The avant-garde artists of the San Fernando Valley’s corporate media enclave are hanging out at 1551 W. Olive Avenue, and they are something special.
FOR THE RECORD: This version corrects the photo caption.
Working as a collective that calls itself Piece Riot, this Burbank-based bunch has temporarily taken up residence in a 1940s-era building that once housed a Wherehouse Records store and will soon become a Chase Bank. In the meantime, the space has become a creative hub for a passionate group of young, local artists who have made it their mission to influence and expand the Burbank art scene.
This pursuit began last spring, when Kady Cole realized that the temporarily empty building her father owned might make an ideal art venue for her boyfriend Alex “Caps” Rene and his artist friends to show their work. Cole’s father green-lighted the idea, and with that, the artists took over 1551.
This group included Cole, Rene, a mixed-media artist and clothing designer, and their friend Joey Jiuliano. This trio extended an invitation to a network of artist friends to come and play in the space.
“We all work in different industries,” Rene said. “Some of us focus on art; some of us work non-art-related nine-to-five jobs. This was an opportunity for everyone to get together, do our thing and showcase our passions.”
By the end of May, more than a dozen artists were working at 1551. Their initial task was transforming the building where they had once purchased CDs into a place where they could create and display their work.
The group assembled at 1551 every night, with many of the artists coming to the space after putting in eight hours at their day jobs. (“I’ve spent more time here than at home in the last six months,” Rene said).
After months of preparation, Piece Riot held a two-night public show in August. Approximately 350 guests turned out to see what they had created.
“The response was amazing,” Rene said. “A lot of people who came were local cats from Burbank and remember this space being Wherehouse Music. People were shocked by how we transformed it. They were glad to see a bunch of young people getting together and creating something.”
Nearly all of the artists, who range in age from their early 20s to mid-30s, grew up in Burbank, and many have known each other since childhood.
“I came in not knowing who was going to be here,” said Alex Huitink, “and it turned out that I knew almost everyone, just from growing up in Burbank. I think it’s awesome that we’ve been able to create a place to express ourselves and run wild in the town where I grew up.”
“We’re really focusing on showing the talent that’s in Burbank,” Michael Alvarado said. “We try to keep it in the area because we all grew up here.”
The public’s appreciation of the gallery, in conjunction with the city of Burbank’s enthusiastic support, made the artists realize that they had tapped into something the community was hungry for.
“There’s a need for stuff like this,” Rene said. “It gives people something to do other than blowing money on alcohol and going to the club.”
It also provides inspiration for the next generation of local artists.
“It’s sad, because in the school systems, all of the art and music programs are the first to get cut,” Rene said. “Kids are running out of creative outlets, and they’re going to resort to other things to keep their minds occupied without them. We’re trying to promote ourselves and our work and also be a forum for kids to see that if art is your dream, you can pursue it. You should pay attention to your gifts.”
Piece Riot will once again open their doors to the public on Oct.14-16. The group’s 1551 Showcase will include paintings, photos, illustrations, handmade dog kimonos, fluorescent installations and more by artists including Alex Rene, Stephen Rene, Tomoko Rene, Jorge Daniel Soria, Michael Alvarado, Alex Huitink, Kevin Suscavage, Adam Barnett, Steven Duncan, Samuel Torres and Seth Barnett. For this event, Piece Riot has partnered with the 1881 Project, an organization that assists and promotes artists. Food trucks will be on site for mid-gallery snacking.
The artists are grateful for the opportunity to show their work a second time. “It’s stressful and frustrating, but when we were closing the doors after the last show and I thought it was done, I was teary-eyed,” Alex Rene said. “It became our life, seeing these guys every day, working, eating fast food, yelling when we get frustrated and having a blast.”
And although Piece Riot will soon have to move out of 1551, its members are keen on creating similar galleries in other local venues and are confident they can produce enough art to fill any space.
“We,” Kady Cole said with a smile, “need as many spaces as we can get.”
KATIE BAIN is a freelance writer. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
What: Piece Riot/1881 Project Presents: 1551 Showcase
When: Oct. 14-16, 7 p.m. to midnight
Where: 1551 W. Olive Ave., Burbank
Contact: Jorge Daniel Soria, (818) 312-1074