Greenly Art Space is a non-profit art gallery in Signal Hill about to celebrate its 10 year anniversary in August—a remarkable milestone. It is “dedicated to enriching lives and cultivating community through creating contemplative art shows, bringing art to community schools, and providing a space for art making, mentoring, and art therapy.” I had a wonderful chat with Kimberly Hocking (its co-founder) to learn more about its history, operations, and future plans, especially in light of how the current pandemic crisis is affecting the arts.
Before this space, did Greenly Art Space exist anywhere else?
It didn’t exist in any other space before this one, just as a dream in my heart. Greenly Art Space wasn’t a nonprofit when I started it. Before I found this space, I organized a couple of different art shows at my church. My first experience creating a community art project and hanging an art show happened back in 2006. A good friend of mine, Cami Goble, lives and works with the poor in Sierra Leone, West Africa. We conceptualized a project titled “Broken-Beautiful,” where street kids from Sierra Leone and kids from Seal Beach captured photos with disposable cameras that portrayed the ideas of Brokenness and beauty. I loved the way this work inspired individuals from both communities. Creating this project launched me into this real desire of wanting to have a space of my own, that wasn’t in a church building so that everybody would feel comfortable coming to that space. I wanted to be able to show artwork of all kinds and have full autonomy to work with many different artists.
So from that initial idea to having your first show [in the current space], how long was that process?
2006 was when we had the first show at the church, and I had several others after that. Our first show at Greenly Art Space was on August 7th, 2010. I would say that I had the idea for a community art space maybe 10 years prior to opening this space in Signal Hill. As I mentioned before, the dream of creating a community space was in my heart for a while before it became a reality. My younger brother, John Berger died in 2003. He lived his life following his passions and became a fighter pilot. He was flying an F-18 on a night training mission in 2003. After he died, I decided that I wanted to live my life like he did, aligning my work with my passion for art.
How did you find this space?
I have a background in marital/family therapy, specializing in art therapy, so originally I thought I was going to get all of my hours to become an art therapist. But after I had my kids, I decided that I didn’t want to leave them with somebody else; I really wanted to be involved in their lives. My original model was that I’d have a space where art therapists could come in and utilize the space, and that was going to be the financial base for what was going to help run it. So I needed a space that could have multiple purposes.
There were only a few places like this, that are zoned where you can have medical and industrial, so you can do an art space and where people can do art therapy. I live in the area, and saw that there were places up for lease. The first time I came by I thought the place looked good but there was just too much fear of going forward with it. So someone else leased it, and I came back later and it was up for lease again and at that time I was ready.
How long was that period?
About a year. My husband and I built everything, from the ground up. The front room and the bathroom were the only things in here. It took us about a year to create all of the different spaces. He built, I painted and plastered. It was definitely a labor of love.
Is your husband [and co-founder] David also an artist?
Yes, David is also a wonderful artist. He works full time as an engineer, but he graduated with his bachelor’s in art. Because we’re both artists, we have a real dedication to the craft of curating and hanging our art shows. We pay attention to the type of work that we’re bringing in, the way that we’re hanging it, how we go about presenting it, and lighting it. All those different small things that many people don’t think about unless it’s not good, but when it is good the experience is that you’re just really focused on the art.
That sense has developed for me over the years and I really love the of art of curating exhibits and being able to figure which work looks good next to something else and it really reflects for me how community is. We can each bring out something that’s really beautiful in another person.
[A visitor enters the gallery at this moment and Kimberly goes to attend to her.]
So we just had someone come into the gallery. During the week, what’s the foot traffic like?
When we first started, there was really no foot traffic. The main bulk of people that we get are at openings or at closings, or at another event, because we’re not a place where people typically just walk by—it is more of a destination, where people need to decide that they’re going to come here. But I would say for the last couple of years I feel like we have had a lot more people who are making a point of it to come in and see the work. Last year for our big fundraiser show I think I had people coming in like every day and we sold something every day for like, 2 months—it was insane.
During your openings I’ve met some of your volunteers and interns and people like that, but what is the day-to-day operation? Is a majority of it done by you?
I just went to a meeting with other people who are running nonprofit arts organizations and it was just really good for me to hear, because you’re kind of out there on your own, in the trenches. A lot of times there is that wonderful celebration, when there’s lots of people there and everyone’s saying how great it is, and how wonderful it is, and then there’s all the times when you’re paying the bills, and cleaning the toilet, and cleaning the floors—all the day-to-day operations stuff. Also looking for grants, writing for grants, and I do the press releases, the web site, the online media stuff. We do meet as a board and talk about different things; it’s not solely my decision, but I do a lot of the work.
When did you become a nonprofit?
We became a nonprofit in 2010; it took me about a year to get everything filled out. When you start out, your board is mainly your friends, and it’s wonderful, they want to support you, but now I have this board that is all very invested in what Greenly is about, and they bring all their particular interests and skillset to it—I feel so wonderfully supported now. Especially for the big events that we have, everyone pulls together, and works really hard and makes it happen.
So how did that transition happen, with the board starting out with mostly friends and all that, to a more professional group?
As you get to know different people and you find out what they’re interested in and if something opens up, I [approach them about being on the board]. Obviously I want them to have some type of relationship with the gallery and I like to get to know them fairly well before we’d want to have them be a part of the organization.
How have you reconciled running this space with motherhood? Being a parent and running this place takes up a lot of resources—how have you been able to make that work?
A lot of the work I could do in many different times, [so it left me] available to be there for my kids. That’s been a really significant part of the space, too, of them being able to see this example of someone really going after their dream, and working hard for it and even suffering for it. I’ll never forget my daughter—in maybe the second or third year of Greenly, when raising funds was so hard—saying, “I’m going to tell everybody this year instead of getting me Christmas gifts, to give their money to Greenly.” It was so beautiful, that she saw so much in what I was doing, that she wanted to be a part of that.
And even if she doesn’t understand the whole of what an art space is for, she knew it was something that was very important to you; you were devoting so much of your energy and love into it that I’m sure she recognized that.
If your kids believe in you so much, how can you go wrong? All of us are going to struggle for something, we have to decide what we’re going to struggle for. I really do feel like this is what I’m meant to be doing—I’m meant to be an artist and express myself as an artist, and also give other individuals that opportunity.
I’ve been wanting to ask you about your personal work. How has that been going while running the space?
I have some different art practices [that I pursue]. I’m a photographer and also a sculpture and installation artist. One of the things that helps me is going up to the monastery [in the mountains], and I do that usually 3-4 times a year, for a few days at a time, and I’ll take my art supplies. It can be difficult to create my own work, but a few years back I got a chance to create a large scale installation with artist Connie DK Lane, Shyanne Grandi, and my husband. Connie approached me about working on a large scale project, and we ended up creating this amazing installation space that was like a cathedral forest with a rock garden in the back space. Another amazing opportunity was an artist residency with a group called “Art For Change” in Delhi India in 2017. It was wonderful to work alongside other artists and to be able to show my artwork Internationally at Gallery NIV.
Where do you make your own work? Do you ever use this space for art making?
I make most of my own work in my studio which is attached to our garage at home. I love my little studio and have been using this time at home to really focus in on starting to create for the art show I plan to have at the Artist Co-op in July of this year. I collect many items from my garden and my walks, sometimes making it difficult to navigate my studio with its many collections. I lose all track of time as I wrap morning glory vines into shapes contained in my imagination. I do use this space (Greenly) sometimes when I am working with other individuals from the community or on a specific project for Greenly. We do what’s called an Open Studio Group—it’s a two hour group every other week where we get together and create art with intention based on a practice introduced by art therapist, Pat Allen. The smaller pieces created during this time are often inspirations for larger art-making ventures.
What was your biggest challenge thus far with this space?
Initially the biggest challenge was trying to get people to understand what it is that we did, and to be able to invest in us and believe in us. Then the financial end of it, because you don’t make a lot of money selling artwork. We’ve steadily gotten more donors, but getting people to value the work that we’re doing has always been a challenge because people always expect artists to do what they do for free.
Also trying to get people to understand the value of having an actual space. Seeing work online or in a book vs. seeing it physically is an extremely different experience. If we artists have no place to show our work, the artist doesn’t get to complete the other part of their mission, which is to actually be able to express something to others.
And this space is very different from a commercial gallery. You’re not beholden to only showing work that you think is going to sell.
That right, so that frees us to do different kinds of shows. This is more like a museum kind of concept—you’re there to see the work. If the work sells, that’s great; I love it for the artist and obviously it’s great for us, but that isn’t the final goal.
10 years ago, did you envision this?
I am one of those people who does envision things; I have these grand hopes and dreams, so I think that is why I was able to take that step. I wouldn’t say I necessarily knew exactly that I’d be here, but this is what was in my heart. I do have a long-term vision of having a museum space, where I can have permanent installations from multiple different artists, and be able to have artists in residence come from different countries. Right now I don’t know if that would be here, or in another country. I’m looking for a patron who would like to donate property or some type of a space, because I feel like we have the vision and experience to make it work, but don’t have the funds to buy [an expensive] plot of land.
California real estate, that’s a tough one. So now I see what you meant by different country. [laughs]
I’m actually OK with that. I don’t know exactly where this is going to lead, but I do love what I’m doing. I’ve met so many different artists, and as artists it’s important that we encourage each other, and that we uphold and sustain each other in the work that we’ve been called to do.
I think the really good thing I’d have to say about the Long Beach art community is that it does not feel competitive—not like that. I have not run into anybody who was snobby or unsupportive.
I agree. For us to be an example of cooperation and encouragement, and not competition, is very positive.
How has the pandemic been affecting you, your art and your business?
With the current pandemic, the beautiful art show that we now have up, “Wanderings” by Bill Lane seems sad and lonely with no one visiting and our doors closed. We had originally planned to have our fundraising show on April 25th and we are struggling financially to pay our bills. We are currently all volunteer run- therefore there are many types of assistance that we don’t qualify for. I have been taking the time to organize our files and to look for grants that may assist us with keeping our doors open. Personally I have been working on sculptures and installations with materials gathered from my own garden and walks in my neighborhood. My life and my art has always had a contemplative bent to it, and so spending time alone working is not a huge change for me.
How has the response to your upcoming fundraiser show been? Are you still getting submissions?
The response for our upcoming fundraiser, “Second Lives” has been great! We have a lot of amazing submissions and we are hopeful that we will be able to open the show on May 30th, even if the opening event has to be postponed due to Covid-19.
People have been taking to doing things remotely that they never thought possible—what sort of online activities have you been participating in, art-related or otherwise? Personally, I’ve participated in 2 drawing groups (one here in Long Beach and another in NY) and also tried 2 different fitness classes!
That is amazing. I have been meeting with board members online to make decisions and to plan for ways for Greenly to continue. For me, art-making is a solitary process and doesn’t as much lend itself to online participation. I have had some talks with local artists about possible projects/ studio interviews, but haven’t followed through on those yet. Shyanne Grandi (Greenly’s Art Therapy Liaison) and I are starting an online art-making support group for art therapists that will run the next six months. So this is exciting. I am also hoping to film an online tour of our current show, although I don’t think video does artwork real justice, so this may be why I am dragging my feet on this.
Once we can visit our favorite local hangouts again, where is the first place you and your family will be visiting?
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2698 Junipero Ave #113, Signal Hill, CA 90755