Only a handful of stops on the Gold Line separate Highland Park from Boyle Heights, but artistically, the two historic Los Angeles neighborhoods are worlds away.
"The artists in Boyle Heights are more political," said Kathy Gallegos, director of Highland Park's Avenue 50 Studio. "The artists from Highland Park draw the landscape, and they do their own personal art. I felt that the artists who were coming to me from Boyle Heights, they had much more of a narrative and political content in their work."
Gallegos is referring the artists who will appear in the final show she has curated for the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Village in Boyle Heights, which will open on Friday, January 25.
In the previous two exhibits Gallegos has curated, which were displayed inside the lobby of the hospital's violence intervention program, Gallegos leaned on Highland Park artists, whose use of rich, vibrant colors and depictions of inviting landscapes set an appropriately peaceful tone for the environment.
With this final exhibit, titled Arte, Vida y Amor, Gallegos wanted to look outside of Highland Park for artists. She teamed with Abel Salas, editor of the Boyle Heights' publication Brooklyn & Boyle, to find artists who had strong ties to the neighborhood.
The result, Gallegos said, is an exhibit that is appropriate for the setting, while reflecting the greater comfort she's come to feel for curating the shows.
"When we started, it was emotionally difficult because it was the violence intervention clinic. In some ways, I wasn't emotionally ready. Over the course of these other two exhibits I've started to better understanding of what they need. I was still looking at it through the eyes of the artist and not looking at it through the eyes of a clinic who needs art to help heal."
Gallegos said she is still being very careful to not include images that might trigger memories of emotional or physical abuse for the violence intervention program's young patients. Even an image as seemingly benign as a house could incite a strong reaction from a patient, Gallegos said, if it resembles a place where they were abused. However, given the political nature of area's artists, some not-entirely sunny images will be on display in Arte, Vida y Amor.
In one, for example, a woman wears a necklace adorned with a skull. In another, three woman gaze into the distance with concerned looks on their faces. Others are just as vibrant as those shown the series' premiere exhibit, Local Color. For example, a piece by artist David Botello depicts a Buffalo Soldier striding back into the town, with a massive grin on his face. In the background, the skyline of the city of Los Angeles can be seen.
Through the content of the series has evolved, Gallegos said the primary goal remains the same; bring art to a community who far too infrequently has the economic means to seek it out.
"It's so different when you're in public compared to when you're in the gallery. When you're in the gallery, you have people who are interested in art. They come because they love to see a painted piece. In the clinic, there are people who are so under served. I would guess 99-percent have never been to a gallery before."
Gallegos said, since the series began, she's often visited the hospital just to overhear the responses of the staff and patients who view the art.
One image in particular, of a woman at a beach, evoked a reaction from two staff members that Gallegos still remembers.
"They said they felt they could smell the water, it was so real," Gallegos said. "That's the whole purpose, to use art to heal."
The opening night reception for Arte, Vida y Amor will be held on Friday, January 25 at 6 p.m. at the LAC+USC—Medical Village at 2010 Zonal Avenue in Boyle Heights. The exhibit closes March 30, 2012.