Amid a burgeoning skyline and expanding developments, along Highway East 10 lies a street gallery tucked away in Downtown L.A. Santee Public Gallery awaits viewers at 1724 Santee Ave/18th Street.
Once disregarded, littered, serving as a car lot for presiding businesses, one neighbor with a fervor for art capitalized on this underutilized space. Impassioned and driven, curator Jason Saboury pioneered a way for artists to have a place for themselves and their art.
Saboury, an arts advocate, applied artist, carpenter, fabricator, and curator, is a native Angeleno. An Iranian-German-Irish-American, Saboury grew up believing the pursuit of math, science and technologies, equated a successful life. Saboury earned a degree in Developmental Psychology, excelling in Pan-American Studies, with minors in sociology and history. This education became an invaluable asset for the nascent curator.
After graduation, and in the aftermath of the economic meltdown, jobs related to his field were hard to come by, so Saboury became involved in gerontology (the study of aging and it’s social, cultural, and psychological aspects,) working with patients, from young adults to the elderly. Applying this skillset, he also taught adults with mental and physical challenges how to read and write as well as general life skills. Collectively, the class designed and built a chair out of pallet wood. Saboury says his educational efforts “changed [him] for life.” When asked about his biggest take-away from this line of work, he said, “don’t be a fucking pushover.”
Stone Design afforded Saboury freedom from a mundane, monotonous routine.
The interdisciplinary arrived at a crossroads in his career. He responded to a job listing seeking a fabricator, located on Santee Avenue. Enter Stone Design: a fabrication studio practicing laser-cutting, engraving, CNC machining, carpentry, and metal, among other specialties. Stone Design afforded Saboury freedom from a mundane, monotonous routine. Within the shop, Saboury aided artists with wood and textile cut-outs, as well as installations. Stone Design owner, Andrew Stenval and Saboury shared business methods, and an innate desire to create and produce outdoors.
While walking through Stone Design’s backyard, Saboury discovered a plethora of graffitied walls, with plenty of creative potential. With renewed passion, Saboury sought to transform and share his new venture with the community.
In April 2018, the ‘Santee Public Gallery’ was launched as an interactive outdoor gallery. Five L.A. based artists contributed to the inauguration: Patricia Bonilla, Kasul, ArtforBella, Colette Von, and Sykd. The result was a bombardment of color; works of abstraction, figurative pieces, paint-drip murals, wheatpasted digital designs, and spray paint enriched the first batch of walls at Santee Public Gallery.
In the months since, SPG has grown; large scale spray painted walls, handwritten poetry on dumpsters, stenciled prose, and graffiti adorn every space of the public gallery. Sculpture art above, pavement art below, and drips of paint pepper the scene, adding a sense of wonder. As Saboury explained, he the wanted the gallery to be a “free creative space, for thought and process.” He continued, “Santee Public Gallery is for the public, the community, artists, and creatives of all mediums.”
But then as I began writing, the oil-based marker allowed my words to slide like butter across the surface.
I first discovered SPG in the Fall of 2018, when Saboury invited me out to Santee. I accepted, unsure what to expect. My first day there, Saboury was hosting a few artists, including Usurps, Kasul, and Bohemia Inc. As he finished getting paint for an artist, we discussed my writings. Having recently gone through three car-totaling accidents, career changes, and a bout with MS, I needed a respite, which is when I found poetry. I’m not a graff writer, so when Saboury led me to a dumpster and handed me a marker I was wide-eyed with uncertainty. But then as I began writing, the oil-based marker allowed my words to slide like butter across the surface. From then on out, late at night I would seek refuge at SPG, finding a surface, and let my thoughts spill. Saboury welcomed me into the community of artists without a second thought.
Santee Public Gallery now boasts a roster of over 130 artists that have contributed to its surfaces. Though for all its successes, it’s not been without pushback. Saboury has caught flak from some local graffiti crews who felt SPG encroached on their territory, and occasionally taken to tagging the murals. Others have criticized him for his lack of prior curatorial experience.
Saboury responded, “I organize artists, I put the work in and I have a purpose for the space.” Diligent in his undertaking, Saboury endlessly promotes and encourages artists to treat the space as if it were a studio canvas. “I’m not an expert. I’m still learning. But I’m committed to making this a success. No distractions. I don’t need to be there for every wall painted, but I ask that artists reach out to me before painting. I do my best to ensure that artists have the tools they need, allowing them to maximize their experience at Santee Public Gallery.”
“I organize artists, I put the work in and I have a purpose for the space.” Diligent in his undertaking, Saboury endlessly promotes and encourages artists to treat the space as if it were a studio canvas. “I’m not an expert. I’m still learning. But I’m committed to making this a success. No distractions. I don’t need to be there for every wall painted, but I ask that artists reach out to me before painting. I do my best to ensure that artists have the tools they need, allowing them to maximize their experience at Santee Public Gallery.”
Saboury has faced other difficulties in curating the walls. A building with tall, paneled walls along Santee was buffed for months, because the building owner’s insurance policy required that they grant coverage. “The insurance company has a blanket statement on all street art as being ‘graffiti,’” Saboury explained. “According to their guidelines, graffiti indicates that the area is ‘unsafe,’ therefore, premiums are higher. So the owner was averse to us painting, because they wanted to get the best rate. I’m not happy about it, but the real issue is with the insurance company’s policy and technicalities, not with businesses or owners.”
Walking around SPG, I talked with local business owners to get their feedback. Lorena of ‘Lorena’s Sewing,’ led me outside, pointing around the store front. She told me she’s very pleased with Patricia Bonilla’s abstract mural. Further down the block, I met Edmond, owner of ‘C & C Wholesale Clothing.’ I asked him what he thought of the art. “I like it. What I don’t like is all the trash.” A consequence of the industrial space, truck loads go in and out of SPG – lots of trash happens.
In April 2019, Santee Public Gallery celebrated its first anniversary. The turnout was unprecedented. Over 40 artists laid fresh paint, and with a bottle of beer in hand, cheered, collectively to a budding, rising community of innovators and visionaries. Returning artist, Patricia Bonilla, recounted her first time meeting Saboury. “My experience was great. Jason and I were in sync right away. Santee Public Gallery is a good idea – L.A. artists need a place like this to meet other artists which promotes a strong community.”
Saboury encourages artists to paint from the heart, and is open to all styles and varieties of art. He doesn’t hound or supervise artists. However, he does draw a line when it comes to vulgar, racist, or hateful art. Saboury puts his foot down on negative works like these to ensure the Santee remains an inclusive space for the whole artistic community.
This August on my way home, I drove to SPG, and found myself floored by the artistic display before me. Four new artists had just painted a series of eighteen-foot panels; Dirt Cobain, Phobik, Padhia (UnFuckYourself) and Cyrus Howlett. The stunning works were a welcome addition to the gallery. Other contributors, such as Zook and Tru(th) are regulars of SPG, coming back to paint time and time again, drawn in by the creative energy.
Saboury’s efforts are a testament to Santee Public Gallery’s status as L.A.’s newest generational art enclave.
Through college, psychology, and woodworking experiences, Saboury, found his niche. His curatorial beginnings were uncertain, but his intentions and commitment to art were resolute. With time, Saboury has proven his curator status. Saboury has tirelessly sought opportunities to promote the gallery, and its artists by organizing group shows, pushing for artistic growth and new collaborations. Saboury’s efforts are a testament to Santee Public Gallery’s status as L.A.’s newest generational art enclave. In Saboury’s words, “it’s for the community, for our children’s children. A positive, beef-free zone, of pure creative bliss, where sharing is caring.”