City Council agrees to continue Stay Gallery financial support

The Downey City Council on Tuesday agreed to pay $150,000 to ensure the downtown Stay Gallery remains open for at least another three years. 

The city’s agreement with Downey Art Vibe – operators of Stay Gallery – was mildly controversial in that it’s the city’s third such contract with Downey Art Vibe. 

In 2012, the council agreed to subsidize the gallery’s monthly rent (then $2,000) for two years to help the facility get off the ground. The subsidies were extended an additional three years in 2014, and were scheduled to expire June 1. 

On Tuesday, about a dozen supporters spoke in favor of Stay Gallery and its importance to the community. 

“I know we’re asking for a lot, but the overall cost is minimal for what we do for the community,” said Luz Lluncor, a Downey Art Vibe board member. “We stand here to ask for your support one more time.” 

Valentin Flores, the former executive director of Stay Gallery and a current Downey Art Vibe board member, said the increasing popularity of downtown Downey has led to a nearly 50% rise in the facility’s monthly rent. 

“We’re a victim of our own success,” Flores said. 

Downey school board member D. Mark Morris also spoke favorably of the gallery. 

“What are we talking about here,” he said. “We’re talking about the heart and soul of Downey.”

Others, however, questioned the wisdom in giving financial support to a gallery that after five years is still not self-sustaining. 

“If there’s a market for art, Stay Gallery will succeed,” said resident Brian Heyman. “Let the free market decide…It doesn’t look right that we’re continuing to fund this gallery.” 

Council members ultimately voted 3-0 to continue its financial support. Mayor Fernando Vasquez and Councilmember Blanca Pacheco abstained – Vasquez is part-owner of a downtown business, and Pacheco is a former Stay Gallery board member. 

The agreement with Downey Art Vibe calls for the city to cover the gallery’s rent through May 31, 2020, plus an additional $48,000 for program expenses. Subsidies will be paid out of the city’s Art in Public Places fund, a purse financed by developers who forego installing public art and instead pay 1% of the new building’s valuation. 

As of Monday, the fund contained $319,757.76, said Aldo Schindler, Downey’s director of community development.

The contract names the Downey Arts Coalition “a strategic partner in the success of the facility,” and stipulates that the gallery be made available to civic and community organizations. 

The gallery cannot be rented out as a nightclub, but can be used for family functions such as birthdays and weddings. Quinceañeras and baptisms, however, are prohibited.