DTLA ART WALK
Martha De Perez: Profile
Martha De Perez, art curator and pop-up exhibition organizer extraordinaire, has been volunteering her time to promote artists in and around Los Angeles for over a decade. “I love putting exhibitions together and showcasing artists,” she says. “And I’m a frigg’in perfectionist so it can be hard work for me, but good for them.”
Her dedication to championing artists was nurtured during childhood. “My father is an artist from Cuba, and I grew up watching him paint. But as I got older, I saw he wasn’t gaining the dealer or gallery representation that he deserved. I really wanted to create an exhibition for him and other older people who were still passionate artists.” Her show of Cuban artists at the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk in August 2015 titled “Colors of Cuba” fulfilled her longtime goal. But she’s now hoping to organize her father a one-man show. “He’s now 86 and still painting every day.”
Martha’s foray into the nonprofit art world began in 2006 when she was running a museum and nonprofit gallery for local artists in the town of Lake Arrowhead in California’s San Bernardino Mountains. But the Downtown Los Angeles Art Walk and the area’s burgeoning art scene beckoned. She moved to Downtown in 2007 and soon met Qathryn Brehm, then Art Walk’s Interim Director, now Executive Director. Soon after, Martha rented a space at the Regent Theater on Main St., which became the temporary office for her nonprofit, Katalyst Foundation for the Arts.
After meeting with Art Walk’s executive director Qathryn Brehm, she volunteered to curate shows for the Art Walk’s Lounge, which was located in the lobby of a historic building at Spring and 6th. The Art Walk Lounge is now hosted by the Spring Arts Collective in The Last Bookstore at 453 S. Spring Street.
With the help of co-curator Enrique Garcia and his fellow students from the Art Share L.A. after-school program, they were able to hold exhibitions through 18 consecutive Art Walks, in collaboration with the Downtown Art Walk organization. “We’d start early in the morning hanging all the art on the wall, setting up all the tables for the vendors, arranging the lighting, music and flowers. Then take it all down and be out of there by 11:00 pm. It was exhausting, but so wonderful to showcase all these artists.” The artists were never charged a space fee and the exhibits was promoted by Art Walk. The artists were asked only to contribute 20 percent of their sales to the Art Walk organization.
Martha also curated shows from 2008 to 2010 at Art Share L.A. in the Downtown Arts District. “It was a place to help kids from underserved areas, and get them to come out of their shells. They’d do poetry readings and other events, and we’d also take them on field trips to see new things. It was an amazing experience to connect with those kids, and a labor of love and passion for me.”
Her 2008 leap into storefront pop-up exhibitions was largely inspired by the area’s long-neglected buildings and unused spaces. It was an opportunity waiting to happen. The Art Walk was also creating a buzz and attracting a growing number of gallery visitors. This in turn was bringing new residents to the neighborhoods. And although the art pop-up concept was fairly new, Martha’s combined entrepreneurial spirit, philanthropic work, and boundless energy, helped to propel the projects forward.
Her pop-up work for Phantom Galleries L.A. began in 2009. “Phantom established many artists and galleries in Downtown with their program,” she explains. “This involved getting free spaces that artists could take over to do their shows.” She credits Phantom’s Founding Director Liza Simone as the mastermind behind the organization’s successful outreach.
“We had so many artists who wanted to show work but no galleries that would accept them. They needed to have a big portfolio of work and be established,” Martha explains. “My philosophy was to bring established artists to show with emerging artists. Then it would look good on the new artists’ resume to have shown with seasoned talent.” She adds, “I did this for women artists as much as possible.”
Liza Simone also carried the Phantom Galleries concept beyond Downtown. Several of the pop-up shows Martha curated were held in the city of Long Beach about 20 miles outside of Los Angeles. “In 2009, when they opened the national TED conference in Long Beach it looked like the city had the biggest art scene in town,” she says. “They lent us a huge number of free spaces in prime real estate which brought together artists from Long Beach, Downtown, and elsewhere. We had such a variety of artists, from non-established to famous.”
Martha now also regularly curates exhibitions under the Phantom Galleries L.A. umbrella at two galleries in the city of Hawthorne within Los Angeles County. One is named Katalyst for the Arts Gallery after her nonprofit foundation.
Next year she’ll be stepping away from her nonprofit when she moves to Paris. Her goal there is to offer low-cost studio and production spaces for artists, photographers and other creatives. “A production space can cost up to $1,000 an hour. I want to offer it to them for $100 an hour,” she explains. The idea evolved during her frequent trips to Paris along with her experience running Airbnb spaces in LA since 2013, with permission from her landlord, she emphasizes.
The two ‘concept’ Airbnbs she now manages are a big hit, like so many of her ventures. “One is called La Belle Epoque and is my vampire lair with a gothic feel. I love vampire stories,” she reveals. “The other is My Little Paris in L.A. which attracts honeymooners from around the world.”
Beyond her Airbnb venture, she quietly reveals her “regular” job that helps support her nonprofit endeavors. “I’m working for Jimmy Kimmel Live doing the show’s floral arrangements. But I’m going to give it all up for Paris.” She pauses and adds, “I also want to create tour experiences there for women over 50. They’ll see ‘Exotic Art Paris,’ ‘1920s Paris,’ ‘Dark Paris’ and more. If you’re over 50 and haven’t seen Paris, you gotta go!”
Originally posted on downtownartwalk.org