Article reprinted from Chromatic Spark (http://www.chromaticspark.com/), a new site devoted “arts, culture, and the colorful spectrum in between.”
As a painter, I understand the inherent territory that comes with being a “starving artist.”
It is a stereotype that is heralded by our consumerist culture’s idea of what is considered a credible profession and reinforced by actions such as the dramatic slashing of arts and music funding for schools. Many talented artists spend the majority of their careers struggling to keep their heads above the current of overpriced gallery space, shortage of funds, and lack of recognition. Sometimes it’s rubbing shoulders with the “who’s who” that can do more for your career than actual skill. Inevitably, most artists are swallowed up into obscurity.
Enter the Working Artists Ventura, or WAV, in Ventura, California — a work/live space for artists who need affordable housing and studio space to display their work. Projects Linking Art, Community & Environment, or PLACE, worked with the City of Ventura in WAV’s development.
I became slightly obsessed with the new and controversial WAV complex when I first found out about it. I scoured the Web for information on this exciting and divisive project, absorbing pictures, articles, and commentary. I felt a twinge of envy mixed with an excited exuberance for the debut.
WAV did not let me down.
Visible from the highway, the building exemplifies contemporary beauty built with sustainability in mind. The vivid blue of the skyline, when mixed with the palette of near-primary colors encased in architectural squares and sharp lines, painted a complementary scheme that was in the echo of Piet Mondrian. The vibe of energy pulsed along with the music emanating from the complex as civilians scurried to make it to the scene.
Upon entering the main courtyard, it was clear that my excitement was not without company. Hordes of people milled about in throngs, perusing each artist’s studio and waiting for the official ceremony to begin. The mingling crowd consisted of not only the generally curious, but also of a wide array of tastes: from lovers of kitsch to lovers of the experimental; hippie beatnicks to rappers and musicians; from high-brow critics to low-brow street taggers. All came to see the wonderful creations of the artists in their new studios, whose mediums were as varied and diverse as the artists themselves. The first and second floors contain residence after residence of live/work space studios that belonged to painters, wood workers, sculptors, actors, dancers, photographers, digital media artists, filmmakers, musicians and so on. It’s an almost incomprehensible assortment of creative individuals condensed into a single complex.
One of my first stops turned out to be one of my favorite studios at the project, period. Pete Ippel, who is located at Studio 213, had a wonderful series on display that dealt with the theme of merging traditional, tactile material with modern digital concepts. His piece “Checkered Past” consisted of hundreds of individual paper checks sewn together to form an elaborate cascade that hung from the ceiling and nearly touched the floor. Further down I ran into Luther Gerlach’s photo studio. His space was decorated in a Victorian, old-fashioned style with weathered wooden frames, an elaborate fleur de lis curtain, and various lens pieces of all sizes. The centerpiece of the room was a 22″ x 30″ large-format camera that he custom built himself and is used to make his characteristic vintage wet-pate process photos. The camera is reputed to be the largest in existence. Another short walk away is the sculpting studio of Mark Mollgaard, whose fantastical sculptures are both inviting and disconcerting at the same time. His clay sculpture “Immortal” is rhythmically stylistic with exaggerated features and is a commentary on religion. Sean Tully’s gritty and raw approach to collage street art is fascinating, energetic, and reminiscent of Jean Michel Basquiat. These creators are only a handful of the talented collection of artists living in the building; another whole day would be necessary to digest the immensity of talent housed at WAV.
The crowds eventually converged for the unveiling ceremony, as each speaker described the initial proposal, the struggles and the hardships, and the eventual victory of this groundbreaking project. Finally Chris Velasco, founder of PLACE and visionary behind the WAV, stood on his platform with a standing ovation. He quoted Pablo Picasso, who once said, “every act of creation is an act of destruction.” The creation of the WAV signaled the destruction of the lack of support for the artists, the vehemence of the opposition, and the indifference towards the homeless and displaced. In his inspiring fashion, he spoke of the heartfelt dedication of the city, the supporters, and the artist community that withstood the five years of tribulation to see their vision become a reality. It is a reality that not only gave hardworking and talented artists a fully sustainable, LEED certified home, but it also reunited struggling homeless families and helped young adults transition from the foster care system.
Very much like an artist himself, Chris took a blank canvas and applied a dream, labored diligently in his execution, and with bold tenacity created a masterpiece. The completion of his project ushered in a type of community that has never been seen before except for in the hopes of the well intentioned. In the spirit of the “entrepreneur,” he truly did create something where something did not exist before. There probably has not been a subject that has been more celebrated and scorned in Ventura than this groundbreaking unveiling of the work-live environment that was created by PLACE. From the moment of the project’s inception, it has been a divisive and emotional topic in a haggard economy that struggles to remain on its feet. While it has ignited flames of hope, excitement, anger, inspiration, and distrust, without a doubt the new Working Artists Ventura project has, above all, ignited passion