A home for aspiring artists: Downtown El Paso

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By Sarah Olberman   

Galleries and museums are embracing local artists like never before, giving them more exposure as the El Paso creative community begins to prosper, artists say.

“Before I moved to Los Angeles, the only places I would see local art was like at bars,” said Matthew Martinez, better known by his alias JAM!

“That was my first experience with seeing really talented artists in a bar setting. Seeing that, I really wanted to give people an opportunity to have something in a traditional, real, contemporary gallery because I feel like there’s a lacking for that,” Martinez said.

Martinez opened his gallery and store, Dream Chasers Club, 200 S. Santa Fe St., in 2015 after living in California and on the East Coast.

Dream Chasers Club is a not only a venue where Martinez sells his clothing line and art, but it’s also a place to display art from other young, talented, and local artists and creators.

Photo by Sarah Olberman for Journalism in July

Photo by Sarah Olberman for Journalism in July

The El Paso Museum of Art also promotes local artists. It has programs to help local artists have exhibits, said Victoria Ramirez, the museum’s director, its first in two years.

“We’re a museum that wants to support local artists,” Ramirez said.

“The labEPMA, for example, is for local artists who don’t have full bodies of works for exhibitions. You can apply to the labEPMA program with one or two fully completed pieces,” Ramirez said. “We have to make sure when we put a work of art in the galleries that we stand behind it, but, secondly, it will mean something to people who come through our door.”

The process of getting exhibited is a matter of sending in examples of the work, details, but the most important part is the thesis, Ramirez said.

Martinez advocates for his craft and teaches many artists how to act and how to realize their art’s worth, along with enforcing a strict way of teaching art appreciators how to fully respect art.

“I’m here to be an advocate to show people that you can work hard and do things properly and get into a gallery. I’m extremely stern on the way we handle things here and I try to teach people along the way, I represent so many artists in El Paso locally and outside of El Paso and I’m trying to build this proper etiquette for the craft, essentially,” Martinez said.

Both Martinez and Ramirez acknowledge that social media also helps with the exposure both in El Paso and in other regions.

“One of the very first projects I spearheaded was to develop a new website for the El Paso Museum of Art, having a solid web presence, being engaged in social media is an important way for the museum to raise its own profile and also a way to highlight the artistic community beyond the region,” Ramirez said.

The museum is involved with Last Thursdays – an event in Downtown El Paso that highlights downtown art and culture- Ramirez has definitely noticed the vibrant and talented artists in El Paso.

“El Paso has a pretty vibrant art community. Last Thursdays, for example, is an evening where galleries are open, people are walking around, they’re enjoying food and music, and it’s really a way to casually to explore the Downtown El Paso art community,” Ramirez said.

While the exposure online has many benefits, it also has some downsides, one main issue Martinez faces is people walking in to his gallery only to take pictures.

“We have a lot of young adults who come in here and they don’t really care about the art, (they’re here for) photo shoots,” Martinez said.

Some patrons will view a piece of art they like, and instead of buying it, they photograph it and promote on social media.

“This isn’t just fun stuff, this is deep,” Martinez said. “This is someone’s emotions, for people just to come in for that makes me feel completely disgusted.”

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