita Kent, ten rules. Courtesy of the Corita Art Center.

What is bothering you right now (other than the project above and having to deal with these questions)?

The process we have been through so far in our efforts to have Corita’s former studio designated has been a journey. Through the effort, we learned that it is only three percent of Historic-Cultural Monuments in LA that are tied to women’s heritage. The numbers nationally are fairly close to that as well, so there is a lot of room to think about who and how we are protecting, preserving, and recognizing history.

In the case of Corita’s former studio, the Immaculate Heart College campus was a mecca for forward-thinking leaders and creatives. This is the only remaining space where she pulled prints, and the pieces she made at this space are as relevant today as the day they were made. It’s an ordinary building you might drive by anywhere in California, and that makes it all the more special.

Corita Kent, come off it (1966). Photo by Dawn Blackman, courtesy of the Corita Art Center, Los Angeles and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York.

Corita Kent, come off it (1966). Photo by Dawn Blackman, courtesy of the Corita Art Center, Los Angeles and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York.

What was the last thing that made you laugh out loud?

I am a member of the Jane Club and feel so lucky to be part of such a unique group of funny, smart and talented women. They hosted an online gathering to watch the election results together and it was everything I needed that evening to relieve the anxiety of the moment. Even virtually, it was like sitting in a room with friends.

Are there any movies, music, podcasts, publications, or works of art that have made a big impact on you recently? If so, why?

All of the above! I could not imagine these long days without creative energy. In March, I took home a copy of Learning by Heart, co-authored by Corita and Jan Steward. When the world first started swirling, the book really reminded me to slow down to better take it all in. When you do that, you begin seeing things that you pass by all the time during your day with a new lens of appreciation.

There is this speech that Corita gave in Cambridge in 1982 about nuclear war that feels so relevant, especially now. Since I started at the Corita Art Center, I have read and reread these words for their timely and precious guidance. I always come back to the final paragraph. It lives near my computer to be a daily reminder that we are artists.

Nellie Scott's bedroom, with Peter Gynd’s Blanketed 18-001. Photo courtesy of Nellie Scott.

Nellie Scott’s bedroom, with Peter Gynd’s Blanketed 18-001. Photo courtesy of Nellie Scott.

What is your favorite part of your house and why? 

My bedroom is easily my favorite place. There is no TV in that room and it is a respite to just “be” and relax. We have small children, so I often find myself wanting to just soak up the moments in that space, such as when I can hear my son’s toddler feet run down the hall and jump into bed for a snuggle. That room is also filled with art we have collected over the years and I wake up every day to Peter Gynd’s Blanketed 18-001.

What’s your favorite work of art in the house and why? 

This is really a tough question, because my husband, David De Boer, also works in art, so at one point with us both working at home, we had a lot of discussions around rotating works around. The one artwork that has always had a prominent place in our home is Flag by Michael St. John.

Michael St. John, <em>Flag</em> (1997). Photo courtesy of Nellie Scott.

Michael St. John, Flag (1997). Photo courtesy of Nellie Scott.

Are there any causes you support that you would like to share? If so, what, and why is it/are they important?

For the month of October, we teamed up with the Center in Hollywood to provide unhoused community members with art-making kits, facilitate creative activities, and the opportunity to register to vote and/or vote by mail. I was struck by how many of our unhoused neighbors thought that perhaps they could not vote because they did not have a physical address. So getting the opportunity to hear their stories, use art to spark dialogue in those sessions and provide a pathway for civic engagement is something that holds a powerful place in my thoughts at the moment.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Looking at old photographs. It makes me a bit sad to think photo albums might someday fade away. Can we somehow make them cool again?

Corita Kent. Courtesy of the Corita Art Center.

Corita Kent. Courtesy of the Corita Art Center.

What’s going on in the kitchen these days? Any projects? And triumphs or tragedies?

So many tragedies. I really am not the cook at all in the house and might be in a part-time relationship with the air-fryer. I recently tried to make deviled egg “monster eyes” for Halloween and let’s just say, deviled eggs are not really a food that is great for every holiday.

Which two fellow art-world people, living or dead, would you like to convene for dinner, and why? Bonus: Where would you want the dinner to be, and why?

I love this question. I like the idea of having a picnic at the beach with Corita and Ray Eames. Enjoy a day outdoors in a very casual way, what a treat to just sit there and hear the conversation between the two of them pass. It would also be so fascinating to talk about what is happening in 2020 and to get their thoughts.

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