Global curator Sam Loke reports from Los Angeles.
If you ran into Julie Rico on the street, you probably would not peg her as an artsy person, nor a successful gallery owner. The self-styled, Detroit-native might look like an ordinary person, but I soon warmed up to her vivacious personality within five minutes of talking to her. Her demeanor is matched by her passion for art, which are both firmly built on the painstaking path she took to get to where she is right now.
“The first art pieces I sold were my husband’s (Jean Jacques Bastarache). We both met in Detroit while working on the assembly line for Ford Motor Company. He was a surrealist right from the beginning, and wanted to do the weirdest things ever.
People from Michigan were too afraid of it because it was too edgy for conservatives — no one really understood what it meant to be an artist. So we left, and came to Los Angeles. We met some artists and started a gallery here in downtown LA.
It was an underground, passionate undertaking that had nothing to do with art history or academia, but more so to do with energy and the community.”
Creating a community for artists and then to support them is never easy; even on the East Coast where art is driven by academia. (The top nine out of 15 colleges for fine art are on the East Coast.) But this did not stop her from trying in 2005 when she decided to throw an “LA Art Fest”.
The festival was about working with the community of artists throughout the Los Angeles area — this was all about bringing together the different cultural groups of artists she had met over the years to have a tour de force of art in the Arts District. The idea behind this was to have it every year as a way to galvanize the arts community into something greater; she hoped that it would help garner support from the wider community for the local artists.
“It’s funny because I talked to this guy who had produced an art festival in conjunction with UCLA about 10 years ago. It actually cost them $1.5 million dollars, ten times more than what it cost for ours.
It’s crazy that when the political guys and the corporate guys get involved, it tends to ruin the whole community vibe. What you need is a spark from within the community, a community effort that is organic.”
The entire festival spanned a 3-by-3 block radius, with 10 art sculptures and different stages for live bands. True to her word, the festival had different cultures present – from the artist who sold their wares to the musicians on the different stages. Sadly, the arts fest did not last past its inaugural year.
But Julie learned a lot from that experience, and had words of advice to share for others who might want to start something of their own, wherever in the world they are. Yes, even in Singapore, whose grand efforts to create an arts hub have been fuelled by top-down efforts such as the creation of arts hub Gillman Barracks.
To future arts event organisers: Find people who don’t have an ego, or are willing to leave their ego at the door to focus on how to make things work.
“I had a really cool team of artists and scientists, and it was just people without any ego. Everyone came to the table without any ego and just did what they had to do. If you had to mow the lawn, you just have to do it no matter who you are.
I’ve been on a lot of committees and the worst thing that happens is that if people want to impose their ego on the committee. Everyone should have a voice and contribute. If you don’t let every single person contribute, no matter how small their voice may be, then your vision will crumble.”
To artists who want to work with businessmen, or businessmen who want to work with artists: Learn from each other, don’t block the other party out.
“An artist cannot just be an artist and not know about business, and a businessman cannot do business with an artist without understanding what the artist’s life is about. Neither one can have their heads in the sand.
This often happens though; businessmen don’t want to know about artists’ problems, and artists are stubborn and don’t want to learn about business.”
To anyone who wants to build up their arts community: Organize your community from the bottom up.
“It is really important to organize your community wherever you might live. If you just have a garage, or an apartment, just have a show in that location. It’s very important to create a space to view art, wherever it might be. Without that, people are hidden, art is hidden.
There are lots of times where an artist can’t be shown in a local museum, gallery – and this hurts artists because they can’t grow without receiving criticism and reviews. Without getting feedback, artists can’t grow and therefore the community can’t grow.
There has to be a synergy between the artist and the community; there has to be people in the community willing to put their neck out for the artists. Art isn’t a business, it’s about culture.”
Julie Rico is a curator that is based in the Los Angeles region.
Her art gallery can be found here.