Visitors check out art inside the Blue Canvas Gallery. (Mel Melcon / Los Angeles…)
Art fans soon will have a new way to take in the bustling downtown L.A. gallery scene: A quarterly gallery crawl called Art Weekend LA is launching on the fourth weekend in January.
Helming the new event are gallery owner Edgar Varela and Jay Lopez, a former executive director of the monthly Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk. Also involved on the advisory board is Bert Green, the founder of Downtown Art Walk, which began modestly in 2004 and now attracts crowds of up to 20,000 people.
But Art Weekend LA, which is an all-day event on both Saturdays and Sundays, is not meant to compete with the Downtown Art Walk, say those involved. It is simply meant to present an alternative way to view fine art in galleries, one that is more about the art and less about partying, says Green, who runs a gallery called Bert Green Fine Art.
Green said he left Downtown Art Walk after he noticed it was "beginning to drift away from having a focus on the galleries" and more toward food trucks and bars. While that party atmosphere draws the crowds, it has been criticized by some downtown merchants. The organization is attempting to refocus itself, having just named an executive director to oversee it.
"It's not serving the needs of the galleries anymore," Green says.
Varela agrees, "Right now, with Downtown Art Walk, it's a hurry up and get there and try to catch what you can." He points out that initially, Art Walk was an all-day event but that as it gained popularity and more and more temporary exhibits and pop-up galleries began to show up, things began to start later, well after the established galleries were closing their doors.
"My gallery and others would already be closed by the time that 70% of the population for Art Walk would show up," he says. "So all they saw were the temporary galleries."
Art Weekend LA intends to remedy the situation by offering shuttle service within walking distance of parking lots and with five stops along a route that includes 16 established galleries generally in the city's Historic Core, Arts District, Chinatown, Bunker Hill and South Park. Pop-up galleries and temporary exhibits will not be considered for inclusion along the route. Four shuttles will drive the route continuously from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday so that people can go into a gallery and spend as much time looking at the art as they want.
There will also be an information booth along the route staffed with docents who will tell people about exhibits at the various galleries and help them plan their day. The galleries also plan special events day-long openings, and will be open on Sundays for Art Weekend. However, there will be no shuttles on Sundays, when free parking downtown is plentiful.
Eventually, the idea is to expand the event to other arts-heavy sections of the metro area, including Culver City, Santa Monica and Venice.
For now, Varela hopes to attract about 1,200 people per day to the walk, which is launching the same weekend as the Los Angeles Art Show at the Convention Center, a partner to the event.
"We're not looking for numbers — we're looking for a bit of a niche," he said. That niche is art lovers, "people who want to go to a gallery and spend time and actually buy a piece of art."
In this economy, Green says, a focus on the actual art is what the galleries need in terms of survival. And Art Weekend LA should actually complement Downtown Art Walk in the long run, Varela says. "We're promoting the same thing, only just in another avenue."
"Downtown is a huge place with huge potential," adds Green. "There's room for everyone."
David Hernand, chair of the Downtown Art Walk board of directors, agrees: "We support any and all programs to promote the arts in downtown Los Angeles and elsewhere. We think it's great."