Sandra Mastroianni, owner Cactus Gallery, is calling for community support after she was cited by Los Angeles Police Department officers on Saturday evening for hosting live music and serving alcohol during the Eagle Rock art institution's final reception.
With a court date for the liquor citation pending on January 3, Mastroianni took to Facebook to request that supporters send letters "explaining that Cactus Gallery has NEVER sold alcohol."
Mastroianni told Patch on Monday afternoon that Cactus's closing reception was a festive but slightly somber affair. She admits that there was live music—comprising an acoustic guitarist and three backup singers—as well as wine that was being served free of charge.
She said that 10 LAPD officers in squad cars arrived at the gallery, at which point they issued her the citation for serving wine and demanded to see a permit for hosting living music.
"There were like 10 cops—what a waste of money," she said. "I don't sell liquor, I sell art. This is a community place. The cops had never come to my gallery before. I never gave them a reason to."
For Mastroianni, the police presence at Cactus was a sour way for the community to say goodbye to a gallery that had hosted 84 Second Saturday Gallery Night receptions.
"It was a sad night and they just made it sadder," Mastroianni said. "Everybody that was here was upset. It's like they were kicking me in the rear-end on the way out. It wasn't a private party, but these were all friends of ours."
Supporters on Mastroianni's Facebook page have rushed to her support, criticizing LAPD for what they consider and overreaction to the service of wine at the gallery, a common practice among gallery owners.
However, according to the Alcohol Beverage Commission's trade manual, Mastroianni may have been in violation of the law, even if she wasn't selling liquor.
The manual states: "Giving, selling, or furnishing free alcoholic beverages at an unlicensed salon, clothing store, jewelry store, art gallery, etc. is not legal (California Business & Professions Code Section 23300). Businesses like these will be considered illegal bottle clubs if alcohol is provided to, or consumed by, customers (Cal. Bus. & Prof. Code Sec. 25604)”
Highland Park-Mount Washington Patch left a message with LAPD's Vice Unit and is awaiting a call back.
Cathi Milligan, NELAart director and owner of the Glass Studio in Highland Park, said that the punishment did not fit the crime.
"Of all of the places to harass, Cactus Gallery? Four cop cars is absolutely unnecessary," Milligan said. "One of the most dedicated galleries in NELA, and that's how she goes out? With a really bad taste in her mouth."
The cops don't know what's going on here, they don't know it's gallery night."
Milligan was also concerned that the police action would enhance the community's distrust of Councilman José Huizar, whose office in 2011 was accused of seeking to impose on MorYork Gallery owner Clare Graham.
"The same people that blamed Huizar for MorYork closing are going to rehash and have the same argument," Milligan said. "That's ridiculous."
Huizar's office denied ever mentioning fees to Graham. On Monday, Council District 14 Field Deputy Zenay Loera said that the councilman's office was unaware that the police action had taken place at Cactus. She added that CD 14 had not received any complaints about gallery night activities in recent memory, either.
A larger concern for both Milligan and Mastroianni is that gallery owners would be fearful of holding receptions in the future, for fear that they may be cited as well.
"They're gonna kill the artwalk," Mastroianni said. "That's what it looks like. As soon as the cops came everybody left."
Milligan said such police action may have a cooling effect on owners who are potentially attracted to the neighborhood.
"Artwalk will die with this kind of stuff. Nobody's going to want to participate in this," Milligan said. "We need their business, or we cease to exist. Otherwise this cute little part of the neighborhood will die and and people will say 'see, nothing good ever happens in Highland Park."