A quiet revolution is occurring on the walls of a municipal art center in Long Beach.
Hanging near the flashy yellows and oranges of a youthful black painter are the bright pinks and blues of a Mexican mother's crocheting. The sweeping pastels of a young Latino spray can artist contrast with the gentle hues of a middle-aged Cambodian silk weaver. And the traditional lines of American Indian pottery offer stark alternatives to the high-tech electric blinking of an Anglo American's modern abstract sculpture.
Yet somehow it all comes together at the Homeland Neighborhood Cultural Center. Located near Anaheim Street and Gaviota Avenue, this is a different sort of gallery constituting an unusual city experiment. Its mission: to celebrate the area's dramatic ethnic diversity by encouraging artistic expression in various cultural traditions and providing a single roof under which to exhibit it.
"If this is the international city, then this is the corridor of the world," said Dixie Swift, the city's cultural program supervisor and Homeland's director. "What we have in common is that we all make art."
Said Earl Birch Smith, a local artist and cultural chairman for Long Beach Area Citizens Involved, which has been supportive of the project: "This serves as a model. We must have a temple of understanding: if people attend, I believe it will establish communication and lead to more acceptance."
Opened late last month, the center grew out of a 1987 cultural needs assessment of the city's central "Anaheim corridor"--a 2 1/2-mile stretch of Anaheim Street extending from Long Beach Boulevard to Redondo Avenue. Once dominated by Jews and later by blacks, the area in recent years has undergone a dramatic demographic shift, becoming Long Beach's most ethnically diverse neighborhood with huge clusters of blacks, Latinos, Southeast Asians, Pacific Islanders and others.
To create a center reflective of that diversity, the city allocated $35,000, the estimated cost of running Homeland for a year. By next June, Swift said, the center will be required to pay back the money and to have established a firm financial footing of its own. She hopes to attract donations from corporations, foundations and individuals.
Located in an 1,800-square-foot former artist's studio next to a Southeast Asian medical center and a Cambodian tailor's shop, the Homeland center is governed by a 25-member advisory council consisting of neighborhood artists ranging from a Laotian dancer to a black reggae musician.
The center's current exhibit--featuring visual arts by people who have lived, worked, attended school or "played" in the Anaheim corridor--will be up until mid-November. Future plans, Swift said, call for a multimedia poetry and art exhibit in which participants will be invited to paint and draw on the walls, and an exhibit depicting the high holidays of various ethnic groups represented in the area.
In addition to the regular exhibits, she said, the center offers evening workshops in painting and poetry, and hopes eventually to add workshops in graphic arts and video.
"The creative process is a healing process," Swift said, alluding to the racial tensions that have sometimes flared in the area. Most of the artists seem to agree.
"I see a lot of positive things coming out of this," said Alex Castro, 21, an accomplished aerosol spray can muralist who until a year ago was still honing his skills as an illegal graffiti artist. "This will encourage (young people) to do something positive with their work."
Said Maichew Chao, a local needleworker who grew up in a highland Laotian tribe called Iu-mien: "It means a lot to me just to let people know who we are and what kind of work we've done. No matter where we live, we still want to keep our traditions."