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Nuestro Lugar: The One-Night Gallery

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The Desert Riderz, North Shore's bicycle co-op gear up for future projects. | Photo: Alfredo Hernandez

Nuestro Lugar: North Shore is the first resident-designed, culture-driven, community development project in the rural, migrant community of North Shore, California. Over the course of a year, Artbound will chronicle Nuestro Lugar's various physical improvements, economic activity projects, and multi-faceted arts and culture initiatives that will use North Shore's assets as catalysts for change.

The Somos North Shore: One-Night Gallery

For a single night, Teresa Aguayo's carport made an excellent gallery. Its clean, stuccoed walls neatly displayed a set of black and white photographs, while also shielding visitors from the desert wind. The normally overlooked embellishments on her garage door made an unexpected frame to a pair of pencil drawings. The front porch has been transformed into a stage by a group of teenagers dressed in black hoodies and sneakers that have set up a drum set, microphones and amplifiers. They flick shaggy hair from their eyes as they earnestly play Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit." The teens don't seem to mind that their fans today are two toddlers that have turned the driveway into a their personal dance floor, skipping and twirling in their impromptu choreography. Their mothers tap their feet to the music as they fry up enchiladas and serve steaming tamales and champurrados.

For The Somos North Shore One Night Gallery, local residents and artists from the Kounkuey Design Initiative (KDI) have transformed an ordinary house into an art gallery and created a new opportunity to build community, by bringing together long-time residents that in many cases, are meeting each other for the first time.

The One-Night Gallery is part of the Nuestro Lugar art component in North Shore. The purpose of this project is to transform a town on the edge of the Salton Sea from a community suffering great need into a healthy community that can use its local assets to thrive. "Most narratives about North Shore focus on what's missing and of course, the pollution of the lake, through the arts, residents can take charge of their own stories rather than being translated and misinterpreted by others, " states Artistic Director Evelyn Serrano.

With a front porch as a stage, Downcast members take advantage of an opportunity to play for an audience. | Photo: Alfredo Hernandez
With a front porch as a stage, Downcast members take advantage of an opportunity to play for an audience. | Photo: Alfredo Hernandez
North Shore residents learn to mount, frame and install art for the first One-Night Gallery. | Photo: Evelyn Serrano
North Shore residents learn to mount, frame and install art for the first One-Night Gallery. | Photo: Evelyn Serrano

North Shore's current condition as a forgotten, often ignored town is tied directly to its peculiar history as an ill-fated resort town that never came to be and the alarming ecological disaster of its accidental, man-made lake that continues to pose a serious threat. As the lake dries up it exposes layers of toxic sediments that would directly endanger all of its coastal towns, including North Shore. Yet despite its peculiar history, this predominantly Latino community can also speak to the alienation experienced by many communities in Southern California's ever-sprawling suburbia.

"From very early on, we decided to document our process very carefully so that in the future, our work in North Shore could be used as a case-study in other places. We also want to partner with other neighboring towns that are experiencing the same neglect and issues with the enviromnent. So residents in North Shore can start mentoring residents in other communitities," says Serrano.

Moreover, North Shore may also ring true to so many other communities that are closer to urban centers, mainly Los Angeles, yet still remain outside of the reach and support of city-based institutions. The needs that North Shore residents voice -- effective public transit, schools, green space, public programming for youth, safe walkable and bikeable streets, home-grown economic development, cultural events -- are the same needs of many communities.

Nuestro Lugar, is not an average urban planning project. They aim to improve North Shore's quality of life by building community and engaging in collaborative arts-based processes.

Teresa and her husband offer their home and contribute art work to the second One-Night Gallery. | Photo by Alfredo Hernandez
Teresa and her husband offer their home and contribute art work to the second One-Night Gallery. | Photo by Alfredo Hernandez

The One-Night Gallery

The North Shore Arts Committee is at the heart of most project-planning, from the development of a new park, to the Biciteca, a local bike-sharing co-op, in addition to its more obvious role in organizing art workshops and cultural events. This Somos North Shore: One-Night Gallery was the second in a series of quarterly arts exhibitions that will take place over the course of the following year, rotating from one residence to another. Sometimes families volunteer the carport, sometimes they offer the entire house.

This quotidian approach to creating cultural space was inspired by Evelyn Serrano, Nuestro Lugar's artistic director, who remembers experiencing home-curated, clandestine art exhibits and events while growing up in Cuba, where official cultural events and spaces are directly mediated, censored or mandated by state authorities. In North Shore, however, the problem is not extreme state scrutiny, but something closer to its opposite -- complete olvido, nearly to the point of invisibility. As a result, there is a total absence of cultural infrastructure or public civic spaces. So for now, North Shore's community cultural genesis will begin in their homes.

"These are not curated exhibitions," notes Serrano. "There is no theme. The purpose of the One-Night Gallery is very basic: to be as inclusive as possible by providing residents with the opportunity to showcase any creative project or item." Indeed, whether it's a hand rendered drawing in a sketchbook, or a floral arrangement, all contributions are accepted and accommodated into the One-Night Gallery. Some of the work included in the recent exhibition, such as photographs by 16-year old Adrianna Mota, was created during Nuestro Lugar's summer art workshops. She even sold a piece at the last exhibit, she will proudly tell you.

Photo: Adrianna Mota
Photo: Adrianna Mota
Photo: Adrianna Motta
Photo: Adrianna Motta

Some of the work was simply dropped off last minute. Miguel Julian, for example, brought his sketchbook earlier in the day. During the event, he stands quietly next to the folding table where his sketchbook sits alone. He wears wire-rimmed glasses, a leather jacket and a timid smile. But he is eager to guide you through his drawings and encourages you to flip through its worn-edged pages. They have already started smudging with so much handling. Signs of a well-loved sketchbook. They are exquisite pencil and ink drawings that range from whimsical cartoons that poke fun at friends, to more contemplative portraits of, say, a pretty girl that Miguel asked permission to draw. Her quiet gaze looks out from behind sweeping bangs and a slight, nearly undetectable smile punctuated by a lip piercing. On the next page, another young girl's wide grin shows off a set of braces like prized bling.

Miguel, a recent high school graduate, spends much of his week alongside his parents, picking fruits and vegetables in the neighboring agricultural fields. In the evening and on weekends, he loses himself in his sketchbook. And though he doesn't know anyone that has pursed the arts as a career, Miguel is committed to his love of art. "I want to get into tattoos, maybe open a tattoo parlor one day. Mostly, I want to get as good as I can," he says.

 Artist Miguel Julian and aspiring tattoo artists, with skull and rose design. | Photo: Alfredo Hernandez
Artist Miguel Julian and aspiring tattoo artists, with skull and rose design. | Photo: Alfredo Hernandez

Then there's Daniel Moranda, a few years out of college (he graduated from CSU San Bernardino), who returns to North Shore every weekend to visit his family. He's attended every Arts Committee meeting since he and his mother first heard about the project in August. "My mom told me that they were having community meetings and I said, let's go check it out. Why not? There's never been anything like this here." While he didn't contribute to this exhibit, he arrived prepared with a stack of business cards. He is a videographer, currently working out of San Bernardino where he currently lives. In fact, he returns to North Shore every weekend to catch up on the latest developments of Nuestro Lugar's project.

Earlier in the day, before the exhibition, Moranda and the other members of the North Shore Arts Committee were already preparing for the next event. In conjunction with the new bicycle co-op, The Desert Riderz, the Arts Committee is curating a string of original arts installations along a bike route. This event, titled "Ambulant Poetry Project/Viaje Poetico", will take place on November 22. Their goal is to introduce visitors to the poetry of North Shore by taking them on an "artful journey" through the community. En route, artists, musicians, story-tellers and activists will highlight aspects of North Shore through with site-specific art interventions. Where visitors might only see a a bleak hard land, these artists will sing to a home with a language of life and beauty that is all its own.

Moranda will be making a video project in collaboration with art students from CalState Long Beach, Cal Arts and College of the Desert, using his intimate, sensorial knowledge of the local landscape, the desert, the sea, his neighborhood. He understands that in the city (Los Angeles), he might find more career opportunities as a videographer. However his plan has never been to go to the city but rather to return to his source of inspiration, his home in North Shore.

Arts Committee members meet to plan the bicycle arts tour "Ambulant Poetry: Viaje Poetico" for Nov. 22. | Photo: Alfredo Hernandez
Arts Committee members meet to plan the bicycle arts tour "Ambulant Poetry: Viaje Poetico" for Nov. 22. | Photo: Alfredo Hernandez

El Progreso

Near the end of the night, a norteño band, shows up unexpectedly and begins to set up where the previous band has just finished playing a Green Day cover.

Omar Guardado, an organizer with Nuestro Lugar, takes advantage of this transition to thank everyone for attending and supporting the project. Mainly, he wants to encourage everyone to pick up the freshly printed issue of El Progreso, the new community newspaper. "We want a community where everyone knows each other and where we can interact with each other as human beings," Guardado tells the group of people that have huddled closer together as the winds have grown colder with the evening.

Dinastia Mexicali infused the evening with their norteno flavor. | Photo: Alfredo Hernandez
Dinastia Mexicali infused the evening with their norteno flavor. | Photo: Alfredo Hernandez

Guardado is involved in other aspects of the Nuestro Lugar project, particularly the weekly beach clean ups. However, he is especially excited about the potential of the quarterly newspaper. "People around here like to read. This newspaper can really help us connect people and build community," he says.

One of Nuestro Lugar's challenges is just bringing people together in a town that does not have a culture of community connectedness. "People in North Shore are very private, " says North Shore Community Organizer, Eulalia Dominguez. She notes that without a local park, a school or even a grocery store, interactions among residents of North Shore are limited to their own families and immediate neighbors. Dominguez identifies North Shore as consisting of six neighborhoods that run along the 111 Highway, where residents of one neighborhood are not likely to know residents in another.

Organizers Eulalia Dominguez and Omar Guardado thank the community for attending and encourage residents to continue supporting the Nuestro Lugar project. | Photo: Alfredo Hernandez
Organizers Eulalia Dominguez and Omar Guardado thank the community for attending and encourage residents to continue supporting the Nuestro Lugar project. | Photo: Alfredo Hernandez

Another challenge for the project and organizers is to address the skepticism or disillusion expressed by some North Shore residents. "People in the community have been promised changes before. When they don't see results, they get discouraged and stop believing that anything will happen in the future," Dominguez says. She names a list of disappointed projects such as plans for a school that has yet to materialize, and a small semi-functional park with no lights or restrooms. Part of Dominguez's job is to get people involved in this new project by Kounkuey, as well as to encourage them to invest some amount of faith into creating new visions for their community.

This is no small job, but Dominguez's firm demeanor and the earnestness of her words make it clear that the transformations that Nuestro Lugar's project seeks to make are not only possible, but also necessary. Despite the uncertainty of this town, as it flickers on and off maps like a distant star, there is no doubt that the roots that many families have dug into this dusty desert earth are strong. Eulalia rubs her very pregnant belly as she speaks, as if to reaffirm the importance and urgency of Nuestro Lugar's labor. This is their home, and the home of future generations. Where others only see the Salton Sea's constant, slow death, North Shore residents have their eyes firmly set on life. As laborers of agricultural fields, they know that life can grow beneath their feet. As budding organizers, they are also learning that the possibility for a new, better life can also be made with their own hands.

Want to visit North Shore? Here is an upcoming event:

AMBULANT POETRY PROJECT / VIAJE POETICO
November 22, 2014

Join one of our two free North Shore tours this coming Saturday:
First tour 12-2pm
Second tour 2:30-4:30pm
All tours leave from 98890 Surfside, Mecca (North Shore), CA 92254.

The Ambulant Poetry Project aims to reveal the poetics and assets of North Shore, CA through a bike tour and a series of site-specific art interventions. Visitors will have an opportunity to get to know this community by participating in this artful journey designed by the community's artists, musicians, storytellers and activists. The project was organized by North Shore residents in collaboration with artists from CalArts, CalState Long Beach and College of the Desert, and KDI artistic directors Shannon Scrofano and Evelyn Serrano.

Visitors are encouraged to bring your own bike. Tours will depart on time. A meal and refreshments will be provided along the route. Participation in the project is free of charge. Please RSVP to toevelynserrano@gmail.com. Questions? Give us a call at 661 755 6974.

 

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