Venice Arts Gala, November 5, 2016
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Rivo’s been a fan of Venice arts since our inception in early 2015. The friendly folks at the Lincoln Blvd. gallery have been with us since the start as well! We love promoting their events on the app, and learned more about the org when we covered Founder / Executive Director, Lynn Warshafsky, this past summer when Venice Arts hosted #VeniceVotes, an effort to get young folks to vote.

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Warshafsky

November 5th was the date of their annual Gala, and Rivo came dressed in our Sunday’s finest to support! This marked the 23rd year of the fundraiser. The event aims to raise enough money to adequately provide scholarships and resources to the 400 kids that the organization works with every year (half of whom live in poverty). VA has to turn down over 150 kids per year, so there’s certainly merit to the notion that every dollar matters.

Venice Arts strives to inspire creativity and transform young lives in the community. One of Warshafsky’s goals is to always remain in Venice. While 60% if its students reside in Venice, the other 40% come from greater LA County and commute great lengths to get to class. The students’ commitment was on display Saturday, the masses were in full display at the event helping out.

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the famed students

Yours truly got a front row parking spot across the street. I came dressed in a blazer because, well, it was a gala and I didn’t think a tux would be appropriate. I crossed the street and approached the red carpet, which matted the gritty, gum-soaked sidewalks that define Lincoln Blvd.

The line was out the door. People anxiously waited in line, a few stepping on their tip toes to see the inside over the mountains of heads obstructing their view. I was pleased to see my name on the list, and I even managed to lose only three arm hairs while putting the dangerously adhesive entry bracelet.

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The moment I walked in the room, there was an warm aura palpable in the air. It may have been the result of an unusually large amount of people being in a gallery that’s used to hosting passing visitors. Crowds of people flocked around the various tables that housed silent auctions for prizes that were donated by various donors and friendly organizations.

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Each wall of the gallery crawled into the next. Works of art sprawled in flawless sequence across the white landscapes, leading people on a journey around the rooms. I myself got lost in the mix for a while. The art ranged from seasoned vets & long respected artists, to students who had only been making art for a couple of years.

I was especially impressed by a print that was made by a VA student. He shot a photo and then mounted on top of aluminum. The varying light colors of the photo were glorified with crisp, bright colors. The spectrum of colors on the shiny backdrop really brought light to the photos.

I was surprised when I came across a print by Amanda Keller. She was my Photography teacher in high school for a couple of years. I owe my Photoshop mastery to her.

I ran into Ms. Keller shortly thereafter. I expected that she wouldn’t have a clue who I was. In high school, I hadn’t yet obtained the prowess to grow decent facial hair and I had a braces phase. ‘Ms Keller,I led with. She turned around with arms seemingly already open. ‘Wait a minute – don’t tell me,’ she said as she tried to catch my fleeting name in her head. ‘Taylor!’

 We caught up and talked life. She’s teaching Photography at a local college now, and still doing various artistic projects of her own.

I stepped outside to grab a breath of fresh air, and was greeted instead by blinding lights to my left and right. Flashes from a photo booth were radiating from one side, and on the other warm lamps were illuminating the faces of seated guests who were getting their portraits drawn by VA students.

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portrait station

It was a quick decision for me. I mean, you don’t want to be the creepy guy getting a photo taken by himself, right?

There’s a seat open over here,’ one of the volunteers let me know as he saw me conspicuously peering at the vacant seats. I paced towards the red seat, put my jacket on, and held my hand to meet the artist.

Ah yea – MUSTACHE DUDE!’ the little dude shouted when he glanced up at my face. In the 5th day of Movember, I had already forgotten that I was walking around with a mustache on my face that stuck out like a (very) sore thumb.

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MUSTACHE DUDE

The name of the young man that drew my portrait was Brandon. He’s in the 8th grade and is a comic artist (comic books). He loves coming to Venice Arts because ‘they give me the feeling, like you can do it, ya know?’

That may be one of the most beautiful feelings in the world. The realization of a child’s self-worth when provided the necessary resources and support network to succeed.

As I watched Brandon vigorously attack the torn off paper from his buddy’s drawing book, jazz music started to play in the background. While there were still droplets of sweat on my forehead glistening from the light from the heat lamps, the chill breeze eventually caused them to dissipate.

Brandon had this look on his face, completely determined to turn this piece of scrap paper with flailing perforated edges into his own Mona Lisa.

The determination in his expression, the ambition in his hands as they wavered around the drawing – time didn’t exist to him in that moment. That’s what we strive for in life: because in that sliver of time, none of life’s sirens can be heard.

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I felt at ease and started to get nostalgic of the three years that I spent in Paraguay before I helped start Rivo. I spent my time in rural Tobatí trying to do the same thing with the economically disadvantaged youth in the region. There are some truly talented kids out there. But unless they have books, access to the web, and teachers to push them, they rarely have the opportunity to thrive (let alone leave their small town). I had many moments there like I had with Brandon. Times like those bring about a sense of fulfillment and validation for the work you’re doing.

Soon after I left the portrait station, various VA supporters took the stage to discuss their passion for the organization.

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Themes of opportunity and harnessing creative youth energy accompanied each of the speeches. ‘Opportunities that aren’t visible become visible,’ the first speaker said as he explained the magic behind the organization’s ability to broaden the creative horizons of its students who don’t really know what exists or what’s possible outside of their community.

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Another prominent enthusiast of the organization took the stage with his son and talked about the impact of the organization on his family. ‘We’re very careful about who we let into our circle,’ he shared. ‘Take a look around you. This is the most diverse crowd I think I’ve ever seen, and we’re all having a great time. This is a microcosm that proves that the world can work.’

I couldn’t agree more. The gala brought together people from contrasting walks of life and made it so that they could peacefully coexist next to each other in respect for something that was bigger than them. Getting together to provide resources for those that won’t have access to them otherwise is a foundational aspect of our human condition: the ability and willingness to live with empathy and humility. This sentiment fully embodies Venice Arts. Here’s to the next 23 years!

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