The Tribe Project aims to inject an entrepreneurial spark into Venice’s art scene

By Samuel Aftel

Tribe Accelerator Artist Gary Weizenecker Jr. is also the manager of Venice’s Budman Studio

During a global pandemic, economic decay, and intensifying sociopolitical division, the arts may seem secondary – unworthy of the same attention and financial assistance, as say, the decaying American health care and hospitality industries.

And yet, perhaps artistic institutions, and artists themselves, are more essential than ever: art has long served as a healing mechanism amid humanity’s darkest hours.

In this spirit, The Tribe Project – a Venice Beach-based nonprofit dedicated to accelerating and amplifying local artists’ work – and its visionary founder, Scott Eddy Marintsch, seek to empower artists and incentivize community-conscious creativity, even as Los Angeles and the world face an uncertain future.

“I would say especially for nonprofits, it’s a tough year,” said Marintsch, who serves as the nonprofit’s executive director. In 2020, supporting nonprofits that do not directly address COVID-19 or racism, Marintsch says, is a particularly tough sell. Nonetheless, he and The Tribe Project are soldiering on.

Officially incorporated just this year, the organization, according to its website, provides an “experimental art space … that strives to be a haven for authentic, genuine human expression.”

Through its three-month Artist Accelerator program, the organization’s flagship initiative, The Tribe Project partners with select artists, supporting them as they pursue their artistic vision in an emerging incubator setting in Venice Beach. The program facilitates artists’ entrepreneurial education and helps them construct a plan to share (and ultimately monetize) their art to the general public.

Providing entrepreneurial mentorship to artists — thereby enabling them to potentially make a living by pursuing their creative dreams — is crucial to The Tribe Project’s mission.

The earnest and socially conscious Marintsch told me that it is all too easy to work a salaried “nine-to-five” job without doing what you are passionate about, like making art. However, he believes there is a way out of this late-capitalist rut “if you can realize the world is your oyster and you can get out and you can find a way to make money through your own hard work and your own sweat, blood, and tears,” while pursuing your genuine interests.

He sees organizations like The Tribe Project as potential sources of creative inspiration for those chastened by everyday life’s predictable rhythms. Imagining people accessing artistic spaces like Tribe Project, Marintsch pondered that “you [could] have people on tours walking through and just saying, ‘Wow, that’s possible,’ and they go home, and maybe they never come back. But they have that. That’s their kernel. And now they get to go back home and say, ‘I’m going to buy a sketchpad.’ ”

Currently, Marintsch and his colleagues are working with three Los Angeles-based artists: Venice sculptor Ara Bevacqua; Gary Weizenecker Jr., a painter and manager of Venice’s Budman Studio; and Emmitt James, a rapper.

Given the still-raging COVID-19 pandemic, however, The Tribe Project is, for this year, “limited” in the support it can provide these artists. “We could be doing so much more with them,” Marintsch said. “If it wasn’t 2020.”

Yet Marintsch believes not all is lost.

“I think as things become safer … we’ll definitely put more of a spotlight on them, and we’ll keep them involved probably on a longer-term basis.”

“The hope is that they’re able to monetize some of their artwork and through networking/relationships, get them into contracts/positions to get financially compensated for their artistry,” added Marintsch later in an email. “I believe that in the not too distant future, we’re going to get to a place where artists can join the program and feel confident that they will walk away with compensation of some sort, whether it’s as creative entrepreneurs or in a full/part-time capacity.”

Notwithstanding the near-apocalyptic defeatism omnipresent in our cultural and political discourses these days, the fact that The Tribe Project and other community-facing nonprofits and businesses are weathering the storm is reason for hope.

As I talked to Marintsch, I began to remember that one day this nightmarish pandemic will end, and, on the other side of it, creative organizations like The Tribe Project will hopefully be there to inspire us to build a better, more socially-conscious and creatively sustainable new “normal.”

The Tribe Project’s developing Psychonautic Lens Project exemplifies one such approach to producing vanguard artists equipped to face the embattled 21st-century marketplace. The Lens Project, according to Marintsch, is “an audio-visual experience with the intention of making it feel like you’re looking into a lens – like you’re looking into a psychedelic lens, effectively.”

The project, Marintsch explained, involves the creative use of psychedelic, indoor studio “sets for musical performances, where you have two screens that are on the front and backside of whoever’s performing. And we have projections on the screens, and the screens are see-through, but they also reflect light.”

“It’s really interesting material,” Marintsch continued. “And what we’re able to do is have someone standing inside of the space performing, singing, whatever, and they can real-time control what’s being projected around them. And the visuals react [in] real-time to whatever sound is being played.”

The hope is to create a metaphorical “post-singularity” “portal into the future.”

While Marintsch and his associates may still be working out the details and determining this experience’s exact potentialities, the psychonautic initiative’s intention is relatively clear: empower artists to make (economically viable) art through a cutting-edge, decidedly 21st-century lens.

Moreover, in the longer term, Marintsch hopes The Tribe Project “[becomes] a staple in the community” and eventually expands its digital and geographic reach.

Despite these fascinating initiatives and noble ambitions, the road forward for The Tribe Project and other nonprofits for the arts is paved with uncertainty. Nonprofits – especially arts-based organizations – face a particularly challenging recovery period, as they struggle to gradually reignite community engagement and investment, all while adhering to ever-changing public-health guidelines. (In a proposal for the 2021 federal budget, President Trump essentially called for the elimination for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities – which financially support and incentivize artistic and humanistic endeavors, respectively. In Los Angeles alone, arts organizations have lost more than $15 million since the start of the pandemic, according to a survey report by Americans for the Arts.)

It is unclear when or how the world will fully escape this pandemic, and the arts may be especially imperiled. Nonetheless, Marintsch remains cautiously optimistic.

As he reminded me, “creativity is born from chaos, born from obstacle, and born from challenges…. I think there’s a lot of hope. I think, right now, there’s definitely some dark days, but there’s always light at the end of the tunnel, and we’re always looking towards that.”

Perhaps the rest of us should, too.

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