Throughout June, rainbows will light up miles of artwork created by over a dozen LGBTQIA+ artists celebrating Pride in Santa Monica, in addition to family-friendly programming.

Family-friendly Pride event shines colorful lights on Rainbow Road Art Walk

By Bridgette M. Redman

This June, rainbows will light up miles of artwork celebrating Pride in Santa Monica.

After last year’s Pride events had to be suspended because of COVID, organizers are hoping to make this year’s event a family-friendly celebration of love in every color.

Central to the celebration will be the Rainbow Road Art Walk, a stretch of visual art created by LGBTQIA+ artists. Several organizations are collaborating to make Pride happen in a year of uncertainty. They include the Santa Monica Pier, Downtown Santa Monica, Santa Monica Place, City of Santa Monica, Santa Monica Travel and Tourism, and Allies in Art.

Rainbow Road Art Walk, which will be a pathway spanning miles of city streets, will be lit up with rainbow-colored lights. It will stretch through Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica Place and Santa Monica Pier. The city celebrated its first-ever family-friendly Pride celebration in 2019 and was excited about how it would build into the next year.

“We had this wonderful momentum and then in 2020, we had to close it all down like the rest of the world,” said Kathleen Rawson, CEO of Downtown Santa Monica. “It was unclear to what level we’d be able to gather in person this year, so the team put together this Rainbow Road Art Walk that highlights gay and lesbian artists with these wonderful partnerships. We’re looking at this as a bit of a transitional year, hoping to pull out all the stops again next year.”

This marks the first year that they’ve issued an open call for visual artists to participate in Art Walk. Downtown Santa Monica turned to Allies in the Arts, a local nonprofit whose mission is to support women, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ artists. Allies in Arts will curate the installation and they selected the final artist participants. Rainbow Road Art Walk is open through June 30.

Rainbow lights shed boldness on event
The light installation started several years ago. Rawson said it was the end of an evolution of brainstorming trying to figure out how they could add a bold, multicolored element to Pride. They talked about painting the sidewalks, but discarded the idea. Once they came upon the idea of the rainbow lights, they tried it and it was a huge hit.

“People can walk under it at night and it fills your heart with joy,” Rawson said. “It was all over Instagram because it is very beautiful and easy for people to take advantage of. It’s a bold statement visually and programmatically.”

Allies in Arts considered the dozens of submissions they received and settled on two for the Pier, three for Santa Monica Place and seven for along the Third Street Promenade. As of mid-May, there was still the possibility that they might bring on additional collaborators or fabricators if there is room.

“It’s a really dynamic collection, something I’m excited about,” said Drew Denny, co-founder and creative director of Allies in Arts. “There are amazing murals that will be painted right on the pier bridge to photography installed in vacant storefronts on the Promenade.”

A variety of work
The works chosen range from those that are being created specifically for Santa Monica Pride and those that are extensions of other projects the artists have already done. They also run the gamut of contemporary art.

Two artists, James Daniel and Grey, are creating an interactive multimedia installation. People can interact with it, take photos and then share them on social media to declare that they stand with trans youth.

Chris Classen will install his existing work of “Love Letters.” They are a collection of sculptures made with fluorescent light bulbs. When each light turns on, it flashes beautiful, sweet and evocative excerpts from love letters.

On the pier, a group known as Very Gay Paint will be painting a mural that is a new work. Parisa Parnian is also making a mural that will be installed on Third Street. It’s a large-format vinyl wrap that features Santa Monica in it as a vision of Pride being an inclusive event.

Drawn from the queer community
Denny said that all the partners spent a lot of time ensuring that they had the same vision for this year’s Pride. One thing they all felt was important was that LGBTQ+ people curated the art works and determined who the exhibitors would be.

“We want to make sure that the decision makers are from the community that this is supposed to support,” Denny said. “So whenever we have a project that is, for example, Pride, that is geared toward queer-identified individuals, those individuals are the ones deciding who the Pride artists will be. We put together a curatorial board representing different identities across the alphabetical LGBTQQIA2S+ spectrum and were also inclusive of Latinx, Black and AAPI perspectives.”

This year’s Pride comes after more than a year of isolation with people craving community. It is also a time that has been devastating for artists financially.

“We are really grateful to Santa Monica for providing artists with a paid gig,” Denny said.

Rawson added that Pride is about lifting people up and that includes the artists. “We’re not asking any artist to display their artwork for free. We are absolutely paying artists.”

Denny said that is one of the things that already makes the event a success in her mind, in part because their research shows that women and LGBTQ+ are often excluded from exhibitions, are tokenized or are expected to do their work for free.

Throwing the gates open to all ages
There have traditionally been many Pride events in Southern California, and Rawson said that they want to make sure Santa Monica offers something different, which is why they have the emphasis on being family-friendly.

They want it to be an event that all members of the community, regardless of age, can attend and they can celebrate LGBTQ families.
“I feel abundantly proud of the work that we have done for Pride, specifically family-friendly programming,” Rawson said. “It’s one of the biggest accomplishments I’ve had in my career and I’ve been here 24 years.”

She said they are careful in the selections they make for entertainment and visual artists so that a family can be comfortable with a 5-year-old seeing whatever is on display.

“It has always been extremely important to me and my family that Pride has a family element,” Rawson said. “It isn’t the focus for some of the traditional Pride celebrations.”

She referred to a photo they have of a transgender youth standing in front of the stage who looks to be about 13 and is wearing a trans flag on their shoulder.

“This is the message — this was their community and it reflected them and how they are,” Rawson said. “They’re validated, heard, seen and celebrated. That’s why we must have a family-friendly Pride event.”

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