Mar Vista artists seize the moment with “Love is Action. Riot.”

By Christina Campodonico

L.A. street artist Royal’s double-panel work juxtaposes the innocence of childhood with the menace of the military industrial complex in politically charged times

The Mar Vista Art Walk may be less than three years old, but it’s already ingrained in the cultural fabric of Venice Boulevard.

A Carnaval-themed art walk in March brought out a parade of Brazilian dancers, local musicians jamming on street corners, painters working canvasses outside storefronts and the unveiling of a Victorian-style curiosities shop at 826LA. It felt like an evening in Manhattan’s gallery- and nightlife-rich Chelsea neighborhood, a native New Yorker told me.

While the blustery weather that evening certainly felt East Coast, the vibe was thoroughly Mar Vista — an organic mix of artistic expression and community pride that bubbles up from the character of the neighborhood.

The Mar Vista Art Walk began in December 2015 as a one-off grassroots collaboration between environmental nonprofit Green Communications Initiative and a band of local artists spearheaded by painter Mitchelito Orquiola. Now it’s a quarterly highlight of the Westside’s cultural calendar that’s helped put Mar Vista on the map as more than just Venice’s red-headed stepchild.

“The first art walk attracted 500 visitors,” says Lenore French, president of Green Communications Initiative. “Now, we’re close to 3,000.”

Now the art walk is planting more permanent roots with its own brick-and-mortar headquarters and event space. The Mar Vista Art Walk Community Gallery opens Friday in the former Buckwild Gallery space on Venice Boulevard just east of Beethoven Street.

After soft-launching in March with underwriting from German children’s books author Cornelia Funke (a.k.a. the J.K. Rowling of Germany), the new nonprofit MVAW gallery space celebrates its official opening with the unveiling of the political art show, “Love is Action. Riot.”

Curated by Mar Vista Art Walk social media manager Kenna Stout, founder of the online art platform The Radical F.E.W., “Love is Action” brings together artworks by seven L.A. artists, including Mar Vistan Erik Charlot and the Venice-based creative duo CANLOVE (who create colorful bouquets out of discarded spray paint cans) to explore how love can be a political act and how political art can be an act of love.

“We’re covering everything from blood money and greed, to vandalism to Black Lives Matter and police brutality, to hope and inspiration,” says Stout.

Among the works on display are painter Gabe Gault’s pop art-style portraits of Martin Luther King Jr., Tupac Shakur and Parkland shooting survivor turned teenage activist Emma Gonzalez.

“Those three pieces together are really a conversation about what would our past icons and heroes of the Civil Rights Movement and street politics say now? Our leaders are 17. What does that mean?” muses Stout, adding that she hopes the exhibit encourages visitors to reconsider what it means to be “political.”

“I hope people will come into the show and breathe in what the art community has been saying for years and pouring our hearts into,” she says. “Being ‘political’ is not frivolous. It is for so many a life-and-death situation. Starting to act more political is and can be a radical act of love. … When you talk about politics, it can come from the heart.”

In addition to being a place where artists can explore big ideas through their art, French hopes the gallery can be an active hub for Mar Vista’s arts community and its locals.

“We hope to not just be exhibiting art,” says French, “but also activating the space for the community of artists. So that would include things like networking events, workshops, practical matters like ‘How to price your artwork.’ … We hope to activate it and think of it as a community gallery — as a place where art and community can come together.”

Other ideas for enriching the space include setting up a booth where visitors can record oral histories and making the space available to artists for collaborations, meetings and informal hangouts.

“To have a space that’s ours — that’s designated as ours — it solidifies that sense of Mar Vista as a community of artists,” says French. “It’s a public announcement to the community at large that we’re here to stay. … It gives us a home.”

“Love is Action. Riot” opens from 6 to 10 p.m. Friday (May 4) and remains through May 20 at the Mar Vista Art Walk Community Gallery, 12804 Venice Blvd., Mar Vista. Visit or check @marvistaartwalk on Instagram for updates.