Machine Project fosters greater understanding between the worlds of art and science by providing educational resources to artists working with technology; educating and collaborating with artists to produce site-specific, non-commercial work; and promoting conversations between artists, scientists, poets, technicians, performers and the communities of Los Angeles as a whole. With classes such as Electron Wrangling for Beginners, Introduction to Solar Robotics and Hyperbolic Crochet, and events like You Can Build Rome in a Day (a 24-hour project to reconstruct a historically accurate city) and Dorkbot SoCal, Machine Project defies the usual boundaries that exist between science and art.
Springboard Mentorship Profile
Mark Allen, Executive Director, Machine Project
Mentor: Tom Rhoads, Associate Director for Administration, J. Paul Getty Museum
Los Angeles doesn’t have many characteristics of a small town, but the relationship between Mark Allen at Machine Project in Echo Park and his Springboard mentor Tom Rhoads often makes it seem that way.
“I run into Tom walking his dog because he lives right in the neighborhood,” says Mark.
“Since they’re right around the corner from me, I try to get to their events as often as I can,” says Tom.
This proximity has allowed their mentor-mentee relationship to flourish in the two years that they worked together in the Springboard program. Machine Project is an arts space that focuses on the intersection between art, science, technology and do-it-yourself craftmaking. With workshops and presentations both inside and outside the gallery, Machine Project brings together an unlikely community of creative people to crochet, deep-fry food, learn soldering or build a robotic blimp.
“As a new organization, no one involved with Machine Project had worked at a nonprofit or served on a board before. It was good to have someone like Tom who knows that world to advise us,” said Mark. Tom and Mark started by communicating weekly by email, then Mark would sometimes ask him to stop by the office or come to a board meeting.
“Tom has had a lot of influence on how we’ve been able to grow,” Mark added. Before he joined the senior staff of the Getty, Tom was the Founding Director of the Santa Monica Museum of Art, so he knows a great deal about start-up arts organizations.
Tom’s arrival coincided with Machine Project receiving some solid grant funding, as well as entertaining invitations to bring their work to influential locations like the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. While it was all very exciting, Tom maintained the long-range view.
“I was looking at the sustainability of the organization over the long haul,” he said. “I didn’t want them to spread themselves too thin.”
Tom’s day-to-day work at the Getty involves overseeing a staff of 440 and an operating budget of $54 million per year. He truly enjoys connecting to the start-up energy at Machine Project, which reminds him of his early days starting the Santa Monica Museum and working at other arts nonprofits.
“It puts me back in touch with a more creative environment, closer to the ground, where decisions are made in a streamlined way,” Tom says. “And I’m happy to be able to help out, because I remember what it was like for me in those early days, operating in a vacuum without a sounding board.”
Mark is grateful for Tom’s advice and experience. Tom came up with the idea to rent the apartment above Machine Project and offer an artist residency, which has become a cornerstone program.
The Springboard mentorship has completed its two-year span, but the relationship between Mark and Tom will continue. Machine Project has asked Tom to join their board, and he has accepted.