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Arts and Crafts: BAM Fest serves up 100+ microbrews to help sustain the creative community at 18th Street Arts Center

By Christina Campodonico

For those who prefer to take in their contemporary art with a glass of wine or champagne, beer and fine art may not be the most obvious combination. But at the 18th Street Arts Center’s Beer, Art and Music Festival — BAM Fest for short — patrons are invited to indulge in their taste for arts and crafts.

Taking over 18th Street Arts Center on Saturday, BAM Fest boasts more than 100 craft beers from 39 breweries and cider companies, including Westside locals Santa Monica Brew Works, El Segundo Brewing Company and Manchester Boulevard-based Three Weavers Brewing Co.

BAM is the brainchild of cultural event producer Nicole Gordillo Schimpf, who started the festival while on staff at the 18th Street Arts Center as an innovative and engaging way to benefit the non-profit organization. For her, beer and art is the “perfect pair” to support the center.

“To me, the skill is a mixture of art and science; alchemy at its best,” Schimpf says, likening the making of craft beer to the creation of art. “The process is both surprisingly complex and beautifully simple.”

For BAM Fest she also throws music into the mix, including performances by folk/soul singer Nick Shattuck, indie-folk quartet Heaps n’ Heaps and Irish/Americana band Whiskey Sunday.

Whether hosting local brewers, or supporting local artists, creativity is at the core of the 18th Street Arts Center’s history and mission. The center was co-founded in 1988 by Susanna Bixby Dakin and Linda Frye Burnham to serve the needs of Los Angeles-based artists. Its Santa Monica location is probably best known as the birthplace of artist Judy Chicago’s famed feminist installation “The Dinner Party” (1979), created before 18th Street Arts Center occupied the site. More recent alumni to pass through 18th Street include UK-born artist Phil Collins, who was shortlisted for the prestigious Turner Prize in 2006.

A close-up of L.A. artist Cheryl Walker’s colorful stained-glass installation at 18th Street Arts Center
A close-up of L.A. artist Cheryl Walker’s colorful stained-glass installation at 18th Street Arts Center

Coming off a 25th anniversary year, the 18th Street Arts Center continues to support the creation of cutting-edge, contemporary artwork through residencies, which provide artists with the time, space and financial support to complete an existing project or generate new work before it goes on to theaters or museums. Residencies vary in length from a few months to even a few years and are supported by external grants and stipends that range from a few thousand dollars to more than $20,000.

Artists are selected for residencies through an open application process, as well as recruited by a curatorial staff that keeps an eye out for rising talent. About half of the artists are international visiting artists, and the other half are L.A.-based.  Some reside in live-work studios, while others work in day studios. The center hosts about 50 residencies per year and can host about 20 artists at any given time.

Yet for Executive Director Jan Williamson, it is the center’s ‘round-the-clock community vibe that makes it truly vibrant.

“The ethos of the place is really a creative environment, 24/7. I mean, a museum presents a work after it’s already been made and is open between whatever hours to the public; 18th Street is a creative hub that is active 24 hours a day, every day of the year. There is work in progress going on in all of the studios. And there a lot of new collaborations that develop as a result of proximity that happens,” says Williamson.

One of those collaborations will be on display during BAM. Titled “Road Trip to California,” the work of four international visiting artists inspired by a recent excursion through central and coastal California to San Francisco will be featured in one of the galleries. The drawings and paintings show the artists’ impressions of iconic California landmarks such as Yosemite National Park and Hearst Castle.

“It’s wonderful to see artists that are so immediately inspired and productive. They’re inspired by our local environment … they’ve just created a ton of work while they’re here in a very short period of time,” says Williamson of the project.

18th Street’s ability to inspire work quickly as well as over time is another defining characteristic of the center.

“I was a visitor before I was a resident, for a long time,” says L.A. artist Cheryl Walker, who visited the center off and on for 20 years before becoming a long-term, local artist-in-residence three years ago.

At BAM, patrons will have the opportunity to engage with Walkers’ “WINDOW imPRESSiONS” project, an interactive stained glass window installation made of layered and transparent colored cutouts.

Even when not working in her day studio at the center, 18th Street has played a sustained role in Walker’s artistic life. About eight years ago, Walker started attending “Continuum” movement-meditation classes instructed by Emilie Conrad. A movement specialist, she taught at the center before her passing in 2014 and was a cherished teacher to Walker.

When Conrad saw Walkers’ colorful cutouts on the artist’s studio window, she suggested that Walker apply the idea to 18th Street’s external windows. Conrad walked around the facility with Walker and they spotted five west-facing windows on one building, where Walker later installed an iteration of her transparent cutouts, titled “Windows on the World VIII.” It stayed up for three years.

For Walker, these spontaneous interactions not only inform her interdisciplinary artistic practice, they make the center feel like a home away from home.

“It’s the smallest physical studio space that I’ve ever had, but the largest community,” Walker said.

Even as artists continually come and go, building creative community remains at the heart of the 18th Street Arts Center. And that’s something you can raise your glass to — in this case, a cold beer.

BAM Fest is from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, at the 18th Street Arts Center, 1639 18th St., Santa Monica. Tickets are $45 online or $50 at the door. Visit 18thstreet.org/bam for more info.

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