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Just Around the Corner: Free POC-Led Art Spaces in Southern California

By Melanie Romero

 

In our Southern California communities, there are art spaces peppered in every nook and cranny of this collective space we call home. But, among all these art spaces, there are only a few that are led by people of color and are free in admissions; these museums and/or spaces bring our communities together, tied tenderly by our common accomplishments, struggles, and hopes, and gives us room to process it all and educate the masses. From Monterey Park to Long Beach, Compton to Santa Ana, we’ve gathered a list of free POC-led art spaces that beckon us home.


Image by Vincent Price Art Museum

Vincent Price Art Museum

Located at East Los Angeles College in Monterey Park, CA, there exists Vincent Price Art Museum, named after actor Vincent Price, a renowned champion of the arts, who in 1957 donated portions of his art collection to the community college. Because of his kind gift, the East Los Angeles College named the museum in his honor. Since 1957, the collection has substantially grown to over 9,000 objects and allowed for more than 100 shows to grace the museum’s walls.


As of now, the museum boasts seven art galleries, all of which can accommodate temporary rotating exhibitions, selected shows, and individual artist or community projects. There’s even a multimedia lecture hall for art history classes. They have a history of supporting Chicano/Latinx and BIPOC artists across Southern California, and it is still a focus today.


Joseph Daniel Valencia, coined as a “curator, writer, and researcher of U.S. Latinx art, queer worldmaking, and the histories of art, design, and visual culture,” is the present-day Curator of Exhibitions at the museum, overseeing exhibitions and programs since 2016. Valencia, an Orange County native, encourages the advocacy of the arts in the collective of Orange County—and beyond within the greater community.


Image by Vincent Price Art Museum


One of the most intriguing (now past) exhibitions at the Vincent Price Art Museum was Librería Donceles, an art project brought to life by artist Pablo Helguera, born in Mexico City and based in New York City. The project addressed the lack of bookstores in Latinx areas across the United States; the project is part-bookstore, part-installation and urges art enthusiasts to engage with Spanish-language books as a way to endorse tolerance, impact, and social activism.

However, current projects – “Kang Seung Lee: The Heart of a Hand” and “What Would You Say?: Activist Graphics from The Los Angeles County Museum of Art” – deal with queer futurity and political activism respectively, drawing us closer to the themes and issues prevalent in modern-day life and how art can heal and educate.


Museum Hours: Tuesday-Saturday from 12:00PM to 4:00PM, with extended evening hours on Thursdays only, from 12:00PM to 7:00PM


Image by Chicano Park Museum & Cultural Center


Chicano Park Museum & Cultural Center

At the geographic heart of Barrio Logan, considered to be San Diego’s oldest Mexican-American neighborhood, there is Chicano Park Museum & Cultural Center: a historical landmark. Opened in October 2022, the site is best known for its growing collection of art murals, and Dr. Alberto Pulido, alongside his students and co-workers at the University of San Diego, updated the documentation of Chicano Park, which consisted of the Chicano Park Murals map.


The ongoing inaugural exhibition, “PILLARS: Stories of Resilience and Self-Determination,” highlights grassroots-led organizations at the heart of Chicano Park and Logan Heights, from:

And, during the summer season, the cultural center offers Chicano Park Vive!, a series of summer events and workshops that honor the community of Barrio Logan in collaboration with the museum and its other partners. The summer program focuses on youth engagement, offering art workshops, lunch distributions, art exhibits, free WiFi, and school supply allotment.


Museum Hours: Friday-Sunday from 11:00AM to 5:00PM


Image by Compton Art & History Museum


Compton Art & History Museum

Compton Art & History Museum, founded by Abigail Lopez-Byrd, is a brand-new museum, having opened its doors in February 2023. Lopez-Byrd, the founder of Color Compton, a youth-driven art and history non-profit organization, operates it as a parent organization to the museum.

Image by Compton Art & History Museum


One of its current exhibitions, “Scenes of Liberation,” explores the themes of liberation and freedom from the Black and Brown woman gaze. Its run, between June & July, is not one of coincidence, but choice, showing the stark contrast between the celebration of emancipation and American independence to the lived experiences of Black and Brown people.


Although a new museum in the community of Los Angeles, the Compton Art & History Museum is an astounding pillar to its surrounding community in both Black exploration and youth engagement and will continue to be for decades to come.

Museum Hours: Tuesday-Friday from 10:00AM to 3:00PM


Image by Crenshaw Dairy Mart


Crenshaw Dairy Mart

According to its mission, “just south of Manchester and off of Crenshaw stands tall a former dairy mart”: Crenshaw Dairy Mart. An artist collective and art gallery, the dairy mart aims to shift the trauma behind impoverished conditions and economic injustice to cultural advocacy.

Although there are no current art exhibitions on schedule, their schedule is always a-changing. Their past exhibitions “Black August” and “CARE NOT CAGES: Processing a Pandemic” – seem to deal with trauma & tragedy and how to find healing in the eyes of oppression.



Image by Mark Lohman, 2007


Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA)

With admissions free on Sundays, The Museum of Latin American Art (MOLAA) is a landmark museum in that it “expands knowledge and appreciation of modern and contemporary Latin American and Latino art through its Collection, ground-breaking Exhibitions, stimulating Educational Programs, and engaging Cultural Events.” Founded in 1996 in Long Beach, the museum is considered to be the ONLY museum in the United States purely dedicated to modern and contemporary Latin American art. It now houses 1,300 works of art. Currently, the museum has five current exhibitions: “Tania Candiani: Reverencia,”“Yolanda Gonzalez, Metamorphosis: The Evolution of Visions and Dreams,”“Fernando Botero: El Maestro,”“I Am: New Afro-Latinx Narratives,” and “Robert Gumbiner Sculpture and Event Garden.”


With many art pieces on display, MOLAA is home to artwork meant for our greater community, and its growing collection is a symbol of what Latin America has always been capable of: of bringing communities together through art.

Museum Hours: Wednesday-Sunday from 11:00AM to 6:00PM


Image by Crear Studio


Crear Studio

Under the direction of Sarah Rafael Garcia, the founder of LibroMobile Arts Cooperative, Crear Studio is a semi-new gallery in downtown Santa Ana, but has made its mark in the Orange County art scene. The space features art + comunidad + gallery and is fronted by BIPOC artists, curators, and educators with rotating exhibitions.


The studio not only builds sustainability and equity for artists of color in the local community, but also encourages inspiration in its mission to make art accessible, both to the public and to the artists it motivates.


Their latest exhibition, “What We Leave / What We Take,” from their first visiting artist, Rebecca Gonzales, runs from June 3 to August 5. Her installation spotlights how we experience love and pain in our body and what it’s capable of holding within its folds.


Image by Crear Studio


Crear Studio is a free space where all can come together to create, leaving behind more inspiration in their wake than there was once they entered.


Museum Hours: Thursdays & Fridays from 4:00PM to 8:00PM, Saturdays from 12:00PM to 4:00PM, & 1st Saturday Artwalks from 6:00PM to 10:00PM

 

Melanie Romero is a trilingual writer born and raised in Orange, CA. It was during childhood weekend trips to Randy’s $1-a-book stall at the OC Market Place that she discovered a passion for reading and, eventually, writing. Today, she serves as Editor at Lil’ Libros and has written two children’s books, Amor de colores and J is for Janucá under the publisher. In her free time, she can be found indulging in challah and getting lost among the shelves of independent bookstores.

 

Starting February 2023, #OffThePage is featuring Melanie Romero as our monthly columnist. Our Arts & Culture column was initially founded by local journalist Gabriel San Román in May 2020. Since then we have collaboratively featured over 25 stories and paid nearly 10 contributors from our community. Pitch Melanie a story or email us for more information!

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