Local artists may get their own space downtown

DOWNEY - Hoping to foster an encouraging environment for Downey artists while creating more artistic and cultural opportunities for residents, the city is ramping up its efforts to establish a permanent arts facility downtown, throwing its weight behind a local group of home-grown artists.After organizing a string of popular art gallery shows including two exhibits at the Downey Civic Theatre, Downey Art Vibe, a dedicated group of art enthusiasts, is now working hand in hand with city officials who have partnered with the organization to bring arts and culture back into the heart of Downey. Pleased with what the group of mostly twentysomethings has done thus far, Brian Saeki, the city's community development director, said city staff is working closely with the group, even helping them find and maintain a permanent location along Downey Avenue in the downtown district. "Because of the overwhelming success of their events, we would like to get them into the downtown," said Saeki. "The city is screaming for an arts movement like this. Rather than try to do this on our own, the city staff decided to help them grow this art movement." Valentin Flores, co-founder and director of Downey Art Vibe, believes the partnership with the city will help the organization achieve its goal of increasing cultural programming in Downey. "The city is truly changing," Flores said. "The city is starting to realize that Downey's not a small, bedroom city...[it] has changed demographically. The youth want to do more activities involving the arts. The city gets it, but it's a slow process." Founded in 2007, Downey Art Vibe began with a few small art shows planned by its founding members. However, most recently the group has attracted a sizable following after hosting two successful gallery events, "Ambivalence" in 2009 and "Suburban Renaissance" in 2011 at the Downey Civic Theatre and an art wall exhibit at the city's Taste of Downey event last year. Hoping to find a permanent location, the group hired a consultant who confirmed that the organization would be able to sustain a space if its gallery shows continued to succeed. Flores soon approached the city concerning the venture. "Brian began working with us. The city said, 'we'll support you,'" said Flores. "We provide the programming, and the city donates the space and marketing." Although the city is still actively looking for a location for Downey Art Vibe, city officials are already supporting the group, offering its members space inside city conference rooms to hold meetings and allowing the organization to use the Downey Theatre at no charge for art shows. Saeki said city staff is still negotiating with Flores and Downey Art Vibe, but ultimately the city is hoping to make a significant loan to the non-profit organization to help jumpstart its efforts to offer artistic and cultural programming in the downtown district. "This isn't unprecedented, the city has shown support for groups before," said Saeki. "The Downey Art Vibe is very motivated and we want to help with that energy." While there are several downtown locations the city is eyeing, many of them, including the former Freedom Vacations location on the corner of Third Street and Downey Avenue, are currently being leased by tenants who may choose to extend their contracts. "We're not in a hurry, we're waiting for the perfect place," said Flores who is currently pursuing two Master's degrees in urban planning and public administration from the University of Southern California. "This is only sustainable in Downtown Downey. We're a downtown entity so we feel we need to be on Downey Avenue in order to pick up the residual effect of businesses like Porto's." Once established, Flores believes the Downey Art Vibe facility, which is slated to offer gallery memberships and an array of art workshops and classes, will create a vehicle for economic development in the downtown district. "No pun intended, but it creates a vibe," said Flores with a laugh. "We love going to LA, but we want to stay local. People just want to be around each other. We've gotten away from that, but Downey Art Vibe creates a situation for people to laugh, have a drink, and share the human experience. People are yearning for that."

********** Published: March 08, 2012 - Volume 10 - Issue 47