VENICE — It is art's version of a backstage tour--an annual peek at the work of local painters and sculptors in their home studios.
It's the Venice Art Walk, an art lesson for participants and a vital fund-raiser for the Venice Family Clinic. The clinic depends on the Art Walk for about one-eighth of its $4-million budget at a time when government aid and other funding sources are drying up.
The clinic learned through a survey last fall that it serves more people than any other free clinic in the nation, with 50,000 patient visits a year from the working poor and homeless.
"It's good we've been able to respond to this great demand, but it's bad that we have to," said Fern Seizer, the clinic's executive director.
The 14th annual Art Walk--featuring the works of more than 50 artists shown in 63 studios and other exhibition sites--takes place Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. It starts at the Westminster Elementary School at 1010 Abbot Kinney Blvd. Tickets cost $45.
The self-guided tour will again spotlight works by widely known artists such as Charles Arnoldi and Billy Al Bengston, plus more than a dozen newcomers.
For the first time, the Art Walk offers an exhibition of the abstract paintings of Santa Monica artist Sam Francis, who also designed an Art Walk T-shirt that will be for sale. Fifteen young artists are turning cars into display pieces on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, neon lighting becomes art at an advertising-agency-turned-gallery, and magnets provide the magic for a gravity-defying sculpture exhibition called "Magnetic Art."
And, Venice being fractious Venice, this year marks another first for the walk--a copycat event called the Venice Art Detour. The Detour, which is free, features the projects of emerging local artists, some of whom were not selected to take part in the Art Walk. It is the first event by a nonprofit Venice gallery called Novaspace and was timed to coincide with the popular Art Walk, which drew about 5,000 people last year. The Detour starts at 11 a.m. at the Novaspace gallery at 612C and 614 Hampton Drive.
Clinic officials tried to dissuade Detour organizers from holding an event on the same day, saying it could jeopardize Art Walk fund raising. But Detour leaders insist their event is not meant to steal Art Walk visitors--merely to add to a day already devoted to art.
"It would offer an opportunity to artists who aren't part of Art Walk," said Novaspace organizer Robert Gabor. "It's not something we perceive of as competition."
Seizer isn't so sure. "Yes, it is a day for art in Venice, but it is a day for a fund-raiser," she said. "It isn't as if we were just another for-profit and this was just another for-profit event."
The wanna-be event is a testament to the success of the Art Walk, which raised $35,000 its first year and netted $500,000 for the clinic last year.
As in previous years, Sunday's Art Walk revolves around visits to the studios of dozens of artists, such as Laddie John Dill, Martha Alf, Guy Dill, Pat Ward Williams and John Okulick.
"People are a little like voyeurs. Generally you go into a museum or a gallery and it's a pristine piece of art on the wall. You wonder: How did they do this? What possessed them to do it this way? This is how you find out," said Sheila Goldberg, who heads the Art Walk committee.
An additional 14 Art Walk exhibitions will be set up in galleries and other spaces around Venice, including one called "Beyond the Spectacle" that transforms a 1905 apartment building into a giant art project--inside and out. Film-strip paintings will make windows look like stained glass and 40-foot banners created by various artists will flutter outside.
The Art Walk's annual silent auction will put 330 pieces of contemporary art on the block. Visitors also can bid for a chance at walk-on appearances on two television shows, "Murphy Brown" and "Picket Fences."
A food fair offers cut-rate prices on dishes from some of the most exclusive Westside restaurants. Chefs from 12 restaurants--from 72 Market Street to Chaya Venice--will serve up everything from chili to shrimp-stuffed jalapeno fritters at booths on the school's grounds, the Art Walk's starting point.
The Art Walk also offers eight guided tour packages on Saturday that take visitors to displays and studios all over Los Angeles. Tour packages include the studios of poster artist Robbie Conal and the painter Gronk. Tickets to the guided tours are $95.
Art Walk tickets and maps to the exhibitions will be available beginning at 11:30 a.m. at the school. Tickets can be bought ahead of time by calling (310) 392-WALK.