Heart of Art: Breaking Cultural and Gender Barriers

The following is another post in L.A. DY Clever, our guide to events and news going on in Los Angeles that are of interest to women. Because a clever lady should know what’s going on in her own backyard.


LAist, the young urbanites’ Bible for all things LA, describes Heart of Art as “Los Angeles’ raddest and most radical” exhibition space. This gallery, showcasing work from women, LGBT and queer artists, has recently become even more inclusive and accessible with the opening of the Metro Exposition Line (the nearest stop is Exposition/Western). Los Angeles has a long history of supporting non-mainstream art scenes, be they the “low brow” or “street art” movements, but breaking down the barriers is much harder for the artists that Heart of Art seeks out, which seeks to expand its supportive space to encompass numerous non-profits, with the goal of furthering their compassionate causes.

We caught up with founders Kenia Gutierrez (AKACam Creature) and Bell Diaz (artist name: Ms. 3) for a closer look at this innovative space in the heart of Los Angeles.

When did you set up Heart of Art? How did it come about?

We were driving by the building when we saw an activist shop, so we decided to go inside and check it out. We began to volunteer for many of their events. We wanted to do a benefit show to raise awareness about the femicides in Juarez (the Mexican city of Ciudad Juarez has seen the murder of hundreds of women and children in the last few years, [whose bodies are] often found dumped in mass graves). We had had a great experience in that local area so we decided to rent a unit in the building for the benefit and stay in the community of South Central/South LA. Bell was born and raised in this area. When Bell was growing up she wished there was an art community that was accessible for youth and queers in South Central.

Heart of Art was established on April 1st 2011. We opened January 12th, 2012. It took 9 months of building and designing before we shared it with public. We didn’t have any money to pay anyone to help us speed up the process, so Bell worked as fast as she could building life-size installations, creating custom art, and hand-crafting the space.

At that time, what were you hoping to achieve?

Being women and queer, we have gone through struggles and rejection in the art community so we wanted to change that and provide a safe platform. We wanted to continue doing art for a cause, to raise awareness on different topics. We were organizing shows every three months and donating funds to organizations that really needed to help people in their programs, so when it became difficult to find spaces to work with we decided to save up some money, take a chance and rent our own place. We wanted to make a difference through art and educating the public about issues we care about.

Do you feel you have succeeded in that, and how?

We only show work made by women, trans and queer artists. We are open to the public, it’s for everyone to enjoy no matter what gender they are, as long as they are respectful of others. At Heart of Art we have a melting pot of communities who come together as one to hang out, chat and get along. Drags, Trans, Gay, Cis and non-binary all come here. I feel like we have accomplished a lot because people in our community are learning and supporting one another. Everyone says hi to each other, takes photos with each other, and laughs together. Our main goal is making people feel welcome, comfortable and accepted.

Heart of Art artists and supporters.

Do you feel the Los Angeles’ visual art scene is more macho or male-dominated than in other cities?

The art community is certainly male-dominated all over the world. This is the reason we only represent artists who are women, trans and gays because they are the folks with less representation. They live a more difficult lifestyle wherein being accepted anywhere is tough.

What kind of reactions do you get to the space?

Our Juarez wall always makes visitors emotional or causes them to cry. We have been told that people feel like they are in a roller coaster when walking through the gallery. The work is so raw and organic it makes people feel things sometimes they have never felt before.

Which charities do you support and how do you support them through the project?

We support YoSoy132 by providing them with a space to present awareness events and put on some of their protests. We support the Juarez mothers by working with different organizers who are connected to the mothers and provide them with direct donations. The Watts Foundation is another favorite, we direct people to this organization so they can get their free spay and neutering for cats and dogs, as well as information on animal and tenants rights. Also, South Central Animal Shelter — we direct everyone we know to adopt a pet at their local shelter. We often visit to play with the animals.

What are some of your upcoming events we have to look forward to?

For our next art show all of our walls are changing and we will have entirely new art from new artists. We are extremely excited about this event, as we’ll be combining all types of media with drag performance. It’s in November and titled ‘Rebellious Beauty.’ Later in the month we are opening a club kid show titled ‘Neon’ and there’ll be a costume competition, neon body painting, black-lite art, and a drag show.

For more information, such as a schedule of the exhibits and events that Heart of Art will be putting on, or to see photos of past events and the gallery space, check out Heart of Art’s website.

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