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Compton native’s Gallery 90220 provides a space for Black creatives to collaborate

A man wearing a hoodie that reads "Gallery 90220" leans on a window sill.
David Colbert Jr. at his Gallery 90220 art space.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

For Compton native David Colbert Jr., the goal is always to uplift his city and portray it in a positive light.

That’s why he started the Compton Art Walk in 2018, a nonprofit festival offering local artists the opportunity to showcase their talents and network while developing within the community. After taking 2020 off, the Art Walk returns to Compton’s Neighborhood Housing Services complex this Saturday.

From the Art Walk, Colbert established Gallery 90220 — a nonprofit art space that gets its name from the Compton ZIP Code. He initially sought to establish the gallery in Compton but eventually settled on the Beehive, a creative campus in South L.A.’s historic central district currently in development not far from its namesake city. Since landing there during the pandemic, in January 2021, the gallery is the first business in the campus to officially open its doors.

“It is my dream to have a gallery in Compton,” Colbert said in November. “That’s my life goal. I take Compton with me wherever I go.”

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The gallery is now hosting its first major installation, a photography exhibition about the Oscar-winning short film “Two Distant Strangers.” The film was written and co-directed by Travon Free, who went to high school with Colbert at Compton’s renowned Dominguez High School. (Other notable alums include Tyson Chandler, Richard Sherman and N.W.A.'s MC Ren and DJ Yella.)

“It’s really dope as young creatives who are making art ... come together on this project,” Colbert said. “It’s important for me to collaborate with people from my city. It’s a moment to celebrate our artistic excellence.”

The exhibition features behind-the-scenes photographs from the 2020 film about a Black man caught in a “Groundhog Day"-esque time loop that inevitably ends with him being killed by a policeman. Admission is by RSVP.

“We’re a community-based gallery, so the way that we operate is a little bit different,” Colbert said.

“We’re breaking some of the rules for what you think a gallery should be. Art galleries can be very intimidating and the goal is for that not to be the vibe here. One of my mantras is: ‘For the culture, from the culture.’ There’s not a lot of us in the fine arts space, so I like to connect with people who are from like-minded [cities], those are always going to be creative hubs: Brooklyn, Bronx, Philly, Harlem, Watts. Places like that forge greatness.”

Gallery 90220 founder David Colbert Jr. sits on a bench in the display area.
David Colbert Jr. at Gallery 90220, which is currently showcasing Travon Free’s photographs associated with his Oscar-winning short film “Two Distant Strangers.”
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Colbert also hosts a podcast at the gallery called “The Red Dot Series” featuring young Black artists from across the country working in the fashion, music and fine arts industries. He calls it a “weird gumbo of creatives.”

“The point is to be a creative hub not only for the community but all creatives,” Colbert said. “If you want to pull up to discuss art, music or fashion, we can do that here. Or if you need to connect with other young creatives, this is a place where we talk about how we can help each other.”

Having grown up in an arts desert, Colbert has made it a mission to create an informal space where artists and young creatives from across the country can network and collaborate comfortably. An upcoming exhibit, launching next year, will be a Verzuz-inspired show featuring photographers from New Orleans and Los Angeles facing off in a city versus city style showdown.

“That’s meant to forge not competition but connection,” Colbert said. “I want to [offer] a space that is welcoming to everyone in the art community,” he said. “If you’re a fine artist who designs sneakers, that’s cool, let’s feature that. It’s not just about what traditional fine art spaces are supposed to look and feel like. We need more access and support for artists, and that’s something that I’m looking forward to providing.”


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