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“Radical Ceramics” — Echo Park pottery studio offers a comfortable and creative space for POC & LGBTQ artists

Sep 12, 2018

Taking shape | Courtesy POT LA

By LUCY GUANUNA

Echo Park  — Mandy Kolahi got hooked on pottery in high school. Throughout a ten-year college stint and numerous office jobs, Kolahi would always gravitate back to pottery. However, despite joining different pottery studios, she was never able to find a studio she felt comfortable in no matter where she went.

The atmosphere was either too stuffy, with too few people of color and young ceramists in the studios, said Kolahi.

Kolahi, a 33-year-old, first-generation Iranian-American, who grew up on high doses of punk rock, West Coast gangster rap and cannabis, was always looking for a studio where she could be surrounded by people like herself. When she didn’t find one, Kolahi made the decision to open her own — POT LA in Echo Park — with the help of her friend, Amber Arias.

“We fantasized for a while about creating a space run by women of color or people of color where we can attract people like us,” Kolahi said.

After securing a series of loans, Kolahi and Arias found a 12,000-square-foot space in Echo Park where they felt they wouldn’t be contributing to gentrification, but rather “holding down brown space.” They opened their doors July 2017 offering wheel throwing and handbuilding classes at prices lower than most studios in the area.

Not Your Mother’s Color Me Mine 

In the studio, YG plays over the speakers and among the students’ pottery awaiting the kiln are cups and vases that say “Make L.A. brown again” and “Cops are criminals”.

The studio’s name POT is written above the entrance in Old English font, the same font used for lowrider plaques and on the label of the 40-ounce beers drank during backyard punk and hip hop parties of the ’90s and 2000’s.

Across the facade of the Echo Park studio, the word “ceramic” appears in 5 languages commonly spoken in Los Angeles, including Spanish, Korean and Farsi. It serves as a reminder to those walking by of the deep roots ceramic art has in these cultures.

“I’m Iranian and [Arias] is Salvadoran, our cultures have been doing this forever, and we thought how many people in L.A. might be into it or thinking the same thing,” Kolahi said. “Pottery is a cultural thing, so it’s very interesting to see it be whitewashed by Instagram.”

POT LA owner Mandy Kolah

Mandy Kolah | Courtesy POT LA

A Comfortable Space for POC & LGBTQ Artists

Friends and family advised Kolahi to market her business to older white people because they said that was where the money was at. But she was committed to making the space open and welcoming to people of color, the LGBTQ community and millenials. And people have been receptive – most of POT’s classes and workshops book to full capacity weeks in advance.

“We wanted to create a space where we feel comfortable expressing ourselves, which is a big thing because LGBTQ and POC artists can feel censored in artistic spaces,” said Kolahi.

Kolahi often gets asked if they’ll be opening another location. But as a first time business owner, she’s said she and the studio are barely getting their stride.

She hopes to eventually open a donation-based community studio in South L.A. For the time being, they are looking to hire more staff slowly.

“I just really love this city and a theme with everyone here is trying to keep some culture in L.A.,” Kolahi said.

POT LA studio on Echo Park Avenue

POT LA studio on Echo Park Avenue | Courtesy POT LA

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