Venice Art Crawl reboots as a quarterly event, while the Del Rey Art Walk returns
By Michael Aushenker
Local art lovers, you will soon learn that before you can walk, you’ve got to crawl…
Later this month, two area events, the seasonal Venice Art Crawl and the annual Del Rey Art Walk, intend on aggrandizing the Westside’s reputation for supporting the arts.
“I like to help give local artists exposure,” said crawl sponsor Esther Kim, owner of Hama Sushi and the parking lot next door, which she will open up to live entertainment by Beastie Boys tribute band Polywog Crew on Thursday, June 20, when the Art Crawl returns to Venice.
“We have everything from belly dancing to rap artists and graffiti artists,” said veteran photographer Sunny Bak, a long-involved crawl volunteer whose lens has professionally captured musical groups from the Beasties to Slayer. “People open their homes, their businesses to music, performance art, live painting, photography.”
During the event Ian Schmidt will exhibit his dark acrylics and watercolors at Bak Studio at 2214 Pacific Ave., Venice. Other local artists have included Zack Marks, a 14-year-old battling brain cancer who started Coach Art, which gives art lessons to kids coping with cancer.
“It’s been important to me as an artist just getting my career started with more opportunity to show my work,” said Isabelle Alford-Lago, whose gorilla people have sprung up on murals on Venice streets such as Market and Pacific. The Venice resident, who came to L.A. from Santa Cruz in 2005 to study fine arts at USC, has long been an active crawl artist.
She sees the Art Crawl as a way to celebrate the creativity of her adopted neighborhood, which she deemed “extremely eclectic. It has urban and beach culture and it feels connected to greater L.A.”
“It’s a do-it-yourself event,” she said. “It has developed a following and it brings exposure to local artists.”
A champion of localism, Kim has supported area artists since taking over the venerable sushi house in 2004. In the room adjacent to Hama’s sushi bar, she is currently exhibiting photos that include a series of Rip Cronk touching up his famous Jim Morrison mural on Speedway and 18th Street, a short walk from her Windward Circle establishment. Oils on display from a local painter hang for sale in her restaurant room. Kim added that she has opened up her restaurant to screenings of local filmmakers.
“The mission of the Art Crawl is to bring back art to Venice,” Bak said, “and restore it to the historical reputation it has as an art community.”
Venice Art Crawl began almost as an afterthought with a conversation between Edizen Stowell, Mike Newhouse, and restaurateur Daniel Samakow at the tail end of a spring 2010 Venice Chamber of Commerce event. Samakow, the owner of several of Venice’s most popular destinations, including James Beach, Canal Club and Danny’s Deli, was serving on the chamber’s board and was eager to see some cultural injection into a stagnating local arts scene.
Stowell, long a familiar face around the Westside via her photography business, Venice Paparazzi, recalled after that discussion, the next thing she knew, “we were all sitting around the Sidewalk Café (with a clutch of volunteers),” she said. “There was just a brainstorming.”
Lisa Ramsey was one of those volunteers at the Sidewalk Café. She became a crawl coordinator, then increased her involvement behind the scenes, helping with financing, implementation and other facets of putting the crawl on.
“I like the way it comes together; it’s like a big night out,” Ramsey said.
On Aug. 19, 2010, the first Art Crawl took place, and Stowell called it “completely amazing,” with more than 30 pop-up galleries featuring artists from William Ottoway to students from Otis College of Art and Design in Westchester, to the penthouse at Hotel Erwin.
Until this year, the crawls were monthly, however, “it was too much work for a lot of the artists and volunteers,” Stowell said.
“I felt everyone was getting burned out. The idea was to go bigger and better and allow the artists to create more work and have more time to put together group shows.”
Crawl organizers decided to scale down in regularity.
“We did that to create more momentum so we can build bigger venues and get better advertising,” Ramsey said.
A special projects chef by day, Ramsey, who has no creative background other than making food, has watched the show’s evolution across nearly three years with some satisfaction.
“It’s been going great,” she said. “This month we have 30 different shows. Watching it blossom into a flower, getting the awareness, getting the community to collectively contribute, has been amazing.”
Stowell said, “It creates a sense of community. There’s lights now, there’s activity, there’s a lot of traffic going on at the Boardwalk. I’ve seen a lot of emerging artists. Their art is able to be shown and purchased.”
With more than 7,000 people on the Art Crawl’s Facebook page, Stowell appears heartened that “people are excited about getting group shows, new locations, showing art. We’ve grown.”
As of the last event, Santa Monica-based Red Bull has become involved as one of the sponsors, providing a charter bus with crawl stops at Washington Boulevard, Rose Avenue, Windward and South Venice. The Art Crawl, which has aligned itself with the Venice Chamber of Commerce, also holds monthly mixers around Venice at its sponsor locations.
Nevertheless, despite seeing some evolution, Ramsey believes the crawl still has room to walk, even run.
“We’re now under the chamber so I’m hoping that even though we’re doing it quarterly, we’re doing other events,” she said of the crawl, which will round out its 2013 slate on Sept. 19 and Dec. 19. “I’d like to see us have a presence in other types of community activities and events.”
“What I really like,” Alford-Lago said, “is that the event brings all sorts of crowds and exhibitions on a grand scale – music, art, multidimensional and small shows at someone’s garage. There’s a huge range of shows that goes past visual arts.”
Del Rey Art Walk
Across the Westside another art event, skewing somewhat older, will take place on Sunday, June 23. Founded by Charlotte DeMeo, a longtime Juniette Street resident who, in the 1970s, taught art classes at Santa Monica College, the annual Del Rey Art Walk first brought some color to the community in October 2010. The fourth annual Del Rey Art Walk will once again showcase the local wares of artists such as Maria Hansen, Erma L. Benitez, and Gonzalo Algarate.
Visitors can expect live music, courtesy of Del Rey Community Jazz Band, alongside paintings, sculptures, pottery, collages, and yes, pine needle baskets.
But before the Art Walk arrives, the Art Crawl will light up next Thursday night, and no one is more delighted than its organizers.
“Looking back, three years later, artists are calling us to be involved,” Ramsey said. “It was the other way around in the beginning.”
To volunteer or exhibit art, VeniceArtCrawl.com. For more information on Del Rey Art Walk, delreyart.blogspot.com.