By Margie M. Palmer
LGBT-owned artist community strives to make a difference
Gallery owner Ari Kate Ashton said that when she decided to open Art on 30th she did it because she wanted to create a community.
Artists are generally alone when they paint, regardless as to whether they’re at home or in their studios, she said. By creating an arts community place, where artists can interact and network, she hoped to fill a void.
“I had already started to build a community before I did this and one night I had people over my house and told them ‘I have a vision that the best years are still ahead, this is what I want to do and will you come with me?’” she said.
The full emotional support she received from local artists is what helped her take the leap, she said.
That’s when she made the decision to buy the old Morse Security Building on 30th Street.
“I purchased the [building] in 2014,” Ashton said. It was in a state of disrepair and I went in and gutted it. I took out the old bathrooms, the small offices, old green carpet, old security cords and basically started over.
“The only thing I kept was a handmade ceramic mosaic on the entry floor that says ‘This building protected by Morse Security.’ It felt a bit historic to me and I wanted to save it as homage to the building’s origins,” she continued. “The owner was a Holocaust survivor and the original ‘Morse’ was Samuel Morse, an artist who painted two of our American presidents and also invented the Morse code … it felt as if the building came full circle.”
Today, the 8,000-square-foot space — located at 4434 30th St. between Adams and Meade avenues — is now handicap-accessible and it boasts two successful art galleries on the first floor that also serve as classrooms during the week and Ashton said the upstairs is home to 17 private art studios.
“Each artist is encouraged to hold an open studio to the public when we have art openings,” she said. “It is a great opportunity for them to show their work and potentially make sales.”
Ashton, a longtime Mission Hills resident who is openly gay, taught art classes for nearly a decade at the former San Diego Art Department on Ray Street, also in North Park, before branching out on her own.
“I not only own an art center that serves the community, I am building an arts community, making better artists and giving them opportunities,” she said. “At the end of the day that’s a very powerful thing to do.”
While art shows are curated every five to six weeks at the gallery, Ashton said the upcoming “Go Figure!” exhibition, which opens June 18, will feature artists painting human figures along with artists that include numerical figures in their pieces.
“All the galleries try to bring different categories of artists into the space but there are a lot of people within the local arts community who are abstract,” she said. “Go Figure! allowed me to reach out to people who paint figurative work and get a chance to show their work as well, and to give them a deeper hand into the arts community.”
Those interested in participating still have until 4 p.m. on June 11 to drop off their submissions. Ashton said while their last show drew 80 submissions, they were only able to hang 35. Still, she said they appreciate all entries and interest, because it helps “build the arts community.”
“A lot of artists are very solitary and having the ability to network and interact is so very important,” Ashton said, adding that those who attend the opening reception will also get a peek into the artist spaces upstairs.
“There are glass doors on every studio which lets people look in and see the artwork even if the artist is not there,” she said. “It’s very interesting to get a look into an artist’s private studio. Some are neat and tidy and others are a total whirlwind. A lot of artists want to see how other artists are painting or what different studios look like and this is a great opportunity to see what the Art on 30th artists are doing.”
Ashton said she is currently mentoring a dozen professional artists through her mentorship program.
“I help them develop their unique visual voice and also help them learn how to market their art,” she said. “Many wonderful places in San Diego County teach art, but there is little to no teaching about how to introduce your art to the marketplace.”
In October, Ashton said the gallery will host its “biggest show of the year” in conjunction with Halloween, called the “Edgar Allen Poe Show.”
Curated by the Edgar Allen Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, Ashton said the national show gives Poe enthusiasts “a chance to be creative with his image, poetry or short stories.”
Art on 30th is located in the North Park Arts and Culture District at 4434 30th St. The “Go Figure!” exhibition will from June 18 – 23, with the show’s opening reception June 18, from 6 – 8 p.m. There is no cost to attend.
“Ashton Gallery, 30 Artists on 30th Street,” a new book featuring the work of local artists involved with the gallery, will also be available at the reception.
For information about the Go Figure! opening or the Art on 30th gallery, visit ashtonartgallery.com.
—Editor Morgan M. Hurley contributed to this report.
—Margie M. Palmer is a San Diego-based freelance writer who has been racking up bylines in a myriad of news publications for the past 10 years. You can write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.