Venice may be the home of more internationally known artists than perhaps any other area of Southern California over the last few decades, but recently, all the action for casual art appreciators has shifted to Culver City and downtown L.A., where a monthly "art walk" has livened up the loft-heavy city core.
Now, the beach is fighting back.
A scrappy grassroots neighborhood effort to emulate the success of art-centric block parties and happenings in other Southland neighborhoods has given rise to a new Westside event, the monthly Venice Art Crawl.
"There is something magical about Venice in terms of creativity," said Daniel Samakow, owner of James' Beach and several other restaurants and one of the organizers of the event, which kicks off Thursday near the intersection of Pacific and Windward avenues.
"There are Venice artists showing in New York and downtown L.A. and yet here, where these guys live, there are few places to show because we lost most of our galleries to Bergamot Station and other places," Samakow said.
To be sure, Venice still has several top-notch galleries, with more on the way (for instance, New York's L&M Gallery is set to open an L.A. outpost Sept. 25 at 660 Venice Blvd.). What Venice doesn't have, however, aside from the well-known once-a-year Venice Art Walk, which is a fundraiser for the Venice Family Clinic, is a regular evening social mixer on the streets designed to lure in art lovers in large numbers.
Samakow, his partners Edizen Stowell of Venice Paparazzi, Mike Newhouse and a team of volunteers have spent the better part of a year organizing — readying city officials and area business owners, raising money to hire security and locking in alternative venues to highlight emerging local talent.
"Most art walks rely on galleries, but we're opening up all kinds of spaces," said Samakow, interviewed while briskly walking the route of the Venice Art Crawl.
"We've got artists showing at the [Hotel] Erwin, inside stores, on concrete walls, inside garages and even [in] private apartments along the way," he added.
Local merchants of all stripes are happy to join the fledgling monthly event toasting Venice's rich (and they hope current) artistic lineage, many of which are transforming themselves into happening galleries for one night.
"We're really looking forward to the event and have been involved from the beginning," said Hotel Erwin General Manager Benjamin Malmquist.
The hotel will dedicate five different areas to the Crawl, from individual suites to the rooftop lounge. The popular hub already owns several photographs from Venice favorite Larry Bell and stands near the center of Venice Art Crawl's route, which runs from North Venice Boulevard, along the Boardwalk, hits Speedway and Pacific Avenue and ends at Westminster Avenue. The route also runs up Windward Avenue from the beach, as well as fanning out into eight other zones throughout Venice.
"What intrigued us was the pop-up galleries downtown, because we don't have enough galleries," Samakow said, referring to the one-night-only exhibitions produced for downtown's Art Walk. His hope is that the Crawl will inspire enough interest to lure galleries back to the area.
In the meantime, pop-up galleries at venues such as the second-story office space of production company Video Army will stand in for missing dealers. These impromptu shows will offer eclectic installations along with the snacks and booze needed to make for a good night. Respected galleries are also on board, including North Venice Boulevard's L.A. Louver.
"We're happy to share the experience of fine art that is accomplished to an audience that may be coming to Venice for the first time," said Elizabeth East, the gallery's director.
L.A. Louver plans on staying open late Thursday and serving up smiles (and perhaps wine) to all comers, ready for the mingling of well-heeled art collectors and dreadlocked beachgoers.
"We're half a block from the beach…we get people off the streets every day," East said.
Samakow and his partners expect modest crowds for the inaugural event Thursday, but they are hoping word-of-mouth propels Venice Art Crawl to something rivaling downtown's Art Walk by this time next year in terms of size.
"We're a really serious creative community and we want people to think of us as not just a beach town, but also a serious art destination," he said.