Highland Park showcase of Latino art & culture celebrates 10th anniversary

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Story and photos by James Schneeweis

Housed in what once is believed to have been a sweatshop, Avenue 50 Studio now jumps alive with color, imagination and hope. Avenue 50 Studio, an arts presentation organization grounded in Latino and  Chicano culture in Highland Park, celebrates 10 years with a fundraiser on Sunday, October 17 with 20 great pieces of art from local artists. Understanding the need for an art gallery in the Northeast corner of Los Angeles, Director/Curator Kathy Gallegos opened Avenue 50 Studio in 1999 beside what would become the tracks for the Metro Gold Line.  It has since become one of the longest-running art galleries exhibiting the art of Chicanos and Latinos in Los Angeles with 10 exhibitions a year. The showing of multicultural arts on a monthly basis in a working class community can go a long way in educating people to the importance of diverse art and providing a center for cultural activities with workshops in art, spoken word and other creative forms of expression.

Gallegos, who lives in Highland Park, began her serious affair with art in 1982 when she discovered Self-Help Graphics in East Los Angeles.  As one of the original creators of the printmaking studio at SHG, she was selected to participate in the very first Etching Atelier at the Centro Cultural de Tijuana (CECUT) in Tijuana, Mexico.

We spoke with Kathy Gallegos about Avenue 50 Studio, her first 10 years running the space and more.  Click on the link below to read a Q&A with Gallegos:

Q: What is Avenue 50 Studio?
A: The Avenue 50 Studio is a 501(c)(3) non-profit arts presentation organization whose mission it is to build bridges of understanding through the arts.

Q: Why did you start this gallery?
A: There was a need in our Latino community for galleries representing our culture.

Q: Why in Highland Park?
A: I have lived and worked in the Northeast since 1982. This is my community and I want to help build it. When we opened, there was no one else was doing what we were doing. It helped re-awaken the art movement in this area.

Q: Where and how do you find your artists?
A: I know most of them. Friends introduce artists to me. I find them on Facebook/MySpace or through other galleries. Artists get in touch with me.

Q: What do you look for?
A: Artistic vision and technique. I need to see that you are ready. I need to see that you have a vision in your work and that what you are doing shows professionalism in presentation.

Q: Who are the people who most enjoy Avenue 50 Studio?
A: Everyone who stops by for a visit or a workshop. And me. People will walk into a gallery because they love art.

Q: What does multicultural mean to you and this gallery?
A: Multiculturalism means inclusion. We are inclusive in our exhibitions and programming. We believe in learning from others.

Q: What intrigues you about local artists and what excites you most about upcoming artists?
A: I like seeing an artist progress through the years. I like seeing how they mature. It’s exciting to find new artists because I want to eagerly introduce them to our community as a new “find”, a diamond in the rough.

Q: How has the type of art/artists you feature changed in the last ten years?
A: I think it’s changed by the inclusion of the Black community of artists. It was very small in the past, but currently, a number of Black artists are regularly a part of our community.

Q: What do you have planned for your 10th Anniversary?
A: We have planned a small house party (on October 17) for our 10th, with a focus on supporters, along with our artist community. Without the supporters, our doors would not be open. Without the artists’ involvement, we would be a paper organization.

Q: How does the art community in Highland Park differ from other areas of Los Angeles or does it?
A: The very first art colony in LA surrounded itself around Charles Lummis here in Highland Park. That tradition continues today as Highland Park has a tremendous amount of artists living and working here. We are also home to the very first museum in LA, the Southwest Museum.

James Schneeweis is a writer who lives in Echo Park

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