Jo Farb Hernandez is the Director of SPACES – the nonprofit archives Saving and Preserving Arts and Cultural Environments.

As the first nonprofit public benefit organization created with a national—and later, an international—focus on art environments and self-taught artistic activity, SPACES’s mission is to


  • IDENTIFY large-scale art environments and other publicly-accessible self-taught artistic activities
  • DOCUMENT these artworks through a wide range of visual and audio records
  • COLLECT publications and ancillary information about these works
  • ADVOCATE for their preservation.


While the need for an organization to document and mobilize support for art environments was identified as early as the late 1950s when a group of concerned citizens fought to save Sam Rodia’s Towers in the Watts section of Los Angeles, SPACES was not formally organized until 1969 and not incorporated as a non-profit organization until 1978. Founding Director Seymour Rosen (1935-2006), noted photographer and community activist, realized that the “extemporaneous individual acts of people declaring their existence” were universal, but, as so many of them were ephemeral, they were also almost universally unrecorded in a consistent manner. SPACES was formed to fill that gap; his tens of thousands of photographs of such artwork became the basis for the archives. Among Rosen’s most important contributions was the designation of California State Landmark #939 in 1978, an innovative and open-ended approach that defined a statewide historic district ultimately including ten unique and widely-dispersed environment sites. Although not alone, Seymour Rosen truly can be credited as one of the very few people who defined and clarified an entire genre of art, and through this he has indubitably—and perpetually—changed our cultural landscape.

Under the current leadership of Jo Farb Hernández, widely-known curator and author in the fields of self-taught and contemporary arts, SPACES’ offices have moved to northern California. Re-organizing and re-energizing the organizational infrastructure, Hernández is overseeing the continuation and expansion of SPACES’s regular programming as well as developing ambitious new plans for the future.

watts with seymour and jo (3)
Current SPACES Executive Director Jo Farb Hernández with Founding Director Seymour Rosen at the Watts Towers, 2000. Photo: Sam Hernández

SPACES views art creation in a holistic way, realizing that extemporaneous individual acts of aesthetic and cultural manifestation are not only universal, but also almost universally unrecorded in a consistent manner. To that end, SPACES Archives include documentation on such themes as decorated motor vehicles, demonstrations, gardens, graffiti, murals, neon, parades, signage, tattoos, yard art, and more.


Art environments often challenge aesthetic and conceptual community values at the same time that they are beset by environmental degradations; this combination can be fatal for their ongoing stability and preservation. Numerous sites have suffered partial or total destruction over the years; the creation of personal worlds by non-academic builders, passionately recycling our society’s discards in an effort to publicly proclaim love of country, religion, or other personal convictions, retell local histories or tales, or just “make something big,” as Sam Rodia, creator of the Watts Towers, is said to have claimed, does not bring with it a guarantee of eternal existence.

Because art environments cannot be hermetically stored, they need continued vigilance and a concerted effort from local community members—backed up by art and preservation professionals internationally—to ensure their survival. SPACES helps to advocate for preservation by providing support and materials to local communities to help them save the endangered monuments in their areas, and, in many instances, has also helped to inspire the creation of other local nonprofit organizations with specific and targeted objectives.


SPACES serves as an international resource to state arts and humanities councils, museums, universities, public radio and television stations, state historic preservation offices, and grass roots organizations in their local and regional efforts to document, research, and preserve the phenomena of art environments: hundreds of researchers request information annually from SPACES’ archival collections. SPACES staff have developed materials to help local communities answer the appropriate questions for art historical, humanistic, sociological, and preservation concerns; have written feature articles on the subject for national and international magazines and journals; have spoken at national and international conferences of arts organizations, folklorists, preservationists and museum personnel; have guest-curated exhibitions for museum and university galleries; and have supplied documentation for films, videos, articles, books, and other dissemination projects by independent researchers and scholars.

The historical depth and geographic breadth of the materials included in SPACES archives form an unsurpassed resource for the field.

For further information, see the SPACES website: http://www.spacesarchives.org.


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