A small vacant storefront downtown, a barren rectangle with a concrete floor and brick walls, was transformed this summer into an urban art gallery.
Ready now to celebrate October Is Arts Month, innovators, friends and artists Vinny Picardi and Monica Fleming are the masterminds behind Loiter Galleries. They set up what they hope is merely the first of many art showrooms inside empty commercial space at The Streets shopping center downtown.
“We wanted to take advantage of a naked space,” Picardi said, noting that he and Fleming have dreamed about Loiter Galleries for several years and are ecstatic to see it become a reality with the help of Tony Shooshani, managing member of Shooshani Developers and the owners of The Streets.
“It’s been magical, from the idea to bringing it to life,” Fleming said, noting that the reception the gallery has received from the community has been incredible. “We are riding a wave of good energy and good vibes.”
She called Shooshani their guardian angel for being the first property owner to help with the cause, and she said people really seem to understand how Loiter Galleries is a symbol for how businesses and artists can coexist and collaborate to better the community and give Long Beach its own signature.
Fleming specializes in abstract acrylic painting but also is a professional musician with more than two decades of experience. Her own artwork, as well as Picardi's, is on display among the other rotating artists featured at Loiter Galleries, which she said was an idea inspired by some work she did as a curator for Phantom Galleries L.A.
She and Picardi, who are longtime Long Beach residents and neighbors, said they wanted to create their own concept and highlight only Long Beach artists, underscoring the fact that the city has its own unique urban art culture.
Picardi, 61, who works as a commercial and fine art photographer, has been snapping pics since he was 13. His work seems to celebrate all things Long Beach. Many of Picardi’s photographs at Loiter Galleries are ones that locals can immediately identify, capturing area landmarks such as the Queen Mary or the International Tower.
Among the rotating artists featured there — they try to recruit artists whose works aren’t commonly shown at more traditional galleries. Fleming said she enjoys discovering new talents and helping people find the confidence to show their art in public, even if they’ve never done so before or haven’t done so in years.
“Many of our artists are amazing and don’t realize how amazing they are,” Fleming said.
Picardi emphasized that artists having their works shown at traditional gallery spaces is out of reach for many, so the Loiter Galleries concept is a real win-win for talented people who show their work and also breath life into what would otherwise be a dark, empty storefront.
“We want to aid in the progress of a city through art,” he said. “Art is a powerful tool in the evolution of neighborhoods and cities.”
And because they’ve kept costs low at Loiter Galleries, they take only a small commission, giving almost all of the money directly back to the artist, which is also unusual in the industry. (Loiter Galleries takes roughly 10-15% commission rather than 50-60%.)
Among the artists with works on display is 73-year-old sculptor Ron Leiter, who never worked exclusively as a professional artist, yet has crafted “his life’s work” out of metal. He’d never shown his art at a gallery until he was approached by Fleming and Picardi, and he’s still not sure if he wants to sell it, but he said he's enjoyed showing it to the community in a public space.
Leiter’s wife, Betty, said, “We aren’t the typical art world people.” Yet, the quality and other-worldly, larger-than-life metal designs her husband makes could easily sit in any fine art museum.
“Since Ron started displaying a piece at Loiter Galleries, we’ve heard from so many people who are interested and curious about his work,” Betty said.
Leiter’s own workshop and Loiter Galleries are getting into the spirit of October Arts Month and participating in the LB Open Studio Tour Oct. 13, 14, 20, 21, 27 and 28. Local artists open up their studios to visitors for the annual event series, which is a free, self-guided type of tour. Visit www.LBOpenStudioTour.com.
Additionally, Loiter Galleries is hosting an open house special exhibition from 4 to 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19, at 375 Promenade North.
It’s free to visit the gallery, and the owners have set up a Go Fund Me page online to garner additional support for the concept. Loiter Galleries also is available for special event bookings and is typically open from 5 to 8 p.m. weeknights and 5 to 10 p.m. weekends. For details, visit LoiterGalleries.com.