East LA Art Walk. Photo by Ernesto Orozco.
By Rosario Bonilla
On the second Sunday of every month, people gather on East 1st Street between Indiana and Alma streets to enjoy art, music and food and to participate in the East Los Angeles Art Walk.
The Art Walk is a block-long outdoor event on the sidewalks on both sides of 1st Street. Artists and vendors welcome passersby, who come and go throughout the afternoon and early evening. Participating musicians like Borderline Promises, a local alternative rock duo, and Kamini Natarajan, an Indian classical musician, perform live on a small makeshift space with colorful decorations in front of Quetzal Boutique.
The East L.A. Art Walk has more of a homegrown art feel than others, artists say, including the art walks in downtown Los Angeles, Montebello and Pomona.
“This is nice, laid back,” said artist Ariel Torres, 34, from Montebello. “In downtown L.A., it’s like a war zone.”
Diana Cabral, 44, an artist from the San Fernando Valley, agrees. “It just has a really cool community feel. It gives it a really interesting connection to this area.”
A variety of art can be found –including handmade jewelry, original paintings and drawings, clothing and accessories. Attendees can find anything from a $5 prints of recycled vinyl records with the likes of Michael Jackson and Prince painted on them to handmade accessories made out of copper and gemstones for over $100.
“It’s giving back to our local artists, and it’s teaching our younger generations what our ancestors’ culture was,” said Maribel Lomeli, a Boyle Heights resident who recently attended the Art Walk, which starts at the border of Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles and goes east.
Local business owners along the 1st Street corridor began the Art Walk to attract people to their shops, according to Ketzal Itzcōhuātl, who owns Quetzal Boutique on 1st Street. In September 2014, he launched the Art Walk to bring together artists and musicians to share their talents. He believed it would be beneficial for business.
“The Art Walk is a revitalization and beautification project, and it’s also an educational project, because I believe that art really educates the mind, opens the mind,” Itzcōhuātl said.
Some artists describe a special connection between their work and their heritages and cultural roots.
Victor Escareño, 30, who was born in Jalisco, Mexico and grew up in the Mexican state of Nayarit, sells Wixárika art, also known as Huichol, an art form named after indigenous groups from these areas, as well as pieces from other groups like the Cora, Mexicanero, and Tepehuano, also from the Nayarit, Durango and Jalisco regions.
“I sell to teach people and to let [them] know the meaning of things, because this is sacred art,” Escareño said, referring to his colorful jewelry, in which each color has a cultural meaning. For example, blue signifies the South, the Pacific Ocean, water, rain and femininity, according to the Huichol Center for Cultural Survival.
The art walk is open to everyone, both local artists and those from other areas. Itzcōhuātl accepts contributions and takes care of uncovered costs and also gives his own time to make sure it continues. His only requirement is that the items sold must be original art.
Many attendees –such as 21-year-old Ana Magaña, of Hawthorne, who went for the first time in October– like the connection between what’s sold and traditional Latino arts and crafts. Magaña pointed out designs that her family would wear that have been made into something original, such as hats with embroidered flower patterns.
For some artists, the Art Walk is their main source of income, as is the case with Torres, who left behind various full-time jobs to pursue watercolor and acrylic painting.
“I was a banker, insurance salesman, all the professional jobs,” he said. “But I wasn’t happy. That wasn’t what I liked to do. I liked to paint. I liked to draw. So I decided to take a risk, do what I love for a living.”
Photo above: A local artists shows his work at a recent East LA Art Walk. All photos by Ernesto Orozco.
East Los Angeles Art Walk
When: Second Sunday of the month, from 2 to 8 p.m.
Where: On East 1st Street, between South Indiana Street and South Alma Avenue
Accessibility: Take the Metro Gold Line to the Indiana Station
Parking: On the street
The next East Los Angeles Art Walk is Sunday, February 12.