Cultivating ‘RAW’ talent


When Laguna newbie and artist Heidi Luerra aspired to launch what she thought was a promising “tween” fashion line in Los Angeles at age 19, she didn’t expect that finding her big break would be such a bust.

“I was trying to promote myself and having a really hard time,” recalls the 25-year-old entrepreneur, who now runs her own marketing and events business, Heidi Luerra Productions. “I realized there were other artists and designers out there who were facing the same ‘indie’ struggle, and felt inspired to help them in some way.”

Her solution was Project Ethos, a collaborative fashion, art and music event in Hollywood that aimed to launch emerging designers, artists and musicians like country singer-songwriter Colie Calliat and the “genreless” band, One Republic.

The project would soon become a springboard for RAW: Natural Born Artists, a nonprofit she established in 2009 with Matt Khlahorst, a fellow entrepreneur and web developer, that hosts showcases “for artists, by artists” in seven areas in California including Orange County, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

RAW’s weekly “mixer” showcases provide independent artists of all creative genres — film, photography, art, fashion, music, performing art, accessories, hair and makeup — with the tools, resources and exposure necessary to inspire and cultivate creativity, and with ability to network within the indie artist community.

Showcases run from February through October, and the top five artists of the year are “RAWarded” with generous cash prizes provided by the season’s ticket sales, and more importantly, career-boosting opportunities like store placement, gallery time and distribution.

Now the grass-roots movement, which has helped promote Laguna artists like musician Alec Bridges, Mermaid Sand Artists Lila and Jeff Sherman, and photographer and Sawdust exhibitor Rosanne Nitti, will soon embark on a nationwide road-trip, RAWcross America, to recruit RAW representatives in 22 other major cities, including Denver, Austin, New Orleans, Chicago and New York City.

“It’ll be sort of like a nonprofit franchise,” Khlahorst said. “We’re trying to encourage the movers and shakers in art communities across the country to create the showcases in their own cities, that we’ve created here.”

The RAW pair, armed with no more than a hybrid SUV (they also keep it “green”), a marketing rep and a cameraman, will spend two months “bootstrapping” it, while creating a film documentary along the way.

They plan to launch a showcase in Laguna Beach in 2011, and in the meantime are asking the community for donations to support the other cities on their journey.

For more information or to make a donation, visit