Downtown art gallery is 'here to stay'

DOWNEY - In order to show their appreciation for their many donators, supporters, friends, family members, and the Downey artists who have made their dream a possibility, Downey Art Vibe (DAV) threw a private party at their Downtown gallery space on Friday, July 27. The night also marked another important milestone: the official release of the gallery's name. The space, located at 11140 Downey Avenue, will be called Stay Gallery, symbolizing DAV's commitment to getting young professionals and artists to stay in Downey and contribute to the cultural renaissance the group is leading.

Despite its unfinished floors and gutted ceiling, Stay Gallery impressed the party's over 100 attendees, many of which donated $10 or a bottle of wine for future occasions. As is often the case with DAV events, the thumping music, mostly young, well-dressed crowd, and vibrant atmosphere makes you forget you're in Downey, a city that seems fully asleep by 10 p.m. each night. The DAV party lasted late into the night and according to Stay Gallery director, Valentin Flores, the party's late start was intentional.

"We wanted this event to feel intimate and private because it really was about thanking everyone who has shown us love over the past year," Flores said. "We intentionally started late and put caution tape over the front door and requested that our guests enter through the back. A lot of curious people were peeking in to see what was going on because they weren't used to seeing that much activity or foot traffic at that hour Downtown. It was our way of showing the community how future events would go and the potential Stay Gallery has for reinvigorating the city's nightlife."

Those inside the event, such as Mayor Roger Brossmer and Councilmember Fernando Vasquez, who donated the gallery's lighting, were able to view original pieces by local Downey artists who spent the previous day - and in some cases, night - working on murals that were painted directly onto the Gallery's white walls. DAV member and local artist Jamie Lennon Rowland was responsible for one of the most popular pieces at the gallery, which featured a series of iPhone screens displaying fictitious text message exchanges between two unknown sources. The conversations touched on the social impact of 'everywhere' technology, which is resulting in our inability to connect with art - or other people - in a sincere way.

Rowland, a Downey native, is in no way shocked by the early success of the unfinished Stay Gallery. "Some people might think it's out of the blue, but other artists in town that I know are saying, 'Finally!'" Rowland said. "I'm anxious for the official opening. It's going to be a beehive of activity and a true cultural center."

Another local artist, 'Cheese' had an explosively colorful mural in the center of the gallery. In graffiti-style lettering using splashes of magenta and mustard yellow, the word "Stay" was the focal point of the piece. Cheese, who met Flores in photography class, was also celebrating his 23rd birthday the day of the event and the young artist was thrilled by the changes DAV is bringing to the city.

"What they're doing is amazing. I never thought this scene would be possible in Downey," Cheese said.

According to Councilman Vasquez, 15 years ago the scene on Friday night wouldn't have been possible. In many ways what's happening is the perfect storm: the presence of a young, ambitious, and energetic non-profit, the city's desire for cultural change, and the quickly shifting demographics in the city of Downey. Not only is there more diversity than ever before, but according to the 2010 United States Census, almost 40 percent of the city is under the age of 24.

As the name of their gallery suggests, these are the young people DAV is trying to convince to stay in the city, contribute to its renaissance, and help build Downey's tomorrow. Artist Alina Wilson is a DAV member who has showcased her work at many of the non-profit's local shows. She grew up in Downey, but moved to Huntington Beach partly because of the city's lack of an arts scene. With the opening of the gallery and the increased interest in cultural programming, Wilson is now seriously considering moving back.

DAV isn't trying to create a youth movement, however; they're trying to create a cultural movement.

"This isn't just about being young; it's about bringing real change to the city. We're very sensitive to what the people of Downey think and when we were testing our brand's name, it was 50/50: 50 percent loved it and 50 percent were unsure of it. When they came to the event, however, they got it. It clicked. It's about getting people to stay and give back to our community in a more meaningful way," Flores said.

Downey Arts Coalition member Carlos Durazo, who has an MFA in fine arts, has been painting longer than some attendees at the event have been alive. For 35 years the painter has been working on his craft and after spending the last decade in Downey he was hungry for an arts scene that didn't require a drive to Downtown Los Angeles.

"I've been trying to get more involved in the community and I'm always looking for opportunities to contribute to the cultural aspects of the city. Downey Art Vibe and their gallery are providing that opportunity to me and many other local artists. I'm very excited for the potential here," Durazo said.

DAV still plans to officially open Stay Gallery's doors sometime in September, but in the coming weeks the gallery will be a flurry of activity. The floors will be finished and the floor area near the gallery's entrance will be emblemized with the Stay logo, the loft space will be built, track lighting will be installed, and ivy will be planted outside, among many other improvements. Creative director Gabriel Enamorado, who is responsible for all of the gallery's visuals and logos, is currently working on t-shirt designs for the gallery that will be sold both online and inside Stay. Enamorado feels that having transparency with the local community is important, which is part of the reason the office space that will be above the gallery will feature glass doors.

"When we're all finished I want people to be able to walk into the gallery and see what we're doing, see what we're working on," Enamorado said. "That kind of transparency is very important because we're here for the community and we always want to be available to them."

This willingness to invite the public in will also be reflected in on Aug. 4 when the Downey Farmers' Market will move from its current location to Downey Avenue, between 2nd and 3rd Streets. DAV is inviting shoppers to visit the gallery and take a look at the progress that's been made in the eight weeks since Flores was handed the keys in early June.

"Things are obviously still coming together, but we want to invite the community in and let them see firsthand what we've been up to," Flores said. "We might as well because like our front window now says, 'We're here to stay.'"

********** Published: August 02, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 16