There’s a building in Long Beach with the words “Play Nice” painted on the window, a space built for the city, but especially it’s Black community and communities of color.
Play Nice is home to art exhibitions, screenings, the designing and sale of clothing and books on everything from politics to fashion available to the public.
But for artists like Ryan Hoyle, financial resources and ideas are critical in sustaining spaces like Play Nice that continuously support the community wellbeing.
“This is an opportunity to create opportunities for people that look like us, opportunities for our families, potentially creating generational wealth,” Hoyle said.
Play Nice is an Arts Council for Long Beach COVID-19 relief applicant, and the relief funds available are meant to financially assist the city’s artists amid the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Arts Council marketing and grants manager Judy Estrada, their micro-grant applicant count took a dive during the coronavirus pandemic, citing that artists needed the time to become resourceful.
“I don’t want to say we [artists] were struggling, but I do feel that there’s a new renaissance within the arts in Long Beach,” Estrada said. “Before there were a lot of organizations doing their thing and a lot of artists doing their thing, but now we are coming together as one for the betterment of Long Beach.”
In what started as a vintage sporting apparel shop, Play Nice has evolved into a space for creative minds and progressive community activism in Long Beach, similar to certain hubs of Los Angeles. As Play Nice plans to explore 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in the future, Hoyle and the team are navigating the shop’s current state in a post-lockdown world.
Hoyle quoted rapper, entrepreneur and philanthropist Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter: “I can’t help the poor if I’m one of them.”
Elizabeth Munzon, oil painter, curator and director of the Flatline gallery, found herself among the artists transitioning to a virtual atmosphere to remain in the fight for creative expression. The latter has enabled Munzon to host virtual tours of the gallery.
“That took a bit to figure out because there was a learning curve when I had to translate everything onto my website, so just figuring that out and on top of that, I had to put money into it to make sure that I made money,” Munzon said. “It was also a risk I had to take because I had to pay for that online shop and all of the other fees they charge you once you set that up.”
Munzon makes a living as an artist by selling her artwork and taking commissions. This helps her keep the lights on at Flatline. Munzon makes up for coronavirus pandemic-induced losses by taking on more commissions than usual and learning to capture the essence of saturation and warm and cool colors in her work for digital platforms.
In addition to working with watercolors and acrylics, artist Charlotte Medina recently returned to scenic painting for film and theater. While she looks towards relief funds for quality paints and canvases, Medina took the opportunity to grow as an artist from indoors by enrolling in online lessons.
Medina also sought opportunities that led to painting murals and windows for clients and commercial work despite the limitations that the year brought to artists.
“A friend told me recently that, ‘It is an artist’s responsibility to represent our times,’” Medina added. “We are also representatives for our culture, gender and any other demographic we relate to and more than anything, through art we are giving form to those experiences that sometimes are hard to explain.”
As a fourth-generation Long Beach native and one of many women of color, Estrada said that the Arts Council had to adapt in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and sociopolitical environment of the city in 2020.
“I want us to be not just the Arts Council, I want us to be a community council,” Estrada said.
But like Estrada’s mission, many artists in Long Beach have worked to center the community too.
The murder of George Floyd last summer changed the trajectory of the Play Nice movement, Hoyle recalled. The shop then became a resource ally to the social cause.
In Cambodia Town, the work of Long Beach artist Angela Willcocks is spread across a 21-by-88-foot wall. The mural, commissioned by the Arts Council, entails broad and meandering strokes of different colors that blend seamlessly.
“I get money to create a project with communities and working with the community, I create projects that enhance or have some sort of sustainable cultural benefit,” Willcocks said.
Willcocks believes that art is pretentious, throwing out the idea of the gallery setting altogether. But she knows one thing: If she’s given a 20-by-90-foot wall, she’ll spend days transforming its brick and mortar.
For over 30 years, Willcocks has been creating through various mediums, and quitting doesn’t cross her mind. She can be found in her studio nearly everyday of the week coming up with her next piece or applying for grants to support her.
Whether it means applying for National Endowment for the Arts grants, teaching at university or engaging in community artwork, Willcocks will always find a way to create without starving.
“I realized early on that I was not going to live as a starving artist, I was going to make a career through the arts and continue doing my artwork,” Willcocks said.
Estrada is a believer of unity, and said that may help usher in a renaissance. Along with the perseverance of Long Beach’s creatives, the Art Council’s relief grant is an opportunity to keep the city’s artists from remaining stagnant.
“I’m in here trying to get it,” Hoyle said. “We’re making clothes, throwing events and experiences. I’m in my artist bag.”
For more information on Arts Council for Long Beach grants, click here.