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Angels Gate Cultural Center at 30:

Reconnecting Roots, Strengthening Neighborly Bonds

By Terelle Jerricks, Managing Editor

On Nov. 7, Angels Gate Cultural Center was the site for A Gathering of Angels: Studio Artists from 1985–2015, an exhibition of former and current Studio Artists to kick off the center’s 30th anniversary.

A Gathering of Angels includes the work of 16 alumni artists and 45 current studio artists. The three downstairs galleries will set the stage for a cacophonous gathering of bold and diverse artists representing every year of Angels Gate Cultural Center’s history. The work delivers messages of awakening, shining light on issues ranging from the local to the international.

Angels Gate Cultural Center itself serves as a source of inspiration. Oil paintings of stunning views of Catalina Island, a history of the adjacent Gaffey Street pool, and a postcard-style rendering of its landmark flag pole is proof of this inspiration.

The works chosen for display are strongly inspired by the park’s ocean views in varied materials and mediums. It’s apparent they were inspired by the formal and abstract potential of beach trash and port architecture. The cultural landscape and the diversity of San Pedro also play a prominent role in making connections between artists.

The show’s curator, Martabella Wasserman, said she took advantage of the unique opportunity of capturing a bit of the center’s history from the founding art colonists who were there at the very beginning.

Wasserman gave artists one simple parameter for the show: that the work fits in the limited space of 2 cubic feet.

“I always think it’s more fun to give an artist minimal  [space] constraints rather than a conceptual constraint,” Wasserman said

Through curating this show, Wasserman said she enjoyed seeing how community, shared space and geography informed the themes that emerged as she worked with these artists from different periods of the center’s growth.

Executive Director Amy Eriksen, spent several years as Angels Gates’ director of education before she was elevated to interim executive director. She expressed a keen interest in returning the center to its roots after spending the past year pouring over old documents and talking to board members, and past and present studio artists.

Eriksen drew upon her experience as an alumnus of Idyllwild Arts Academy, a prestigious pre-professional arts training school with a comprehensive college preparatory.

“I spent many summers at Idyllwild Arts and was very lucky there was a camp there, and to have been able to walk with Dr. Max and Mrs. Beatrice Krone, who were the ones that started that space,” Eriksen said. “When I was in middle school, he’d walk with a walker down the walkway, and he would sit down and I would catch him and have him tell me a story.”

Eriksen, in many ways, took that same approach at Angels Gate, talking with founding artist Muriel Olguin and her contemporaries, such as Sam Arno.

“The process of taking over a space for a new use is very important to me,” Eriksen said.

This past year, she was focused on putting together a board that understands that process. She has tasked the board with forming a new mission statement.

“[A mission statement that only says] Experimenting, community art and culture never spoke to anybody,” Eriksen said. “It was just something that was there.  It didn’t engage you and made you want to be here. That was the conversation we had with board and the community.”

Eriksen noted that she and the board are engaging community partners at the park, which include Fort MacArthur, the Los Angeles Unified School District, the Marine Exchange and, the Marine Mammal Center.

Historically, there hasn’t been much collaboration between the stakeholders at Angels Gate Park since the property was transferred into public hands in 1980. In fact, the park was the site of open warfare between factions with differing visions about the future of the park. That is a significant reason why eight years after getting a 30-year lease, a workable master plan has been elusive. Eriksen says that in the past couple of years there’s been a shift in thinking and in relationships. She suggests there’s a greater sense of collaboration at the park and the community in general.

“It’s not because of my tenure at all [that we are beginning to shift],” She said. “We were lucky enough that we already had a staff in place willing to start that shift.”

Eriksen said this took the harness off the board to talk to potential community partners and forge new friendships.

One of the ways the center has been forging those ties was through the popup galleries they would set up in downtown San Pedro on First Thursdays.

“We would have eight to 10 organizations here that we partner with on Saturday for Open Studios day,” Eriksen said. “They would have their information out. It’s a great way for them to talk to our membership list. That’s also a way for us to market to their people.”

A Gathering of Angels will be displayed until Jan. 23, 2016.

The gallery showing of Service and Other Stories: A Living History Project will continue on display in Main Gallery I through January 2016.

The exhibition highlights the memories of Veterans of the U.S. armed forces featuring the work of Farrah Karapetian. Karapetian worked with Veterans Joe Deeble, Mike Flech, John Warhank and Justin Wilson to convey their personal stories.

In the Main Gallery II the last iteration of a  two-year curatorial initiative Getting Off the Ground: Contemporary Stories from an American Community will be on view.

The work represents a wide range of approaches to telling stories relevant to the local community. Artists include  Kaleeka Bond, Ben Caldwell, Cherie Benner Davis, Corita Scott Kent, Delbar Shanbaz, Louis M Schimidt, and Michael Sterns. Visitors will be able to tell their own story through interactive art stations in the gallery.
Time: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 12 to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, through Jan. 23, 2016
Details: (310) 519-0936; www.angelsgateart.org
Venue:  Angels Gate Cultural Center, 3601 S. Gaffey, San Pedro

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