Photography by Alan Shafer
At the time, Venice was still known as the “Appalachia by the Sea,” having been one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods for decades, but it had one attraction that no other neighborhood could match: its thriving artist community. Add to that the allegiance that many local artists felt to the cause of health care for the uninsured and the Venice Art Walk was born.
The idea – thanks to the vision of volunteers Irma Colen, Ruth Bloom, Mona Colman, Marj Fasman, Sheila Goldberg, Elaine Stone, Adele Yellin, and Meg Ross-Price – was simple: sell tickets for a private tour of select artists’ studios. The funds raised would benefit Venice Family Clinic, which was essentially the only place the neighborhood’s working poor could go to see a doctor. Recruiting artists was easy – many were already patients of the Clinic.
In its first year, the Venice Art Walk raised a modest $35,000. By 1983, however, it had not only helped bring Venice Family Clinic back from the verge of closure four years before, it had helped the Clinic purchase a permanent home. By 1986, it was contributing fully one-third of Venice Family Clinic’s annual operating budget, and the following year – less than a decade after it was created – it raised half a million dollars. Angelenos, it turned out, couldn’t get enough of Venice.
But the Venice Art Walk did not merely reflect the Venice art scene; it catalyzed it. Attendance quickly exceeded 5,000 per year, and artists leveraged the exposure to both launch and authenticate their careers. Big names—including Peter Alexander, Carlos Almaraz, Chuck Arnoldi, Larry Bell, Jonathan Borofsky, Laddie John Dill, Sam Francis, Frank Gehry, David Hockney, Ed Moses, Ed Ruscha—flocked to the event, establishing it as a veritable “Who’s Who” of the Southern California art scene.
By 2000, the Venice Art Walk had completely transcended its role as a fundraiser. It had created a new cultural event model, which was eventually adopted by countless galleries, neighborhood associations, chambers of commerce, even real estate developers. Within the next ten years, art walks would be ubiquitous.
But the Venice Art Walk & Auctions (the name updated in 2004) remained the only one that was a fundraiser. And for all the other neighborhoods that had developed thriving artist communities, no other could boast Venice as its backlot.
Venice’s demographics have changed dramatically since 1979, but the neighborhood is still packed with working artists, from those who put Venice on the art map in the 60s and 70s to mid-career names known the world over to up-and-coming talent working out of garages and other ad-hoc studio spaces. In addition, it has become a hotspot for architects, performing artists, special effects studios, video game developers, fashion designers, restaurateurs, and just about every other type of creative professional. Angelenos still can’t get enough of Venice.
And to this day, there’s no way to see more of Venice, the best of Venice, than the Venice Art Walk & Auctions. For a $50 donation, attendees enjoy access to more than 50 studios on the “Art Walk” proper, as well as several pop-up galleries and special exhibits, plus a shot at more than 400 original works in the Silent Art Auction.
All proceeds from the Venice Art Walk & Auctions, which also features three separately ticketed Art & Architecture Tours – two on Saturday, May 21, and one on Sunday, May 22 – benefit Venice Family Clinic, which is now the largest free clinic in the country, caring for more than 24,000 people annually.
“There’s more than anyone can experience in one day,” says artist Laddie John Dill, who helped launch the Southern California art scene and was on the very first Venice Art Walk in 1979. “People come back year after year because they know they will always find something they have never seen before.”
Images of past participating artists courtesy of Alan Shafer
Artists pictured from top: Kenny Harris, MB Boissonault, Frederick Fulmer