This weekend the Arts Council for Long Beach is debuting its official takeover of an art walk that has seen many ups and downs since its inception more than two decades ago.
The council is calling Saturday night’s revamped event a “soft launch”; its purpose is to activate the East Village, forging ahead despite what some community members have said is an area not worth reviving as an arts district since it no longer serves artists and has “nothing going on.”
The press material describes the ACLB’s takeover of operations as giving the walk a “new focus and energy.”
Some of this new focus includes newly designated hubs for attendees to pick up an art map, more cohesive branding, a new name–what was “2nd Saturday Art Walk” is now “LB Artwalk”—and a dedicated page on the Arts Council’s website where all programming can be easily accessed. The Arts Council has also committed to holding monthly meetings before each event to improve communication between participating businesses, the community and artists.
But this new energy, at least “new” for the East Village, will largely emanate from the East Village Arts Park, where Long Beach native Senay Kenfe is launching Eddie’s Liquor Collective, an organization run by locals for locals whose mission is to provide equity to artists from Central, North and West Long Beach.
“We live in a time where live music-wise in the city, people are more inclined to have an old, dead black musician on a flyer versus having a living, young black musician on a lineup,” Kenfe said. “Just the dichotomy of that is so antiquated.”
For 15 years, Kenfe performed as a rapper and collaborated with local artists through Long Beach-based hip hop group The Natives, before taking a years-long hiatus. He is a former curator at internationally-known underground music hub Boiler Room, and just a few months ago released his own EP under his Eddie’s Liquor record label, “Native Son.”
He also makes it a point to uplift his community through art.
In 2018 he raised funds to send 900 underserved students from Central Long Beach to see Black Panther in theaters under the viral #BlackPantherChallenge, while a recent event under the Eddie’s Liquor umbrella, a group show at vintage apparel store From the Moon, raised almost $1000 for Long Beach Rescue Mission’s battered women’s shelter, Lydia House.
Saturday’s launch is more than just a performance, it’s a visible push for viable change in how events are booked in both public and private spaces in Long Beach.
“For me personally I’ve been booking since before I started at the Arts Council and I could never book a rap show,” said Ronnie De Leon, ACLB programs associate. “We had to go to LA. I think for the Arts Council, our goal is really to uplift those voices[…]. I’m trying to amplify those voices that I know are not being heard.”
That’s why bringing a group of Long Beach rappers and hip hop artists to perform in a publicly-owned space, the East Village Arts Park, is so significant, it runs contrary to what Kenfe feels, that “a lot of public spaces are widely policed and made to be elitist when they’re not.”
Saturday night’s headliners include artists who have been doing local shows for the last decade or more, all born and raised in Long Beach—aside from London-based hip hop producer Budgie—all described as up and comers gaining global traction.
“What I would love is for more opportunities like this through the Arts Council, where the city recognizes the value in public space being made available to the artistic community,” something he says is very underutilized.
Growing up performing at open mics at Shades of Afrika when it was on Third Street and Elm Avenue, where he gained confidence performing in public, Kenfe continuously works to create more space where artists have more leverage.
In the 70s, Kenfe’s uncle used to manage a group of Eddie’s Liquor stores, including the one on Pacific Avenue and 20th Street, and his dad used to work at the one on the corner of Pacific and Pacific Coast Hwy. There’s over 150 of them throughout Long Beach and the South Bay, Wilmington and South Central.
It’s a name synonymous with the Long Beach Kenfe knew growing up in Wrigley and the one he now envisions, where art has a chance to be more accessible—one of the collective’s long-term goals is to eventually buy the Eddie’s on Pacific Avenue and 20th Street to use as a gallery.
“One of my biggest problems with art in its current capacity is you have to go to art, art doesn’t go to you,” he said. “It should come to you.”
For more information on LB Artwalk, which runs from 4 to 10 p.m., visit the website here. Eddie’s Liquor Collective’s launch party takes place at the East Village Arts Park from 5 to 10 p.m.; 150 Elm Ave.
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