Stay Gallery ready for launch

DOWNEY - After much fanfare, the long-awaited Stay Gallery will officially open its doors to the public in a two-day event taking place Oct. 11-12. The Oct. 11 grand opening will be geared towards the many volunteers, family, friends, local sponsors, arts organizations, artists, and city officials, such as council members Mario Guerra, Mayor Roger Brossmer and Fernando Vasquez, whose contributions, donations and support made the gallery a possibility.

"Mayor Roger Brossmer believed in us from the first small event we had in 2007," said Valentin Flores, Stay Gallery's executive director.

Downey Art Vibe (DAV), the arts organization that will be running the gallery, is calling day two of the event its "Launch Night." From 7 p.m. to midnight, DAV is encouraging all members of the community to visit the gallery and view artwork from 20 local artists, five of which will be DAV members, including Flores, Stay Gallery Creative Director Gabe Enamorado, and members Sergio Robleto, Jamie Lennon Rowland and Alina Wilson.

The gallery's grand opening will also mark the beginning of an aggressive fundraising campaign with the goal of raising $20,000, all of which will be used to complete the renovation of the gallery, a former drapery shop located on Downey Avenue.

"We want to build the gallery we originally envisioned for our city and we don't want a lack of funds to get in the way of that. We believe that Downey deserves a top-notch gallery space for our community to enjoy," Flores said.

Specifically, the funds will be allocated to three different areas of the gallery that still need to be built. The first is a loft space that will be used as an office area and conference room area by DAV staff members and partnering organizations. According to Flores, who in May received a double Masters in Urban Planning and Public Administration from USC, a loft is the best way to get the most use out of the gallery's limited space, enabling as much square footage as possible to be devoted to artwork.

The remaining two areas that need funding will be outdoor spaces. The first is a patio area in the back of the gallery and the second will be located in the front of the gallery.

"We want to create a beautiful wood deck with movable furniture in front of the gallery that will serve as a public space," Flores said. "We think it would be an incredible way to brand our downtown area. The space would not only act as the entrance of the gallery, but as the entrance to the entire downtown district. It can be a place where people congregate during gallery events or a landmark where friends meet in Downtown Downey. "

DAV has developed an inventive strategy for increasing donations. During the two-night opening event and during all future events, admission will be "free with a donation." Meaning you can enter the event upon purchasing a $10-20 donation ticket, but if you're a student with a valid I.D., entrance will always be free. Those willing and able to donate larger amounts of money can view a "menu" featuring upcoming events and exhibits, enabling them to pinpoint the projects they want to fund.

"We thought it was a fun, interesting approach to getting donations," Flores said. "We've realized that if given the opportunity, people will support causes they believe in and we're going to provide a lot of opportunities for them to donate to the programming that means the most to them. We're also going to be selling merchandise like Stay T-shirts and 100 percent of the proceeds from T-shirt sales will go to the development of programs and workshops. We want to be very strict about how money comes in and where it goes."

Keeping with DAV's initial idea of being more than a gallery, the group is also seeking donations in the form of event chairs and tables, conference room furniture, a projector, and a screen in order to comfortably accommodate community members for future events, such as movie screenings, theatrical performances and pop-up restaurants.

After the grand opening and Launch Night, the gallery will experience a dead period, when construction will continue and the DAV staff will map out future programming. In the beginning of November, Stay Gallery will be open to the public from Tuesday to Friday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission will be free, except during special events when entrance will be "free with donation".

One of the first events on Stay Gallery's agenda will take place Nov. 1 in celebration of Dia de los Muertos, otherwise known as Day of the Dead. An official holiday in Mexico, Dia de los Muertos is celebrated by many Latin cultures as a way of honoring those who have passed. DAV is still working out the specifics of the event, but the goal will be educating the public about a holiday that has been celebrated for thousands of years.

"This will be about more than skeletons and skull artwork," Flores said. "We want this to be a cultural event featuring people very knowledgeable about the customs and traditions surrounding the holiday. We're hoping we can also do a walk through downtown."

The weeks ahead will prove to be quite significant for the ever-growing DAV, which is constantly working to strengthen its ties to pillars of the community, including Dr. Mary Stauffer, Betty Porto of Porto's Bakery & Cafe, Downey Unified School District, Downey Rotary, Soroptimist International of Downey, and Kiwanis, among others.

The group is also compiling its board of directors for ethical and professional guidance, which may include Andrew Wahlquist from the Downey Arts Coalition, attorney and District 5 City Council candidate Alex Saab, Brent Tercero a 28-year-old city council member from Pico Rivera, Phil Davis of Downey Adult School, and former mayor and council member Kirk Cartozian, who Flores credits with being the backbone of the emerging board.

"We're truly humbled by the caliber of people who are interested in becoming a part of Downey Art Vibe and our vision for Stay Gallery," Flores said. "We're also blown away by how far our family, friends, and community have been willing to go to help us. From our high school friends, like brothers Nate and Jason Burns who did everything from lighting installation to demolition to Joey Shasha and Nathan Black who installed our air duct system, to local businesses like Johnny Venegas' Elite Concrete who gave us floors more beautiful than we could have ever imagined, we're eternally grateful."

It's also important to Flores and DAV that young people in the community can take pride in Stay Gallery, which is why Flores wants to continue partnering with local high schools, similar to the project he completed with Warren High School construction technology instructor Kent Kiess, whose students constructed the gallery's wooden façade.

"Having local students work on the gallery not only gives them real-world experience, but it makes them feel like they're part of their community. They're using their hands and talents to contribute to our city's legacy and they'll always be able to look back and know that they played a part in it all," Flores said. "Again, this is bigger than a gallery. This is a gift we've been given and we want to be the epicenter; we want to be the place the community gathers."

********** Published: October 4, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 25