“Finding ways to be together”
David Bell, 2020
This year began with us closing our doors to our brick and mortar space to search for something more. COVID put an end to that, so we now find ourselves where we first began, nearly a decade ago, in a suburban backyard mounting an exhibition. In January 2011, I was sitting on the floor of my one-room backhouse with my friends Tiffany Smith and Noah Spindler, while projecting one of Smith’s videos on the wall above my bed. “Welcome to Dave Gallery!” she quipped. You want a solo show? I asked. “Sure, Dave!” The next week we shoved all of my belongings into my closet, set up a projector aimed at the garage and a monitor in the tool shed, and voilà! The next morning, I collected all the cigarette butts from the grass so my landlord, who lived in the front house and who was out of town, wouldn’t find out.
The following year a friend took me to see an available studio in a former textile factory at 435 Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. The first wave of gentrification had not even begun, though, perhaps we were the swell, or better yet, the rip tide. The entire place was covered in soot and mouse hair with stairwell steps missing and handrails nonexistent. The available studio: 500 square feet, four hundred bucks, no windows or ventilation, and completely full of garbage. It was perfect. For nearly four years, together with many of the same artists Visitor Welcome Center works with today, we organized art programs, exhibitions, and happenings. We slept in teepees, made art, ran critique groups and spaces that bled into one another, and threw dinner parties without a sink. We shared in the building’s joy and decrepitude, and watched as the “pigeon hotel” across the street became a ridiculously expensive apartment building filled with ridiculous people. We laughed and toasted, knowing our time was almost up. Because to the people staring back across the way, we were the only pigeon hotel left on the block.
Then, in 2015, we were flushed out, Broadway was bought out, and within a month, all of us in the building were kicked out. It would be a year until I opened Visitor Welcome Center above the famed OB Bear Restaurant and down the hall from a gallery I was working with at the time. One of the oldest Alcohólicos Anónimos in Los Angeles was downsizing and moving across the hall, and the landlords needed a new tenant. The timing was perfect. Our mission statement from the jump was and continues to be finding ways to be together, and while this continues to be challenging to practice, for nearly a dollar a square foot, large windows and exquisite natural light, and the smell of fried chicken seeping in everyday at 4 pm masking the smell of the unwashed bathroom in the hall… soon proved extremely difficult to leave.
Luckily, a little over a week ago, the firefighters made that decision for us! Now nearing my unofficial ten year anniversary of operating a space for artists, it feels most appropriate to bid farewell—for real this time—to our home of the last five years. Thank you to all those who came out, supported, and continue to do so, middle finger to the haters, and for those of you who never got the chance to make it down here, here I channel Tiffany Smith’s exhibition title from a decade ago: You had Your Chance, You blew it.
Visitor Welcome Center stands in solidarity with the Movement for Black Lives. As a space that has dedicated itself to artists whose truths are often eclipsed by the mainstream, whose foils include other constructs other than whiteness, and whose stories are actively being written and difficult to tell, we know that standing in solidarity looks differently for many. We know that often times, embodying solidarity means showing up imperfectly. Solidarity requires a practice of attunement—learning to listen, while listening, and learning how to be supportive and accountable, while being supportive and accountable. VWC is committed to making room for the practice of learning and growing. Growth is never linear and requires reorientation towards humility. As artists, we are in a time of reckoning, and as a space, we continue to rise to the occasion. While we feel that the gallery model has been exhausted and we closed our physical location in February 2020, we still want to continue the urgency of sharing nuanced and challenging stories about connection and equity. Art and healing are so crucially necessary in micro and macro scales: in relationships, in communities, in systemic reform, and in transformative justice. Learning to be in relation to one another, a community, a movement, an incremental or massive shift can be excruciatingly painful for many. There have been so many movements, people, legacies, and sacrifices that have led us to this moment in the U.S. There are people who have been working for a long, long time — across time and space — to envision a new possibility, coupled with those who have just arrived to work, and because of all of this collective effort, there is something to look forward to.