The art gallery founded by elders aims to shed light on a wide range of histories, cultures

Two UCLA alumni opened an art gallery on Melrose Avenue on October 3, highlighting neglected and underserved communities with their first show “Luminarium: A Culture of Lights.”

The LA Art Box mission statement is: “Tell your story to everyone, everywhere.” LA Art Box founders Bernie Bernardo and Mar Dumlao first met through Samahang Pilipino at UCLA, developing a long-standing friendship that ultimately led to the creation of the gallery.

Bernardo said the gallery creates storytelling experiences that showcase communities of color. The founders hope this cultural space can fill a void they have seen elsewhere in the art world, where these subjects are often explored inauthentic or incomplete, Bernardo said.

The founders brought together artists from different cultural backgrounds for the debut of the gallery. For example, Yuzly Mathurin, a Haitian-American portrait painter and muralist, currently has two pieces on display in the gallery. Diversity is a strength of The LA Art Box, said Mathurin.

“I’ve known Bernie for a few years, and she’s all about the community and really makes sure she has a diverse group of people who come to showcase their work,” Mathurin said.

Part of The LA Art Box’s approach is to search for its artists exclusively through social media.

Bernado – who organizes the exhibitions – said this approach allows him to discover artists who might not otherwise be featured in a gallery. At The LA Art Box, works by well-known creators are presented alongside projects from relatively unknown creators, allowing all kinds of voices to be expressed, she said.

This environment offers some artists, such as freelance photographer Ramil Sumalpong, a unique opportunity to present their individuality and creativity to a wider audience. As a professional photographer, Sumalpong’s work is generally focused on the specific desires of the client. It was gratifying for a gallery to showcase their work based solely on their creativity and artistic ambitions, he said.

“It made me feel that my work was appreciated,” Sumalpong said. “To get people to ask questions about it and want to introduce it, that made me dizzy.”

The gallery’s first program, “Luminarium: A Culture of Lights”, deals with the nature of light in art and society. The exhibition also features light festivals from around the world – including India, Japan and Mexico – where light plays an important thematic and cultural role. The multicultural exhibit was chosen over a monocultural exhibit to emphasize the gallery’s inclusiveness, Bernardo said.

Bernardo said she believes this exhibit sets the tone that whatever culture or exhibit is on display, the space is designed for everyone to enjoy. While future exhibits will look and feel very different from “Luminarium: A Culture of Lights” and generally showcase a particular culture or group, they hope to maintain that inclusive atmosphere in the future, she said. declared.

Dumlao described feeling accomplished after bringing his idea to life, especially given the unique challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. He takes particular pride in operating a Filipino-owned business, which is rare on Melrose Avenue, he added.

Bernardo graduated from UCLA in 1992 with a degree in industrial design, and Dumlao graduated in 1994 with a degree in biology.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the two former students had not seriously considered opening an art gallery, focusing on their first careers after UCLA, Bernardo said. Bernardo previously worked as Executive Director of Independent West Coast Stores at MAC Cosmetics, and Dumlao currently works as Senior Technical Program Manager at Uber.

The idea for The LA Art Box arose when Bernardo’s 18-year-old son expressed a desire to learn more about his Filipino heritage. Bernardo then began planning a cultural space where she could explore her own culture and help other people from communities of color to do the same. When she pitched the idea to Dumlao at the start of the pandemic, he immediately took inspiration from it, seeing the idea as an opportunity for people to learn about their own cultures, much like he discovered his own Filipino culture. at UCLA.

“I went to college and found there was more to being Filipino than speaking the language or eating food,” Dumlao said. “There was all this rich culture that I never knew anything about.”

The founders have already established a roadmap for the next few years of operation of The LA Art Box. They plan to hold about three exhibitions a year, Dumlao said, with future exhibitions focusing on topics ranging from women’s empowerment to the Mexican-American community in Los Angeles.

LA Art Box’s upcoming multimedia exhibit, titled “Katutubo: Indigenous People,” will focus on the rituals and ceremonies of six indigenous Filipino cultures. The exhibit will feature photographs and clothing from these cultures as well as performances recorded by Parangal Dance Company, a Filipino folk dance group based in the Bay Area.

Dumlao noted that these future shows are often inspired by conversations with artists and said he’s excited to see what these community collaborations bring to the table.

“It’s fascinating how many people have contacted us, and we are delighted to work with each of them,” said Dumlao. “Everyone has a story to tell, and when you actually start talking to these artists, it’s amazing what you can learn from them. ”

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