Mother’s Beach transforms into a pop-up arts district that embraces contemporary culture

By Christina Campodonico

Sailing, power boating, paddle boarding, kayaking, fishing — Marina del Rey boasts a bevy of aquatic sporting and leisure opportunities, but this weekend the harbor also becomes a destination for interactive art.

Saturday’s inaugural ARTsea stands apart from Los Angeles County’s familiar roster of public programming in the marina by embracing emerging cultural scenes throughout the region. It skews younger, hipper and a little more creative.

From noon to 10 p.m., Mother’s Beach becomes a pop-up arts district with hands-on public art installations, live music and dance, an eclectic array of food trucks and even a craft beer garden.

‘California Curse’

A number of up-and-coming Eastside art spaces are making the trek across the 405 for ARTsea, including roaming art group BBQLA, Chinatown’s Leimin Space and Lincoln Height’s In Lieu.

“These are all younger spaces geared less toward sales and more toward programming. They’re not set up as traditional galleries — they’re taking more risks, they’re showing younger artists,” says independent curator Pejman Shojaei, who’s ARTsea exhibition “California Curse” features the work of contemporary artists influenced by groundbreaking L.A. forebears.

“California Curse” is very much a nod to the Westside roots of L.A.’s post-war art scene — think the crisp and clean lines of the Light and Space movement or the innovations of the Cool School, whose artists transformed convertibles cruising through Santa Monica and surfboards on Venice Beach into radical experimentations with light, space and color. Some Cool School alumni, like Ed Moses, still live and work in Venice.

“So much of the ’50s and ’60s [art scene] was in Santa Monica and Venice and right around Marina del Rey,” says Shojaei. “To me it was a way to pay homage to that. The show is referencing a lot of the types of works that were created in the ’50s and ’60s — Ed Ruscha, artists like Craig Kauffman and Billy al Bengston and [curator] Walter Hopps, and all these institutions that revolved around the Westside.”

Other popups include a contemporary art exhibition in a Ford Crown Victoria by gallery1993 and “Love and Guts,” a collection of skateboard-inspired works by artists and skateboard legends Steve Olson, Lance Mountain and Pat Ngoho.

ARTsea includes works from Leimin Space’s “Persephone’s Alternative Art Cave” (top left and lower right), a set by DJ Anthony Valadez (upper right), live music by Quitapenas (lower left), and cardboard tall ships created by artist Kiel Johnson

Immersive Art

In keeping with the immersive art theme, ARTsea participants can peruse and purchase locally handcrafted creative goods at an on-site Makers’ Market, or tap their inner impressionists with “Paint a la plage.” For that plein air art exercise, participants snag a beach chair, plunge their toes into the sand and paint a view of the marina with provided materials.

Another way to quite literally leave your mark on ARTsea is through artist Peter Tigler’s crowdsourced thumbprint mural. Using a paint-by-numbers algorithm, Tigler asks participants to apply paint to specific parts of the mural, creating a giant finger-painted piece of art.

“I draw the shapes, fill in the numbers, mix the colors and create the stage for the painting to take place,” Tigler explains in a video on his YouTube channel. “I enjoy the act of participation by so many people and guiding them to really look and think about pictures in a new way.”

Artist Kiel (pronounced “Kyle”) Johnson, known for his whimsical creations out of cardboard — he’s created faithful models of boats, airplanes and polaroid cameras out of this scrappy material — is also inviting attendees to turn his ARTsea tent into a giant aquarium, where people can make their own aquatic creatures out of cardboard with help from Johnson and his team.

“We’re just going to have cardboard and markers and paint and string, and we’re going to be drawing plant life and sea creatures — some fictional and some real,” he says. “We’re going to hang it all over the tent and cover it with crazy sea creatures on a string.”

Music and Dance

Two of Johnson’s cardboard sculptures — a pair of 15’ x 12’ tall ships — will also adorn the music stage, where bands, deejays and dancers are performing throughout the day and into the night.

DJ Mara Schwartz Kuge, a regular at the downtown L.A. bar Resident, kicks off the musical lineup at 2 p.m. with daytime-friendly easy rock from the ’70s and early ’80s. Yachty by Nature picks up the smooth rock vibe at 4 p.m. with hits from performers like Hall and Oats, Steely Dan, Toto and the Eagles.

As the sun sets, Afro-Latin band Quitapenas spices things up from 8 to 9 p.m. with music from Cuba, the Caribbean, Angola, Peru and more.  Latinx musicians from the I.E., the band gives a funky SoCal twist to traditional Afro-Latin rhythms.

“We are reinterpreting the music through our lens. We’re giving it a unique flavor based on our interpretation of the music,” says Quitapenas band member and manager Eduardo Valencia. “It has an honest Southern California vibe to it. If you like to dance, you will enjoy this music.”

(Trust him on this. I spent one wild night at the Townhouse & Del Monte Speakeasy last year swinging to their beats until almost closing time.)

KCRW DJ Anthony Valadez takes over from 9 to 10 p.m. to close out the night with his signature blend of contemporary beats.

ARTsea’s dance lineup is equally exciting, with performances by hula troupe Halau Keali’i O Nalani Dancers at various times throughout the day, and hip hop dance group Versa-Style leading a jam session from 2 to 3 p.m.  All ages and skill levels are invited to hit the dance floor to pick up moves from Versa-Style’s pros and/or play an instrument.

‘Something for Everyone’

After working up a sweat and an appetite, dancers can hit the beer (and wine and sangria) garden hosted by Café Del Rey or any of nine food trucks, including liquid nitrogen ice cream makers Blast Ice Cream, B&R Burgers, Downtown Dogs, The Surfer Taco, Swami Sandwiches, Asian noodle makers Tainamite, the Texas-inspired Wise BBQ, A Rockin Shave Ice and Cousins Maine Lobster.

And if the sea still calls to you, watersport rentals and lessons in paddleboard yoga, stand-up paddle boarding and kayaking are available from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from YOGAqua, Paddle Method, REI, Pro SUP Shop and others. Register online ahead of time or drop in, but be sure to mention “ARTsea” for possible discounts.

“I know it sounds cliché, but I really do think this is something for everyone,” says Carol Baker of the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors. “So you may not want to actually try your hand at painting a mural, for example, but maybe you want to buy things at the Maker’s Market. … Whether you just want to watch, or you want to actually get involved in making art or dancing — there’s just going to be a ton of things to do.”

ARTsea is from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday (June 10) at Marina (Mother’s) Beach, 4101 Admiralty Way, Marina del Rey. Visit for more info. Transportation options include the water taxi, beach shuttle (from Playa Vista or the Venice Pier), and the Free Ride electric shuttle (text 323-435-5000).