Los Angeles has its own Situation Room

 

The Situation Room. Photo Credit Patrick Quinn

The Situation Room. Photo Credit Patrick Quinn

Los Angeles has its own Situation Room

By Patrick Quinn

 

Ask someone to define what an art gallery is and they’ll inevitably describe an empty room with paintings hung on bare white walls. That may be an accurate description, but only in a literal sense. Just as a portrait is more than a canvass with paint on it, a successful art gallery is more than a furniture showroom.

For a gallery to thrive, it needs to define itself and cultivate its own unique audience. Some galleries stand out because of their size and location. Others are guided by curators with exceptional taste and vision. Some depend on their long-standing relationships with up and coming artists. These are the traditional methods for a gallery to prosper. After all, art is art but somebody has to pay the rent.

Then there are the venues that have gone in a different direction. Alternative art spaces that are more focused on creative interaction then sales. These are grass-root projects, often founded by artist co-ops that inhabit empty warehouses and other industrial buildings. They depend on grants more than red ‘sold’ dots to keep their doors open. Some like Art Share L.A. are large-scale venues that offer classes, live music, and a year-round calendar of gallery shows. Others are single rooms open to any creative experience that fits the space spiritly and physically. Art & Cake recently posted a comprehensive overview of some of these venues.

Nestled on a tree-lined suburban street in Eagle Rock is a prime example of the inevitable next step forward, the DIY art gallery. In this particular case, a converted two-car garage now known as The Situation Room.

On a recent rainy Saturday night, a group show curated by Que Lastima had its opening. Project curator Janeth Aparicio often showcases work by woman of color and this show titled ‘Ours’ is the first in a series of planned exhibits. ‘Ours’ features work by Irene Lam, AB Choi, Elizabeth Wu, KiaraWalls, Krystel Beltran, Rosie Yasukochi, Janeth Aparicio, and Olivia Davis. Many of the artists are students at nearby Occidental College.

So the crowd, surprisingly large for such a wet evening, is young and enthusiastic. There’s a DJ spinning and someone is setting up a PA for the bands scheduled later in the evening. But not too late since there’s a strict 10:00pm curfew. This is a residential neighborhood and Situation Room founder Micol Hebron isn’t about to let things run long. Especially since this isn’t just her venue, it’s her home.

At the opening, we had a chance to talk with Micol and get some of the back story behind The Situation Room.

Art & Cake: When did The Situation Room come into being?

Hebron: I moved into this house in 2009 but wasn’t able to complete the conversions to the garage until 2015. The work was partially funded by a grant and the rest was friends who helped with labor and materials

Art & Cake: It’s an interesting name, The Situation Room.

Hebron: The actual Situation Room is the place in the White House where people go when really important things are happening. I love that the name is general enough to cover any potential situation – nuclear war, terrorist attacks, military coups, spy business, or, who knows, maybe sexual transgressions happen there, too. I also loved that the name reminded me of The Situationists who are one of my favorite groups in art history.

Art & Cake: The Situationists were a group of European artists who came together in the 1950’s.  How do you feel about the Los Angeles art scene which was starting to come into its own around the same time?

Hebron: I think a lot about the “Cool School”, and how white and male it was. There is SUCH an incredible history of feminist and women’s spaces in Los Angeles, but often the male-dominated spaces are the ones that get remembered and historicized: Al’s Hotel; Barney’s Beanery; Gemini GEL; Ferus, etc. But of course, there is an incredible history of female-centric spaces and projects in LA, too – Eugenia Butler and Eugenia P. Butler’s galleries and projects; Womanhouse; The Women’s Building; Claire S. Copley gallery, just to name a few.

Art & Cake: Was The Situation Room inspired by other Alternative Spaces that you knew about?

Hebron: I went to UCLA in the early 90’s when there were all kinds of great alternative space initiatives: One Night Stand, by Michael Arata, which took place in the rooms of seedy motels for just one night; Three Day Weekend, by Dave Muller, which happened initially at private homes, whenever there was a three day weekend; Miller Durazo, a gallery in an apartment on Pico, opened by Robert Miller and Martin Durazo; Post, by Habib Kheradyar, which happened in a converted warehouse building in downtown LA. Justin Hansch ran JMOCA out of his house in Eagle Rock. But again, all of these initiatives were by men. More recently I was inspired by Alice Könitz’s LAMOA – Los Angeles Museum of Art, which was a mobile pavilion gallery/project space that she started in Eagle Rock.

Art & Cake: Does The Situation Room have its own specific philosophy or mission statement?

Hebron: It is very important to me that the attitude and philosophy of the programming has to be in line with what I consider to be feminist values – supporting equality, intersectionality, empathy, generosity, collaboration, non-hierarchical structures. The space is not an official non-profit, but it is also not a for profit space. I never charge artist to use it or to come to it. I cover all of the operating costs myself (including maintenance, utilities, and receptions). I want the space to exist outside of the art market, and the hierarchical, capitalist, unfeminist bullshit that mars most of the rest of the art world.

Art & Cake: Is operating this sort of space in a residential area tricky? How have the neighbors reacted?

Hebron: The neighbors have been fine, though they have not been as involved as I’d hope they would be. Sometimes they’ll stop by and check out the art, or participate in a conversation and there are a few neighbors who are ‘regulars’. One neighbor called the cops because there were well over 200 people in my backyard, and there were bands with amps, and things got pretty loud. Other than that, I’ve never had a problem.

Art & Cake: What do you have planned for the rest of the year and how can people find out about it?

Hebron: There are programs currently booked through May. I let people propose things for the space as the needs arise, and so far, there has been no shortage of programming. There has been an average of 25 programs per year since 2015. Given that this is a side project, in addition to my full time teaching job and my own art practice, I wouldn’t want to do more than that. I also do not have a mailing list, and I don’t really do aggressive PR or marketing for anything that happens at The Situation Room. There is a Facebook page – and people can ‘like’ that, if they want info about what’s going on.
The project we have up now is a group show called ‘Ours’. There will be a closing reception on February 26th. There will be a panel discussion with the curator and the artists at 3pm, and then a reception from 4-6pm.
I hope some of your readers will come by to see the work and meet the artists.

The Situation Room is located at 2313 Norwalk Avenue, Eagle Rock, CA 90041.
‘Ours’ will have a closing event on February 26th from 3 – 6:00pm.
For information on future events, visit The Situation Room Facebook page-
https://www.facebook.com/TheSituationRoomLA/

For further inquiries, email-
thesituationroomla@gmail.com

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