Written by Helen Cox
In this time of social stress and political conflict, we had an uplifting, heart-warming experience in Long Beach, CA. Art brought people together—right in that small window when things started to open again and just before the variant emerged. What’s so exciting about this experience are the people who participated: the artists, their families, and friends. They are so diverse in every way imaginable: age, race, sexual orientation, artistic experience and expression. The gallery bristled with energy and happiness every time they gathered.
This is our story.
We had a simple idea—a small works exhibit to get lots of artists in our community involved as we emerged from a year of seclusion. In addition to advertising, we reached out to people and organizations who work with underserved populations. Coming Together was to be the first wide-spread public open call for the gallery. It was free to apply.
We first knew something was different when we got a whopping 465 entries from 190 people in our pilot project. The work reflected the city of Long Beach in all its diversity. 73 artists were selected, from newly emerging artists to seasoned professionals, those self-taught to those highly trained.
Elva submitted three paintings that featured Mexican street vendors—one man selling fruit under a rainbow umbrella; one man selling flowers against a bright pink background; and one selling ice cream on bright yellow. She was clearly untrained, but her use of color was exceptional, and her paintings made the viewer see people who are largely invisible. When Elva dropped off her paintings, she expressed amazement that her work had been selected. “I don’t really paint,” she explained. “This is the first time. I just applied on a whim—I never thought I would get in! I think I might cry on my way home.” All three of her paintings sold.
Elva wasn’t the only first-time exhibitor. At least 23 artists were showing their work for the first time.
The exhibition vibrated with the energy of Long Beach. There were paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, and bas-relief. The art ranged from conventional subjects such as portraits, landscapes and still lives, to conceptual ideas and abstraction, to graphic design. It was politically and socially relevant. Orson Confused, a fish with four legs and a back wheel, sported five nose rings. “Stones on Stools” was just that, a stone perched on a small antique stool, capturing the imagination of those who like conceptual ideas and mesmerizing a four-year old boy. Carlos’s abstraction was painted with tattoo ink. A pink personified flowerpot sold twice—digital art allows for that.
J. worried because she could not afford to buy a frame. Her work on canvas was accepted (and sold); the drips along the sides simply enhanced the “Meeting of Evil” portrayed in her expressionist painting. Yulia was grateful when she received the open call. She said she has only lived here two years and never felt part of the community before. Terri brought in her disabled veteran friends to give a talk on her art.
There were so many artists we held three receptions to accommodate friends and families. Between 160 and 180 people attended each reception. Carlos donated wine, craft beer, and a bartender. The day of his reception at least half of the 180 people flocked in to celebrate with him and a whole new group of art-loving individuals were introduced to the gallery.
Despite the heat (no air conditioning) and the masks (required after the first reception), there was enthusiasm, energy, and happy conversation. From start to finish everything exceeded our expectations.
The Long Beach Creative Group/Rod Briggs Memorial Gallery (LBCG Gallery) is the one of few galleries in a city with hundreds of artists. It evolved from a group of six artists and one community liaison who had been showing their work in The Center Gallery, The Long Beach Playhouse, and various other galleries. In 2018 the group met Cameron Briggs, son of Rod Briggs, a significant photorealist and abstract painter in Long Beach. In memory of his father, Cameron suggested the group use his father’s studio as an exhibit space. The current gallery provides artists in Long Beach and neighboring communities with a place to exhibit their work.