Thursday nights are alive again on Venice Beach, thanks to a community event that has merged the need to attract visitors to arguably one of Los Angeles’ most recognized destinations, the desire for local merchants to pad their coffers during a recession and providing spaces for local artists to display their collective creativity.

Three months after the once-a-month Venice Art Crawl on the Venice Boardwalk was launched Aug. 19, the brain trusts behind the art venture have proclaimed it a success, while at the same time cautioning that the event is in its nascent stages.

“We’re attracting a lot of people from the community who want to be a part of this,” said Daniel Samakow, one of the organizers of the art crawl and the proprietor of the popular Danny’s Deli on Windward Avenue. “It took downtown Los Angeles’ Art Walk quite a while before it caught on, so I think we’re doing okay.”

Mike Newhouse, a Venice homeowner who teamed up with Samakow and Venice photographer Edizen Stowell to create the art crawl, agrees. “It seems like it’s gaining good traction,” he said.

On the third Thursday of each month, the world famous boardwalk is crawling with “pop-up galleries,” which can be a restaurant, bar or retail outlet along Windward or Rose avenues, or the retro Aardvark’s used clothing store at Market Street. These venues serve the dual purpose of providing a place where a customer can get a cup of coffee or a slab of ribs while viewing the work of local artists without the need to visit one of the neighborhood’s upscale galleries.

One of the prime objectives when the concept was being created was establishing interesting, local venues where artists who typically do not have the opportunity to show their work in a gallery could display their craft, and Newhouse believes so far, that goal is being met.

“We have a lot of wonderful galleries in Venice, but this venture is providing new spaces where the art community can meet and show their art and interact in a friendly environment,” explained Newhouse, a former president of the Venice Neighborhood Council.

For years, many local artists have been longing for a place to display their eclectic paintings, murals and renderings. Often denied access to high-profile galleries, they found themselves seeking other venues throughout Los Angeles, one of the most inclusive cities in the nation for artists.

And while Venice has historically welcomed and nurtured poets, writers, painters and sculptors, the number of galleries where artists can showcase their talents has declined over the years.

In October, a Brazilian abstract painter who gave his name only as Fernando recently showed his work at a pop-up gallery along Ocean Front Walk in October. He heard about the Venice Art Crawl from some artist friends and decided to exhibit his paintings, which are mostly done in acrylic oils.

“Art overall does not have limits, and where you show art is also a concept without limits,” he said. “If you are creative, you can be seen in a restaurant or a gallery, and this is a way for people to see your art.”

Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Venice, says the Art Crawl has injected new life into the after-hours boardwalk scene.

“It’s been terrific,” the councilman, who at one time lived in Venice, said. “People are excited and it really adds a lot more to Venice.”

The art-filled odyssey begins on the third Thursday of the month at 6 p.m. until approximately 10 p.m. Initially, the locations of the walk-in galleries were centered around a few blocks to the north and south of Windward Avenue, but due to the event’s popularity, the boundaries have expanded.

Traditional galleries are also seeing a benefit from the Art Crawl. Patrick Iaconis, who owns CAVE (Center for Audio & Visual Expression) Gallery, views the Thursday night event as part block party, part merging of residents, art lovers and creative personalities that generate art.

“It’s been really great for the arts community and it’s built a connection with art enthusiasts and visitors,” Iaconis said. “The Venice Art Crawl has given us at CAVE Gallery the opportunity and the ability to meet people whom we might not have known, as well as the chance to meet new artists.”

Last month, there were 47 stops on the boardwalk tour of galleries and Samakow is happy that the business owners as well as the artistic community have responded favorably to the Art Crawl.

“It’s so appropriate for Venice,” he said. “We’ve attracted a lot of people from the community who want to be a part of this.”

Newhouse agrees, pointing out that many merchants who run restaurants now have specials geared around the Art Crawl.

“Businesses that want more clients are seeing that it draws more people down to the boardwalk and they’re responding to that,” Newhouse, who was one of the central figures in establishing First Fridays on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, noted.

The organizers of the Art Crawl sought to take special precautions in anticipation of having overflow crowds if the events attracted larger numbers of locals and visitors to the boardwalk. A private security company has been hired and patrols the boardwalk during the Art Crawl, along with officers from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Pacific division, which covers Venice Beach.

Chrysalis, a nonprofit organization that assists the homeless with employment opportunities that has a Santa Monica office, provides refuse removal after the event so merchants and early morning shoppers, joggers or visitors will not be faced with trash from the previous night.

“That was one thing that we really planned for before the Art Crawl began,” Newhouse said. “From day one, we wanted to make sure that folks would feel safe coming out on a Thursday night and that the boardwalk would be clean the next day.”

Iaconis, who recently moved his gallery from Rose Avenue to Abbot Kinney, said the more intimate feel of the pop-up galleries has created a different environment for anyone who attends the Art Crawl.

“It’s created more of a one-on-one experience, and it’s given great exposure to some very talented emerging artists,” he said. “It’s often difficult to go straight to a gallery for an exhibit, and we’re also seeing artists from other parts of Los Angeles come to show their work.”

Rosendahl credited Newhouse, Samakow and Stowell for their planning and for the event’s objective. “Their organization, creativity and passion for this event is greatly appreciated by me and I’m sure by many others,” he said. “It’s become a huge hit.”

If the Venice Art Crawl maintains or expands its popularity, additional planning will be needed to cope with larger crowds. Newhouse is already anticipating an increase in volume on the boardwalk during the spring and summer months of 2011.

“That will be one of our biggest challenges; keeping it the way that it is now when and if it gets larger,” he acknowledged. “We’re already thinking about how much security we’ll need, if we’ll have to ask Chrysalis for more volunteers and where to have the galleries.

“But I think we’ll be ready,” Newhouse concluded. “So far, so good.”

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