Updated: Jul 11
We had the chance to meet with Marka Burns, president of the Long Beach Creative Group, a non-profit community-based organization. Marka shared with us about the origins of the Long Beach Creative Group, their vision, her journey as an artist, and the importance of art and its development in the community.
Learn for Life (LFL): Welcome! It's lovely to meet you, Marka. Thanks for joining me!
Marka: Well, I'm looking forward to it!
LFL: I thought we could have a conversation and talk about your art, about what you do in Long Beach. And basically, share your journey with the community. It's always wonderful to meet new and creative.
Marka: Well, I read the interview with the flight attendant. That was really interesting. To see how she could manage with her disability. And thrive.
LFL: I was wondering if you would just tell us a little bit about yourself, and maybe how you got started in the arts?
Marka: Well, I'm a Long Beach native. I went to Cal State Long Beach and got my Masters in Fine Arts. I taught there in the art department, specifically art education and liberal studies. So, I have a split appointment. I really love teaching. I did retire in 2012. But I continued, you know, luckily. Once I retired, it wasn't such a big leap. I started curating art exhibits. The first one I had was at the LGBTQ Center, and I curated seven artists in a show called the space between Illusion and Reality. Then I went on to curate a couple of shows at the Long Beach Playhouse and different venues around Long Beach. And then, I guess the big event of my, or fateful event that determine the next almost four years of my life was founding in the Long Beach Creative Group Gallery. Prior to that, I a part of a six-member group of artists. And one night, I'll never forget it, when artist Moira Hann introduced me to Cameron Briggs. It was at a reception for a show at Long Beach Playhouse. And he said, "My dad has a studio, would you guys like to use it for a gallery?". So, I said, "Oh, sure". Did I expect what would happen? No. We went to the gallery, it's at 2221 East Broadway. And we walked in and we were thinking, oh, a small little storefront or something. It was this amazing studio, probably about 2500 square feet. And he said, "Would you like to use it for your group to show art and then my dad [Rod Briggs] will use the, we use the front gallery for my father's work? And you guys can, you know, have art exhibits." We've had about 13 shows. And we're going into our fourth year. There must have been some kind of luck involved here. Without a benefactor, we wouldn't be able to do this.
LFL: Sounds like quite a gift of fate.
Marka: Right. He's the owner of the building, but he allows us to use it. And it wouldn't be something - and galleries are difficult to maintain anyway. It's a hard business to be in, in the world. Say, “I'm gonna grow up and become a gallery owner”, and parents are usually worried.
LFL: I mean, community galleries are maybe a little easier than a regular for-profit gallery.
Marka: We are a community gallery. We have, you know, no rent, basically. We do, you know, some things, but we also get grants from the Port of Long Beach. We've gotten a number of them from the Port, and we've gotten quite a few from the Arts Council. Yes. And we are a 501. C. And, basically, do you have a question for me?
LFL: I do. I'm just enjoying listening to you explain what you do.
Marka: So, let me tell you a little bit about what we're doing what our relationship with you, Able ARTS Work, is what we're hoping it to be. We have a silent auction coming in July for well, about six people who were professors at Cal State, a number of them and other people whose heirs have allowed us to auction their work off and we are planning, we are going to donate 10% of our proceeds to Able ARTS Work, so we want to make a good connection and outreach with you.
LFL: We're very excited about the auction. And I love hearing about your Long Beach Creative Group. It sounds like a collaborative community. How do you choose who joins or is it all the same founding members?
Marka: It started out as this group of artists that just showed together that called themselves the Long Beach Creative Group. And then it evolved into another manifestation of not showing our own work so much as doing what our mission statement says is that reaching people reaching the many artists in Long Beach, who have a limited opportunity to show their work.
LFL: That's great. I know how hard it is to get into a gallery. When I lived in Georgia, I was a part of a community gallery where you had to pay our dues, and to be able to exhibit.
Marka: So, are you an artist?
LFL: I am. My space is limited, so I do smaller stuff. But yes, I paint and when I had access to a printing machine, I love printmaking.
Marka: Oh, yes, well, then then we know what to create. I don't have to explain to you what the creative process?
LFL: Yes, absolutely.
Marka: For, for most of it was like, what have we gotten ourselves into? But then we had to sort of like, I'm the president, and then we had seven members. Now we have like four because we went on to do more community-based shows. And also, they were through CaFE. So, with CaFE people submit their work to an organization where they manage it. So, we got the first exhibit, believe it or not, 450 people submitted. And that tells you what a need there is in Long Beach.
LFL: I definitely understand.
Marka: 450 people, without much advertising really. We just said call for entry, submit your work to Long Beach Creative Group. We more or less vetted the first. What we do is we hire outside jurors from the community. The first jurors we had for was called "Coming Together" was after the pandemic, or when we were coming out of it. And we had Asia Morris who was the art editor at the Long Beach Post. And Brian Trimble, who is currently an assistant professor at Cal State Long Beach, but he also ran the Long Beach... the LB, not the LBCG, the University Art Museum. So, we go outside for our jurors. Then we found out about CaFE, which is an organization that... Do you know what they are?
LFL: I've heard of them.
Marka: It's a nationwide thing. They manage the submission process. It's all completely a blind process. There's no interference from the gallery members. It's just totally objective. And then they get chosen. And we hang the show. I mean, Mike Daniel, who had a really thriving gallery in Long Beach and he was the head of the gallery at Long Beach City College. He was there for 40 years. All of us have been either, and Mike is a fantastic artist, so all of us are working artists, yes. But maybe, in Mike's case, he's made galleries, a big focus of his career.
LFL: And I think, running a gallery is a very specific skill set. Not every artist can be a gallerist. You know. I love hanging artwork, spackle, sanding... not everyone's up for using a level and making sure things are at the right height.
Marka: You should come over and watch Mike do this. It's almost like he's a savant. Doesn't want anybody in the gallery, when he's hanging.
LFL: I mean, you need the peace, you need to see the space you need it... At Able ARTS Work, we had a gallery class a few times, and we would teach this is how you hang and the majority of our students are in wheelchairs. So instead of hanging at standing height, because you know, there's eye level, we would then hang it, wheelchair eye-level height... Gallery is definitely interesting. And it's like you say there's, there's specific people for hanging and galleries.
Marka: Yes, people that enjoy it. Some, Mike always says, “Marka, it's just math.”
LFL: It is! It's just math!
Marka: Just math. So, he has his gift of hanging the show and he's still with us.
LFL: That's wonderful.
Marka: We might have 80 or so artworks in the show. We come up with the concept; we usually have a theme. A lot of artists are okay with themes, and a lot of them are not. We had one called ocean, and it was all about water. Basically, if you wanted to be literal, or it could have been abstract. It didn't have to be figurative. The one we just did was called "Painting Long Beach". So, we were really focusing on Long Beach and local contributions, the landscape, what makes Long Beach Long Beach. We had at least 200 entries for that. It's funny, the first show, we had a lot of entries, that 450 was overwhelming. That was free. Now they have to pay about $16 for three artworks. So, our submission process went down a little bit. What the jurors do is they look at the work and it goes through, you know, several level levels of vetting.
LFL: I love the collaborative nature of your Long Beach Creative Group.
Marka: If you want to look at our website, longbeachcreativegroup.com, you'll see what our mission is. And you'll be able to read about Rod Briggs, who was the owner of the gallery. Did you look at the website?
LFL: I did look at your website.
Marka: Okay, then you kind of get that. We we're just evolving, you know, there's no set plan, we just keep that mission in mind and create opportunities for artists and, not just Long Beach, but the Long Beach area. We are going to kind of widen the scope there because I think that having Palos Verdes, Signal Hill, which we have Palos Verdes, Signal Hill, and Lakewood now. So, we're going to open it up to like Wilmington, and other maybe other communities.
LFL: There's plenty of artists looking for opportunities in our entire SoCal area.
Marka: And we don't want to keep recycling the same artists. We want to keep it really open, objective and sticking with artists who don't often get the opportunity to show. I'll give you an example. We were breaking down the show and artists were picking up the on Saturday. A woman came in and she was so excited that she even been selected to show let alone two artworks. So then when she was there, a woman approached her who was picking up somebody else's artwork, or one that she bought. And she said, “I'd really like to buy that one”. So, she didn't sell anything until that woman on the last day. And she was so over the moon, it gave her so much confidence. You know what it feels like is giving somebody the opportunity that they wouldn't have had. We have two open calls a year. And then the rest we have five to six, seven people who are artists in Long Beach that we put in a more limited show. We had one called points of view in January and February and, it was dedicated to a professor at Cal State Long Beach. And these were all his students who now are professors at different colleges. The smaller shows attract fewer people. Obviously, those larger shows, we have to have two receptions. Because, honestly, we had almost 500 people. The last show, wow, we had about maybe 250 between two openings are receptions. I mean, you only get that if you have a lot of art.
LFL: And it's true, a diverse amount of art as well, like you say not recycling the same people over and over because then their guests don't want to come over and over.
Marka: Right? Oh, god, she's having another art show. It's exciting for parents. Yes. It's exciting for friends. I feel really good about it when we've done a show. And also have sales, because that all gets back into the community into the gallery. We don't earn as a nonprofit; we're all volunteers. It's a different type of work than in the for-profit market. Right. Now, how did your Red show go?
LFL: And has been really great. There's been I believe we've had a few sales. I know that. It's a while it was an open call for the community and our students. I haven't spoken to the community artists, but I know that Able ARTS Work artists have been very excited about having their work shown. Like you say, it's a sense of pride, being able to see your artwork on the wall and being able to see other people liking your artwork and talking about it. We love our gallery location. There in Long Beach on Atlantic with the First Fridays coming in.
Marka: I was really impressed when I was there. You know, at this is kind of a weird thing. About when I, when I retired, I took over a position with I guess I was on the board with Able ARTS Work. Can you believe that? And I mean, I didn't stay a long time. But I took over for Carlos Silvera. When you were on PCH. Yes. And I knew, I mean, I didn't know Helen. But she's the one that kind of walked me through the facility. So, it's kind of an interesting intersection there, isn't it?
LFL: And it's always great to see how our communities interact and how we kind of meet together. For your creative group, how can people get connected with you? And if someone wanted to participate, or are you ever looking for more volunteers?
Marka: We have an auxiliary board of about eight people. We're pretty much covered there. For now, we never know how long somebody is going to stay. I've had a few people, you know, it's just ebbs and flows. We have quite a dedicated auxiliary board right now.
LFL: And when artists show, what are the percentage sales? Because I know the gallery gets some of the sale.
Marka: We are at 35% of sales now. Now that's way under what most galleries get, which is about 50%.
LFL: That's quite an amount that goes to the artists though, compared to a lot of galleries do like 40% or even 50%.
Marka: But that I think is in some of the more let's say elite galleries, the for profit who have a stable of artists. I mean, that's a whole different rung of artists who are working artists, basically. The amount of people that make their living as artists is so low.