Arts: The Pomona Arts Colony

By Erns Valdez

Walking around Pomona's historic downtown arts district you will not see any signs or promotional material about those who live above all the storefronts. These art-claded buidings are home to many well-established and respected painters, musicians and creative types. I'm sure if their residences were to be made public, it would no doubt make for a great Stars of the Arts Tour.

Unfortunately, most of these artists like to keep a low profile while still staying connected to the arts scene. To live and work in a real arts colony is the dream of many artists and there is something unique about The Pomona Arts Colony. For IE artists, Pomona is the gateway to Los Angeles and for many LA artists Pomona is a much-needed change of pace. Many exchanges in culture, ideas and inspirations flow through these streets. This is one neighborhood that has a proud history and is truly a hidden gem. One can easily be inspired and moved by walking along its streets and talking to its residents.


Entrance to the Pomona Arts Colony


What brought me down to the Arts Colony this day was its annual Chalk Art Festival. Held every year on the second Saturday of November, it’s an event that brings the whole community together. While it is primarily an event for students from local schools, everyone is welcome to sign up and participate. This year the Chalk Art Festival attracted a lot of local families and more than 20 professional artists. The festival starts at 8 a.m. and wraps up around 3 p.m. Once the event is over the galleries open for the second Saturday art walk, which makes for a full day and night of arts in Pomona.

Also located here are two historical performance venues. The Glasshouse and The Fox Theater are regularly booked with bands and events that save many people a 30-mile drive to Los Angeles and have actually been known to draw a crowds from LA to the IE. 


The 10th Annual Pomona Chalk Art Festival


While at the Chalk art Festival I was able to talk one of my personal heroes -- Chris Toovey. Known by many as Toovey, he is one of the founding -- and still active -- members of the dA Center of the Arts, an establishment that started the arts movement in Pomona and led to the creation of a recognized Arts Colony.  

While the artists starting setting up shop in the late '70s and early '80s, it wasn't until the early '90s that it became an official arts colony. Property owner Ed Tessier was responsible for working with the city of Pomona to turn the downtown into a properly zoned arts colony. The dA Center moved to its current location in 1996 and has remained the area's biggest and most visited gallery. 


The dA Center of the Arts


Resident and gallery owner Josh Swodeck has lived in the arts colony for six years and in the Pomona area for more than 13 years. He has seen a shift from large high-profile galleries into more community-minded venues. While some might see this as a step back from progress, Pomona continues to host some of the biggest and best shows in the IE. One challenge the Arts Colony is experiencing is a marketing dilemma.

“This neighborhood is rich with the arts and I don’t think people know how beautiful the neighborhood is," says Swodeck. "Pomona over the years has gotten a bad rap, which leads people to assume the arts are dying, which is completely the opposite. What's happening is that we're not communicating effectively to the masses."

One thing for sure is that Swodeck and those who live in downtown show great pride for their colony and want to share it with as many people as they can. 

Currently in the works for Pomona is a new support structure that is much needed to keep an arts district of this size moving forward. The collaborative includes organizations like Pomona’s Cultural Arts Commission, Arts for LA, The National Endowment of the Arts, local school districts, along with the dA Center for the Arts and The Millard Sheets Museum located at Fairplex.

To add to the forward momentum, the property owners recently hired an “art coordinator” whose job will be to help bring the arts to the city's buildings and developments. Over the past three decades Pomona's art culture has ridden the waves of abandonment, revival and even the "G word." Genrtificatoin is quite common among successfull arts colonies throughout the country. While many galleries have left Pomona for more affordable and populated storefronts, there remains a strong group of art warriors who will not go gentle into that good night.  


Mural of Karl Benjamin by artist David Flores


Pomona is one of the few local cities to have a Cultural Arts Commission along with amazing public arts ordinances. Some of these ordinances formalized public art and helped the city recognize its importance. While it does become a process to have a mural or artwork in public view, these ordinances also protect and maintain the murals for five years. One ordinance requires any new developments within the city -- be it housing or business -- to include a public art piece. This is a big win for local artists as they are often commissioned to create those pieces.

One important feature of these ordinances is that they’re making sure that Pomona holds onto its artistic roots. The Arts Colony with its galleries, music venues and School for the Arts are what helped revived the downtown, and these art pieces will be reminders of how important the arts are to communities. 


Approved and protected murals in Downtown Pomona


Below are some pictures and a short video from the Chalk festival:





For more information on the Arts Colony, its art walk and events, visit the Downtown Pomona Owners Association website

For information about living in one of the many artist lofts in Downtown Pomona, contact Jeved Management. The organization also owns and manages storefront and live/work spaces in other arts areas.