Angels Gate Cultural Center connects art to the community

For nearly 20 years, Angels Gate Cultural Center has made a home at Angels Gate Park in San Pedro, providing opportunity and space for professional and student artists alike to create.

Situated on top of a hill overlooking the port area, its 11 buildings include four classroom spaces, galleries and 50 unique studios, all originally World War I and II barracks.

“Over 120 years (of history) means we get some pretty great stories in this space,” said Amy Eriksen, executive director.

Walking through the center, Eriksen points out where art storage was once an armory, and how a dance classroom was formerly a firing range. To Eriksen, that history is important to the art, and what is made there comes out “so much differently,” she said.

“I don’t know that Angels Gate Cultural Center would be anywhere else,” said Eriksen, who hopes to solidify the center’s relationship with the park and extend their current 30-year lease.

The space even includes sweat lodges, used by local Native American artists during an event called the Gathering of the Elders, where stories from different tribes across the nation are shared. Eriksen hopes the ceremony will be able to return next year, as the last one was canceled due to the pandemic.

“That relationship with this community up here has taught us as an organization to honor the space we sit in,” she said.

The Gathering of the Elders is just one of the ways that Angels Gate connects to the community through art; one of its most unique events, soundpedro, introduces audiences to “a genre of art they never get to see,” said Eriksen.

The immersive event usually attracts crowds of 1,000 to 1,500 people, and includes about 28 sound art pieces situated throughout the space, “so you turn around and hear another piece,” explained Eriksen.

“I think these more niche spaces of art, like sound art, like fabric art, like textile art, are my favorite spaces, because those artists are so passionate, because they don’t get a chance to show work very often,” said Eriksen, who hopes the event will return next summer.

Contributing to the community is a central mission of Angels Gate Cultural Center, and a major part of this is bringing art education to children, particularly in elementary schools where art is not a part of the curriculum.

Angels Gate Cultural Center in San Pedro is home to artist studios, classrooms, and exhibitions, such as “Bridging San Pedro” that opened prior to the pandemic. Photo courtesy of Jose Cordon, Angels Gate Cultural Center.

With such an emphasis on standardized testing, art is not always seen as a valuable component of education, said Eriksen, but Angels Gate is slowly working to break that mold, servicing almost 170 classrooms throughout Los Angeles Unified and Long Beach Unified.

By starting art early, students are able to improve their imaginations and improve their cognitive learning skills, while learning repetitive practice, said Eriksen.

“If I had not had music in elementary school, I never would have looked into music as a career,” she said.

Not only does Angels Gate aim to nurture student artists, but providing opportunities to professionals is also a key goal, and next year the center will introduce a new program,  “Artists at Work.”

The program began last year in Massachusetts before extending to LA County, and will pay two artists at eight different arts organizations across the country a living wage. The program combines art with social justice, as each artist will also be partnered with a social service organization.

Part of providing opportunities to artists is through paying them, which unlike in other fields, is not always the standard in the arts, Eriksen said.

“My grandparents said, ‘Do not go into music, you’ll never make any money,’ (and) we’re taught at an early age that we’re not going to make anything at it,” she said.

Part of valuing arts education and artists is demonstrating that it is a valid career choice, said Eriksen.

“Most artists really need advocates to help them move forward. That’s what I love about this place, I get to pay artists every week. It’s pretty amazing,” she said.

As Angels Gate approaches its 40th year next year, Eriksen is looking forward to celebrating the artists that have shown in the center’s galleries over the years, with an exhibition of their work along with a fundraising event — “a party by artists, for artists, and their friends.”

“We are also just a land of opportunity up here, right?” said Eriksen. “Everywhere you look, there’s something you could do to make the space better and collaborate with a different partner to bring art to different communities. And that makes me want to come to work every day.”

Angels Gate Cultural Center gallery hours are currently Thursdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. The gallery is free to the public through Dec. 11.

Angels Gate Cultural Center is located at 3601 South Gaffey Street, San Pedro, CA 90731.

LGBTQ Center appoints board members

The LGBTQ Center Long Beach announced the appointment of three new members to its board of directors on Tuesday: Jason Acosta, senior vice president of Strategic Partnerships of Hispanic Scholarship Fund, Chris Molessa, senior manager of supply chain business optimization of Raytheon Technologies, and Ellie Perez, executive director of Visit Gay Long Beach. Each will serve a three-year term. 

In addition, Valentina D’Alessandro will begin a full-time position as Older Adult Services Program Manager.

“The board of The Center continues to reflect the multi-cultural population of greater Long Beach,” said executive director Carlos Torres  in a statement. “This is an exciting time as our board will lead the expansion of services for not only our regular clientele but also for people from Long Beach neighborhoods where health, mental health, youth, transgender, and older adult programs are simply not available.”

The board is in the process of executing an ambitious strategic plan that includes adding a new building as The Center’s programs, activities, and staff have outgrown the current location on Fourth Street.

For more information on the strategic plan, click here.

Holiday show to support WomenShelter 

The one-night event, “Miracle on Anaheim Street: Holiday Show,” returns on Saturday, Dec. 4 at 7 p.m. to benefit the WomenShelter of Long Beach.

The variety show, a partnership between improv group Held2Gether and Long Beach Playhouse, directly supports services at the shelter for survivors of domestic violence such as supportive housing, as well as prevention education services for youth and the community.

“This is truly one of my favorite holiday events. Each year the performers host an amazing show. Everyone always has such a good time and leaves with so many good memories,” said WomenShelter of Long Beach executive director Mary Ellen Mitchell in a statement.

“WomenShelter feels extremely thankful to have the support of both Held2gether and the Long Beach Playhouse. They are wonderful friends and community members.”

Tickets are available at www.lbplayhouse.org, or by calling 562-494-1014, option 1.

The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, CA, 90804.

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