Community donations add to steady progress of downtown art gallery

DOWNEY - When Downey Art Vibe director Valentin Flores was handed the keys to 11140 Downey Avenue on June 10, he knew his non-profit arts group was one step closer to making their dream of having a downtown art gallery a reality - and that a lot of work was ahead. Downey Art Vibe (DAV) has existed in some capacity for five years now, but it has been within the last 12 months that the group has made its biggest strides. After a series of successful art shows, including November 2011's Suburban Renaissance, which brought hundreds of visitors to the Downey Theater, it was announced in May of this year that the City Council would lease the Downey Avenue retail space to be used as a public art gallery by DAV.

Under the five-year deal, the city agreed to pay $2,000 a month for two years, with DAV to take over for the remaining three years. Since June, it's been a whirlwind of activity for the group, who were simultaneously working on the gallery, further developing their brand, seeking funding sources, and hosting the recent student photography contest at Porto's Bakery.

After many sleepless nights, Flores, his partners Gabe Enamorado and Joseph Manacmul, and DAV staff members and volunteers have made serious progress on what was formally a drab drape shop. In almost seven weeks the group has managed to finish all of the demolition, remove the t-bar ceiling, remove all of the floor tiles, and scrape layers of glue off of the existing floor, all of which saved the non-profit thousands of dollars.

No one can deny the value the arts group has brought to the city or the buzz it's generated in such a short time, but the group's true gift to the city isn't art; it's community. DAV's true mission is to get the people of Downey to stay - stay in Downey, support local businesses, and create changes that will make younger generations want to stay here as well. Apparently, this is a mission that has resonated with many local residents because there has been a huge outpouring of donations to the gallery, the name of which will be released next month.

Many who've donated major services wanted to remain anonymous because to them, it wasn't about the recognition. One local contractor assisted with the demolition free of charge, saying only that if you live in this city, it's your duty to help. Those who've helped in ways big and small run the gamut, from Flores' childhood friends, former mayor Kirk Cartozian, and Porto's Bakery owner Betty Porto, to Mayor Roger Brossmer, Councilman Mario Guerra, philanthropist Dr. Mary Stauffer and local architect Henry Alvarez of Alvarez Design Studio, Inc. Alvarez donated all of the architectural design work, which according to Flores would have cost DAV up to $10,000.

"I was once given a big opportunity that I was very grateful for. I promised myself that if I was ever in the position to do the same for someone else, I would take it. I guess I'm paying it forward," Alvarez said.

"All of these people are from Downey, they are part of this community and they are donating their expertise, labor, sweat, and energy to make this gallery a reality," Flores said. "We're working to create an incredible place out of love for Downey."

The group is continuing to reach out to the community for donations in hopes of being up and running by the end of summer. According to Flores, who attended USC's Sol Price School of Public Policy studying urban planning, non-profit management, and public administration, DAV can never be out of fundraising mode. "It's the nature of non-profits," Flores said. Currently, the group is still in need of a PA system and signage for the gallery.

Flores is discussing the idea of turning the 1,152 square foot space into a loft, which would add over 300 square feet to the gallery. Plans to segment a portion of the gallery for a meeting area and service area are in the works and the gallery also plans to have a patio area outside.

Enamorado, DAV's creative collaborator, has big hopes for the space that go well beyond showcasing local artists. There are already talks of doing pop-up shops and restaurants in which local businesses and restaurants take over the space for just a few days, selling creations made specifically for the event and never to be reproduced.

"DAV is in constant metamorphosis, it's totally malleable, and built to change," Enamorado said. "The hope is that we provide an outlet for creativity and culture that crosses generations, ethnicities, and interests. We want to be a cultural hub that inspires others to stay in the city and start their own businesses."

"Downey Art Vibe would like to thank everyone that has supported our efforts throughout the last few years," Flores said. "We thank the Downey City Council and staff at City Hall for always being so helpful and encouraging of our vision, without them, we would not be where we are at today.

"In the last few months, we've received an incredible amount of community help to make our vision a reality in the building of the gallery space on Downey Avenue," Flores continued. "We would like to thank Downey Rotary and Kiwanis Club of Downey for having us present our mission to their organizations. We would like to thank Richard Strayer from Downey Rotary for his generous contribution as well as Tony Abboud and Johnny Venegas for donating their contracting and flooring expertise to making our dream design a reality. The gallery is going to be a beautifully designed space for all of our community to enjoy thanks to all these incredibly generous contributions."

********** Published: July 26, 2012 - Volume 11 - Issue 15