Anyone connected to Downey’s art scene has likely heard of Carolina Del Toro.
Born and raised in Tecuala, Nayarit Mexico, Del Toro came to Los Angeles at the age of 17. Eventually, she met and married her husband and moved to Downey in 1995 where she raised her three daughters and would eventually play a pivotal role in the development of the local art scene.
Her increased involvement in art was sparked by her husband.
“While married with my husband, Jorge, I learned that he used to create ceramic pieces. After some 20 years together, I encouraged him to go back to his hobby. But, at the same time, he also encouraged me to take photography more seriously, as he thought I had a ‘great eye’ for it. So, we both decided to enroll at Cerritos College,” said Del Toro. “About two years into school, Jorge had created quite a few amazing ceramic pieces, and I myself had also created many black and white photographs. But, after we started accumulating our works, we wondered where we were going to display them.”
The opportunity came through an artist friend of the couple, who approached them with the idea of initiating an art gallery in Bixby Knolls along with two other artists. They named it “Gallery Expo.”
“It was then that I discovered how much I, not only enjoyed displaying our own and other artists’ work, but also loved the feeling of giving the opportunity to emerging artists. Most of these artists would not have stood a chance of finding a gallery to showcase their, unless they had a list of gallery names already on their curriculum.”
However, eventually the Del Toro’s left Gallery Expo and found it difficult to show their artwork locally.
“Jorge and I were hoping to find a place in Downey where we could show our artwork, but there wasn’t any,” said Del Toro. “We were invited to show our work at a monthly art exhibit in Oxnard. We exhibited our work there for a year, but sales and travel expenses were not adding up, so we stopped.”
Apparently, Del Toro wasn’t the only one looking for a local outlet.
“In 2011, while reading the Downey paper I came across an article that Mr. Andrew Wahlquist - a film maker - had written voicing his concern at the lack of art scene in our city,” said Del Toro. “He was wondering if there were other people/artists interested in the same subject.”
Del Toro, along with several other reached out to Wahlquist, then a meeting was held.
“That’s how we initiated Downey Arts Coalition,” said Del Toro.
Del Toro was recently appointed Vice President of the Downey Arts Coalition (DAC). She has been curator of the Downey Dia De Los Muertos Festival’s Art Exhibit for the last five years, and the Rooftop Concerts Art Exhibit for four.
Del Toro says that the art scene in Downey has changed dramatically over the last few years.
“Besides the work Stay Gallery has put forth, I feel confident enough to say that DAC has been a great contributor to this change,” said Del Toro. “Ever since DAC’s existence, we have hosted many art exhibits at different Downey locations, with established well-known artists, as well as emerging ones. We’ve also had well attended theater plays, monthly poetry nights, and just as importantly, we’ve initiated Make Music Downey. All of that was accomplished by volunteers who share the same passion for the arts.”
She says that her goal, as well as the goal of DAC, is to change the misconception that art can only be found elsewhere.
“We have a vast group of talented artists here in our city, but it remains a challenge to build a community culture that supports them and/or purchases their artwork,” said Del Toro.
Del Toro would also love to see more of an active role made by the city.
“I would like to see our city government take a more active role in stimulating the arts and creative industries in our city,” said Del Toro. “And though it may be too much of a dream, I would love for our city to subsidize a place that we, DAC, can call ‘home;’ a place where we can conduct our monthly board meetings, store our artwork display items, and have a desk and file cabinets to keep our files.”