Photos by Asia Morris.
WE Labs (Work Evolution Laboratories) launched its inaugural WE Show on Wednesday evening, December 17, in an effort to showcase a wide variety of artists that represent the diversity of Long Beach’s ever-growing art scene.
During the opening reception, visual artist Rhett Johnson, who has been with WE Labs since day one, was live-painting one of his boldly stylized, brightly colored, large-scale skulls, while other local artists milled about and mingled with arts supporters, family and friends. The merlot flowed forth into plastic cups, held by the hands of contemplative viewers, ecstatic attendees and those in discussion about how to bring the arts community together and how to better solidify Long Beach’s reputation as a hub of creativity.
Alex Diffin, Barry Rothstein, Caryn Baumgartner, David Van Patten, Jose Loza, Eric Almanza, Kenny McBride and Sherry Ray-Von are just a few of the artists whose works are on display at WE Show, a gallery sent amongst the workspaces and offices at WE Labs. The first of several upcoming quarterly art shows, the opening was a hit and spurred several conversations about what Long Beach can do to support its local talent.
Victoria Bryan, Executive Director of Arts Council for Long Beach, the arts organization that sponsored the event, said, “They’re very innovative. I would have to say that’s the word to describe WE Labs.”
“To create this kind of a space where a lot of creative individuals and artists, I mean artists of all kinds, can work together,” she continued, “in the kind of generation of ideas that happens out of that and then to take that one step further… and for the Arts Council to be in such strong collaboration with WE Labs, is just so exciting.”
One of the requirements for any artist to be in one of the WE Shows is that they must have an up-to-date profile on the Long Beach Artist Registry. By enforcing such a requirement, it strengthens the registry as a major resource to easily find artists working within the City. The more artists that are registered and the more often the registry is used by people seeking local art, the more useful the registry will be.
“The stronger we can make the registry, the better,” added Bryan.
Mariko Tabar, a local artist and WE Show attendee, said that her work was found by a real estate agent looking for unique items with which to stage a house. She also plans on showing her work at the Coffee Cup Cafe, a locally-famous diner in Belmont Heights; the owners also found her work on the registry.
“It’s a one-stop-shop for a community of artists,” said Sherry Diamond, a board member of the Arts Council for Long Beach. “A marketing platform that works for everybody.”
Both WE Labs and the Arts Council have similar initiatives, to make art more accessible for both artists and buyers, to reduce the eliteness and competition so commonly associated with the art world.
“What the Arts Council is trying so hard to do is to reach out to our artists community and emphasize the fact that we are a community, to reduce and minimize this sort of territoriality that sometimes exists between organizations and individuals alike,” Diamond explained. “We’re all in this together, this isn’t a ‘You get it’ or ‘I get it’ type of thing.”
Robbie Brown, CEO of WE Labs, said that the initial idea for WE Show was planted by Kamran Assadi, co-owner of Utopia Restaurant, a local eatery well known for supporting Long Beach artists by showing their work in-house. Assadi, an artist himself, was also a member of the Arts Council board from 2005 to 2013, during which he chaired the Advisory Committee for Public Art.
“He was talking to one of the WE Labs staff and he thought up the idea of doing a series of art shows that drew in artists from the Long Beach Arts Registry,” Brown explained. “We took that idea and ran with it and decided to start the WE Show series. It’s a show that takes a cross section of local Long Beach contemporary art and showcases it for three months.”
Brown, who has always had an appreciation for art, yet, in his own words, has “never been quite good at it,” moved to Long Beach from the South Bay to curate, a talent bestowed upon the very few and fortunate. There were simply too many submissions for the first WE Show, said Brown, which made it extremely hard for him and WE Labs staff to choose, however the artists that weren’t selected will have several chances to show their work at future WE Shows.
WE Show is all part of Brown’s and WE Labs’ goal to feed local artists, to valiantly compel the Long Beach community to not just voice their support for artists working in the city, but to actually, monetarily support their work and livelihoods.
“I was always seeing artists that were starving and that just doesn’t seem right to me,” said Brown. “When someone has a talent, it shouldn’t be a problem feeding yourself and giving yourself shelter with that talent.”
“There’s a huge, vocal support of local art here in Long Beach,” he continued, “but really to be a supporter of local art, you have to buy local art.”
WE Labs is open every day to the public from 9:00AM to 6:00PM. Anyone can walk in off the street, take a look at the art, buy it off the wall and support local art. You don’t have to come to any of the receptions to see the art, although they present the rare opportunity to meet the city’s wide range of artists and arts supporters all in one place at the same time. Each month of the exhibit, WE Show will host an art tour, where the artists will talk a little bit about each of their pieces. Each show will also have a different theme, while both an opening and closing reception will be held for each one.
Alex Diffin, Barry Rothstein, Caryn Baumgartner, Christine Lee Smith, Christine Nguyen, Connie Lane, Daniel Brezenoff, David Van Patten, Eric Almanza, Gazelle Samizay, Greg Jacobs, Jason Weinlein, Jose Loza, Kay Erickson, Kenny McBride, Linda L. Carlson, Marla Lombard, Michele Rene, Renee Tanner, Rhett Johnson, Scott Burchard, Sherry Ray-Von, Susan MacLeod and Walter Focht III were chosen for this inaugural and current WE Show.
“It’s also about breaking down boundaries because I think, all too often, the arts get seen as something separate, like an over-there-on-the-margins somewhere and the more we’re able to partner with organizations that are not just pure arts, we can start to break that down,” said Bryan.
Stay up to date with future WE Shows, receptions and tours here. WE Show, located at WE Labs, can be viewed at 235 E. Broadway #800, on the 8th Floor of the Pacific Southwest building.
Asia Morris is a Long Beach native covering arts and culture for the Long Beach Post. You can reach her on Twitter and Instagram @theasiamorris and via email at [email protected]
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