(Correction: This post originally stated that Google reached out to the Venice Family Clinic about sponsoring the Venice Art Walk & Auctions. While Google did reach out to the VFC to invite its reps to a gathering for community groups and begin a relationship with VFC, it was the VFC that reached out to Google specifically about sponsoring the Venice Art Walk & Auctions.)
Last year, the Venice Family Clinic reached out to Google about sponsoring the annual Venice Art Walk & Auctions benefit and hosting the silent auction at the landmark building. Many Venetians were wary of the corporate presence and its involvement, while others welcomed the imminent nouveau regime.
At this year's 34th annual event, on Sunday, May 19, Google has taken center stage, providing not only the gallery for the auction but also hosting the "family fun day." "The Venice area is home to a lot of Google employees who are happy to be involved for the second year in a row," says Thomas Williams, engineering director and Google L.A. site lead.
Artist John Von Hammersveld designed the logo for this year's art walk and will be honored along with Larry Bell at this year's event. "Venice has become so genteel now. I think the Google venue is a great platform to bring together the community...a larger space and a younger crowd," says Hammersveld.
Some local artists, however, are displeased. "Many of the artists who have supported the clinic for years had their studios cut from the tour last year. VFC said it was because they were not close enough to Google," says Alberto Bevacqua, known for his photography and wood and steel sculptures. "The clinic and Google are using the Venice Art Walk to promote themselves as supporters of local artists when, in fact, they have marginalized and shown no concern in their complicit erosion of the Venice arts community and its artists' loss of income," referring to the gentrification that some believe Google's presence has sped up.
The Venice Family Clinic insists that they have not intentionally excluded artists, but are changing the route to include new studios each year. Laney Kapgan, the Venice Family Clinic director of development, remarks, "We're thrilled that this year's tour will feature never-before-seen studios located east of Lincoln, west of Abbot Kinney, and around Windward Circle."Andrew "Max" Maxwell, product manager and arts & culture liaison for Google L.A., a longtime L.A. resident, was the project coordinator for the Art Walk who originally pitched the idea of extending a hand to the Venice Family Clinic. "Many of us [Google L.A. employees] have lived here a long time...were educated in local schools, grew up here," he says. Some locals prefer the old venue for the gallery. "I loved Westminster School as the venue," says local Beth Allyn. "It felt more like a community event...Anyone could go in and see the work without fear of being watched, which is how I felt at Google [last year]...They were rigid and uptight."
But others are rallying behind Google. Artist Helen K. Garber, who donated work for this year's auction, has had a studio in Venice since 1995 and prefers the new venue. "Venice resisted gentrification for nearly a century," she says. "Now homes designed by renowned architects like Frank Gehry, Minarc, and Steven Ehrlich have replaced run down cottages with front yards filled with old car parts and shopping carts."
So Google will continue to affect Venice, but maybe the flamboyant bohemian spirit of Venice will also mellow out the search engine giant...after all, it is Venice.
The Venice Art Walk & Auctions will be held Sunday, May 19 from noon to 7pm. For more information or to buy tickets see theveniceartwalk.org/.