TARZANA, Calif. — Carolyn Uhri walks in front of a building in Tarzana and peers into the window.

The storefront is occupied by an online dress retailer. A few months ago, it housed the San Fernando Valley Arts & Cultural Center. Today there are mannequins and bolts of cloth scattered around the space that was once a vibrant art gallery.

What You Need To Know

  • The San Fernando Valley Arts & Cultural Center had to close its doors after it could no longer make rent at their Tarzana art gallery

  • The center went virtual by opening an online museum

  • Many businesses along Ventura Boulevard also went out of business during the pandemic, leaving empty storefronts

  • “Art Along the Boulevard” is an initiative to allow artists from the Cultural Center to showcase their art in the empty windows

“We loved it here,” said Uhri, one of the Cultural Center’s founders. “We had an exhibit once a month.”

It was a space where local artists could commune and exhibit their work. But in July of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shut them down because the center couldn’t make rent. It then went online and became a virtual art gallery.

However, as Uhri explained, the artists still longed for a physical space to show their work.

“It’s something that the artists all crave,” she said. “They have no place to hang real, original art.”

But then, Kathy Delle Donne came into the picture. She is a friend of Uhri’s and a member of the Los Angeles City Planning Department, which oversees a seventeen-mile stretch of Ventura Boulevard.

“Every community wants to have a vibrant commercial corridor,” said Delle Donne.

She pointed to the empty storefronts that began to appear after the pandemic drove shop owners out of business. Delle Donne explained how the brown-papered windows and “for lease” signs are an eyesore.

“It doesn’t show well for the communities,” she said.

Delle Donner approached Uhri at the Cultural Center with a simple idea: Why not display art in these empty spaces until the landlord can lease them?

So the San Fernando Valley Arts and Cultural Center went to work on an abandoned Starbucks on Ventura Boulevard. They scraped the paint off the windows, brought in easels and some track lighting, and voila. It’s a gallery, but with the art facing outward and on display for passersby.

Artist Carol Goldman watched as a worker placed her painting “Larry, Nature, Love” on an easel and adjusted the lighting.

“When Carolyn approached with this idea, I got so excited,” said Goldman. “Yeah, my stuff will be seen, but mostly it’s helping to brighten up the community.”

Artist Monica Marks “The Power of What if.” noted that people may not appreciate her art unless they can experience it up close, in real life. She hung her artwork "The Power of What if" on an easel and stepped outside to see what it looked like from the sidewalk. Her piece is a mixed-media collage, a three-dimensional array of shadow boxes and figurines attached to canvas.

Marks explained how this particular piece could not be appreciated as a two-dimensional image on a webpage. Her art needs to be seen in-person.

"There’s depth. There are brush strokes. There are textures."

The Cultural Center’s initiative to install art in deserted storefronts is called “Art Along the Boulevard.” Uhri said the project is a work of performance art in and of itself. People who happen to pass by get to experience art where they didn’t expect it. It’s free and open 24 hours a day.

Uhri added that they are occupying other storefronts as well. Across the street from the Starbucks-turned-gallery, the Cultural Center is sponsoring a traveling exhibit at an abandoned AT&T store called “The Memorial Crane Project.” The installation of 12,500 origami cranes memorializes COVID-19 victims. The colorful birds hang in the same windows that once advertised data plans.

"So we got both corners, here, covered with art," said Uhri. "But it’s just wonderful to be able to see real art again."