Artist Karlo Henry Velazquez describes himself as a “shy, quiet, awkward person.” But in the short five years he’s lived here, he’s made remarkable connections within the local art community.
He’s the organizer behind The Art Hunger, a project dedicated to building community through art. The Art Hunger’s Summer Gallery will open tonight from 5-8 pm in the newly revitalized IOOF building on Market Street. There is no charge for admission.
The gallery will feature three consecutive shows over three months, June through September. Over 60 local artists from Redding, Cottonwood, Red Bluff, Paradise, and Mt. Shasta are included in the project so far. And there’s room for more, Velazquez says; because each of the three shows will feature a new call for art submissions, open to both current and new participants.
Prior to moving to Redding, Velazquez says, he was part of an emerging, “underground” art movement in Texas. That project, also known as The Art Hunger, had experimented with innovative venues for showcasing art with others, but slowly faded away as many participants left the local area.
In 2016, new to Redding and missing his old art community, Velazquez began reaching out to artists to replicate something similar here. But progress was slow. For his first local collaboration, Art OUTside, a 2018 celebration of LGBTQ+ artists, he had room for twenty-five artists but attracted only ten submissions. “I had a little bit of a challenge to build trust with local artists,” Velazquez says, “I was still so new here.”
Today though, he says, those ten artists are still with him, still committed to building the kind of grassroots, non-establishment arts movement he cares about. And trust has slowly grown. In 2019, twenty-five artists joined the Hello Redding collaboration. And this summer’s show has already attracted seventy-five artist submissions, sixty of which will be included in the first month-long show.
He says he’s developing something unique in the sometimes pretentious art world. “This is not a collective,” Velazquez says, “It’s not a group of people, it’s not a club, it’s not a gang of artists, although,” he says with a characteristic mischievous smile, “that would be super cool, to be out walking around with an art gang.” Instead, Velazquez says he is working to create an accessible community around art, that benefits both artists and the community.
“What we like doing are kind of like art parties,” Velazquez said, “ We want to show that art is not carrying a monocle and a top hat and stuffy and uppity, we want to make art available for everyone.”
Velazquez says he’s worked in the past with a number of local businesses to provide venues for community art, including The Sweet Spot, Fratelli’s, and Plant Daddy Co.
As he started the search for summer venues, he had some specifics in mind: he wanted to find three local spaces so that he could run three consecutive art shows, bringing community art to the city, all summer long.
When Viva Downtown’s John Truitt heard what he was looking for, Velazquez says, they worked out something even better: a summer-long gallery at the IOOF building, with three separate shows and a series of related events. It was the chance Valezquez had been looking for.
He says the support of an established organization like Viva Downtown has made a huge difference in what is possible for The Art Hunger , which operates as a community organization, without revenue or staff. “This is the next step we wanted to take,” Velazquez said, “but without the support of the public and the community, we could not make it happen.”
He donates his time to the project, which is not-for-profit. “This is a labor of love,” Velazquez says, “this is my passion, this is what I as an artist can contribute to my community of artists. Whatever experience I have I want to share it and pass it on to uplift the artists in the area … to plant that seed that we all can be creative if we get enough support and that we can have more of this.”
The Art Hunger is also about representation, he says. “I’m a Hispanic, gay man, and I want other Hispanic, or people of color or LGBTQ people . . . to feel inspired and safe enough to come out and be with us.” And, he is quick to add, no one else should feel excluded, “I want to be accepted and respected, and the only thing I can do is accept and respect everyone else.”
The Art Hunger is open summer-long Wednesdays through Saturdays 12–7. There is no charge for admission to The Art Hunger, and artists do not pay to participate. In addition to the three consecutive summer art shows in the space, Velazquez says there will be additional themed art events, summer workshops and art talks. And every Thursday night, from 5–7, The Art Hunger will hold Creative Hangouts, an open gallery time for artists to collaborate, connect and create in community.
Tonight, as the doors open for the first time at the newly-restored IOOF building, Velazquez is excited to welcome the public and to watch them experience what inclusive, accessible community art can look like and feel like. As he invites the public into the space he has only one request: “We ask when you come into this space that you come with an open mind, an open heart, kindness, and respect.”
Velazquez says art has the power to begin to bring communities that are disjointed, back together.