Pottery classes in L.A. aren’t cheap, POT studio aims to make pottery accessible to people of all means.
On a recent Friday night, at a people of color hand-building workshop at POT, an Echo Park pottery studio, friends and family worked to mold and shape lumps of clay into tiny masterpieces as conversations about breastfeeding and favorite TV shows filled the room. The instructor, Ambar Arias, encouraged everyone to make whatever they wanted as she made rounds, advising each student on their piece.
J.D. Santacruz eagerly created a fruit bowl out of layered clay diamonds. A newcomer to pottery but not to the studio, Santacruz previously attended POT’s trans and nonbinary pottery workshop.
“It was pretty cool to be in the space with other nonbinary and trans people learning how to do ceramics,” Santacruz says, adding that the studio was so inviting that they convinced their sister to take the hand-building workshop with them.
POT opened its doors in Echo Park a few years ago. Now it joins several newer Los Angeles pottery studios like Cobalt & Clay in Atwater Village, Claytivity Pottery Studio in Silver Lake and Santa Monica’s Still Life Ceramics — but what sets POT apart is its mission of inclusion.
Pottery classes are not cheap. In Los Angeles, a single class can cost an average of $60, $180 for a four-class bundle and $160 for studio membership. Given its costly nature, it’s no surprise that the people who choose this hobby are often people of means. People of means also tend to be overwhelmingly white, and the hobby’s lack of diversity is something that does not go unnoticed by POT owners Mandy Kohlani and Ambar Arias, two Los Angeles potters of Iranian and Salvadoran heritage respectively.
“Art spaces, in general, are white,” Arias says.
Kohlani agrees, noting that her experiences at predominantly white studios have often been negative. “As a person of color, you feel that,” Kohlani says. “You get micro-aggressions and told to take your music down or change it. You’re too loud. You get treated like the cleaning lady.”
After three months of meeting each other at another pottery studio, Kohlani and Arias decided to work together to bring more diversity to the practice by opening up POT in 2017.
POT’s unique mission has attracted students, many of whom found out about the studio from Instagram or word of mouth, and have traveled all the way from Long Beach and even Santa Barbara. The studio is open to all, and while POT offers classes at the standard $60 a pop, Kohlani and Arias also offer sliding scale prices to people of color. If a student truly cannot afford to pay sliding scale fees, the studio offers work-trade or a goods and services trade. Additionally, the studio also offers classes taught in Spanish.
“If we’re going to be a for-profit business opening in this neighborhood, you can’t say we’re stopping gentrification, right?” Kohlani says. “But what we can do is offer access for the neighborhood so we’re not just another business that’s not accessible to them.”
Although many of POT’s classes have quickly sold out, Kohlani and Arias have not exactly hit the jackpot.
“A lot of what we do here is free,” Arias admits.
In fact, as Echo Park continues to evolve, Kohlani and Arias are not sure how much longer POT will be able to stay in the neighborhood. But these challenges do not deter them from remaining committed to prioritizing the local community over profit.
“What I would measure our success with, is how many amazing people that we’ve met,” Kohlani says. “I have faith that the profit will come if we stay authentic.”