Los Angeles, California- WE RISE is a project of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. It is located at 1262 Palmetto Street in Los Angeles, California and will be open through May 27th, 2019. According to their website, “WE RISE is a 10-day pop-up immersive experience that brings together LA’s diverse community to explore our collective power to live lives of purpose and engagement. Through powerful programming, performances, immersive workshops, and a world-class art exhibition, we seek to embolden individuals and families to find help, reach out to help others and demand systemic change in order to address the critical need for early intervention, treatment and care for mental wellbeing.” We attended the WE RISE opening night celebration and spoke with several artists who will have their work displayed.
Artist Kristy Sandoval of Pacoima succinctly explained, “The whole show ultimately represents connection. It also questions why we are disconnected. It is about trauma and healing. We have over 170 works of art.” She helped the curating team select and organize the art on display, including her own. Her art references Gloria E. Anzaldua’s book Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza. She highlights her Chicanx identity with the piece, as it incorporates the English and Spanish languages with quotes from the book.
Gabe Gault is a local artist who grew up in Venice Beach, and later moved to the San Fernando Valley. His portrait of the slain Nipsey Hussle is part of the gallery exhibition. The artist presents the rapper with a somber countenance, a thin halo, and his iconic Crenshaw gear before a blue background. The blue background likely references Nipsey Hussle’s Crip gang allegiance. Gabe Gault spoke to us about his relationship with mental health. He said, “I lost a friend with a drug habit who had mental health issues. For me, it hits home and is always something I want to be a part of, and raise the awareness of it to the people of Los Angeles and the world.”
We asked Gabe Gault why he chose a portrait of Nipsey Hussle. He responded, “It was something I felt was much needed. He was one of the greatest rappers of the community that was giving back to the community. He was a person for the people and you could see it through his actions. It was a piece that had to happen and I am glad to have it here.” He went on to say, “I started painting it right after his passing. I believe I started the week of and I wanted to put everything else aside to do a tribute to him. I wanted to get that out there and show it to people. It is probably one my favorite pieces that I have ever done. I hope everyone else enjoys it as well.”
Not far from WE RISE is Skid Row. It is a downtown area of Los Angeles known for its homeless population, which includes many people with mental health issues. Artist Showzart of South Central Los Angeles has a tent studio there. He explained, “One thing I’d like people to know is that you can’t be on Skid Row like you can’t be on LA. You can’t be on California; you can only be in it. You can only be in Skid Row and it’s a community. By being a community, it is like a mother. And on Mother Earth you have a chance to do what you need to, but when it is all said and done, you have to answer to the Father in the end; so, treat your mom like you wish to, but in the end you have to see Daddy!”
We asked him about his painting on display at the WE RISE gallery. He replied, “I painted this here, but I paint live in Skid Row on the corner. My studio is in Skid Row. It is a tent set up in the corner because I do my nonprofit in Skid Row. I talk highly about how Skid Row is, how big, how nice it is. I decided to set up my studio there.” About his nonprofit, he went on to explain, “I do what WE RISE does once a year, I do it every day. I bring art and culture to bridge the gaps between communities. I do it with art, food, and festivals.”
We concluded by asking him to speak on mental health. He smiled and said, “I like that the big man of The Department of Mental Health of LA County (Dr. Jonathan Sherin) came and gave a town-hall meeting inside Skid Row, and listened to the community about what they felt they needed. I thought that was huge!”
The opening night celebration culminated with a great performance by the Chicano artist Cuco. We encourage everyone to support the efforts of the artists and city leaders who have participated in WE RISE by visiting the pop-up event. It is encouraging to see city funds allocated to promote community engagement and mental health. While certain states in the south are making it more difficult for women to make decisions about their health, we should be proud our city officials remain innovative in their response to healthcare problems within our community.