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Long Beach’s Compound, a space for art and wellness, struggles to ‘weather the storm’

Paintings and sculpture occupy an open-beamed gallery.
Compound’s inaugural group exhibition, “Radical Empathy,” in July, just after the art space opened. The nonprofit has since had layoffs.
(Lauren Albrecht)

Long Beach’s Compound is a contemporary art space focusing on culture, wellness and community — think yoga and sunset sound baths in the sculpture garden. There’s an airy courtyard, multiple galleries for exhibitions and nooks for artist talks, live music and socially conscious film screenings. It bills itself as a “cultural sanctuary.”

But Compound is not-so-Zen these days.

The nonprofit organization, which opened its doors in July, underwent layoffs in October. Three senior staffers — the director of programs and community relations, director of operations and a business systems manager were let go. Five part-time visitor services associates were laid off as well. Several existing employees’ hours were cut.

The staff is now down to about half a dozen employees, though Chief Operating Officer Hiroko Kusano said via email that her position is being eliminated at the end of this month.

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“It’s unstable and unclear what Compound’s future looks like,” one affiliated person, who requested anonymity, said.

The nonprofit is the brainchild of philanthropist and interior designer Megan Tagliaferri, who serves as both creative director and executive director.

Tagliaferri declined a phone interview with The Times for this story. She did, however, say via email that the recent layoffs are part of a restructuring. “Even in perfect circumstances, launching a non-profit cultural center committed to community impact is a challenge,” Tagliaferri said in a statement, “but Covid challenged us even more.”

Financial challenges brought on by the pandemic, Tagliaferri added, “have forced us to scale back the activities and programs at this time, and many of the staff positions were terminated at the end of October. Nothing about these pandemic realities dampens our enthusiasm for Compound’s long-term mission, and we hope that in the near future we will be able to pivot in a way that leverages the public’s many contributions, for which we are very grateful. Like so many others, we are determined to make Covid just a bump in the road, not a complete roadblock.”

Before the layoffs, founding curator and artistic director Lauri Firstenberg — former director of the longtime West Hollywood art space LAXArt — departed voluntarily in August. Compound has not filled her position, though Firstenberg said she will continue to “remain connected” to the organization.

Firstenberg said she had never intended to stay on at Compound permanently, though. “It was always a consulting position,” the Hollywood-based Firstenberg said. “The intention was always to help realize Megan’s vision and open the space, and then to really learn how the space can serve the community best, on the ground in Long Beach, with local leadership.”

A member of the Scripps media family, Tagliaferri funded the building of Compound, an adaptive reuse project, to the tune of $1.2 million. The space intended to rely on public programming grants, gift shop sales and revenue from a restaurant to stay afloat. But while the gift shop is seeing sales of its seaweed bath kits and healing crystals, the restaurant hasn’t yet opened.

Tagliaferri told The Times in June 2020, when Compound first announced it would be opening, that she was “committing my resources, over time.”

When asked if that still held true, Tagliaferri said via email: “I have committed personal resources to this community-enriching endeavor, and I will continue to do so.”

Employees have complained about Tagliaferri’s lack of transparency with regard to layoffs and programming changes. After the yoga and meditation program was canceled in October — the free classes were a tentpole of Compound’s wellness mission — yoga instructor Rebekah Rose Ressler sent an email to the staff.

“How am I meant to feel comfortable providing wellness services at an organization that has not been transparent about what is happening internally?” Ressler said in that email. Ressler, who uses they/them pronouns, added later that in their year of part-time employment they’d never met Tagliaferri.

On its website, Compound describes itself as “a new space for culture and community to promote connectivity and belonging.” But some have questioned whether or not the art space is really connecting with its neighborhood in Long Beach’s Zaferia district.

As of November, Compound went from having an open-door policy — it was free for walk-ins during operating hours — to a free, by-appointment-only policy. No statement was made to the community explaining the less accessible mandate.

Since its debut, Compound has featured immersive installations by L.A. artist Glenn Kaino that speak to empathy and hope; a lecture by land artist Lita Albuquerque about how her work relates to meditation and creativity; and an exhibition of paintings, sculpture, photography and video and film installations, called “Radical Empathy,” by artists including Leslie Hewitt, EJ Hill, Rodney McMillian, Jason Moran and Rick Lowe. These works were all culled from Tagliaferri’s personal collection.

“Radical Empathy” was meant to illuminate “light at the end of the tunnel of this moment,” Firstenberg told The Times last year, referring to the pandemic.

But who will be left at Compound to bask in that light?

“We had to downsize to weather the storm,” Tagliaferri said. “But we still have ambitious plans for Compound, including being open most Fridays-Sundays in December to see the last of Glenn Kaino’s ‘Tidepools’ before the last day on December 19th. We’re excited about re-emerging in 2022 with more activities, such as wellness programs and more content, such as Lauri Firstenberg’s ‘Chaos to Cosmos’ exhibit,” addressing nature and beauty and the mysteries of the universe.”


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