Olga Garcίa Echeverrίa
“Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at the sun.’
We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.”
–Zora Neale Hurston.
On Maple Avenue, in Historic South Central LA, there lives a breathing piece of sky, CIELO. On the surface, CIELO Galleries/Studio appears to be just another industrial complex in the neighborhood. Not everyone passing by may notice it. There aren’t any flashy signs to guide visitors into the 9,000 square foot property. When I first visited, it was night time, and I circled the block several times unable to spot the address.
|From CIELO FB Page: An Inconspicuous Piece of CIELO:|
Depending on the day, the time, the mood of any given event, you may have to wander a bit around CIELO, like I did, exploring several portals to see which one opens up and welcomes you in. But that is part of the charm, and definitely, once you enter, welcomed you will be.
Inside of CIELO, you’ll find a space where art, community, and conscious-raising meet. Beneath the high ceilings, there is plenty of open espacio, hanging photos, art supplies, words to ponder. There are sofas to lounge on, blooming plants, a keyboard, paper butterflies on walls, a full kitchen with a large wooden table ideal for intimate conversations and breaking bread.
It’s a multidimensional place--part home, part school, part industrial loft, part gallery, part work studio, part literary space, part sky, as in you can stretch your artistic self and reach for something beyond the ordinary here. You can 'jump at the sun' and organize, as Teka Lark Fleming and Skira Martinez did this past March, the Blk Grrrl Book Fair, or host a unique live stream broadcast of a collective reading of Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Yes, the entire book! Anything can happen at CIELO.
|Skira Martinez and Teka Lark Fleming: Photo from LA Weekly|
|Photography by Slobadan Dimitrov at CIELO Galleries/Studio|
Liberation School exists outside the realms of institutionalized education, so do not expect rows of desks, rigid schedules, or even mapped out curricula. There have been workshops and discussions on topics such as Copwatch, gentrification in various parts of the city, and radical feminism. The birth of any given class is highly organic and very much in the spirit of Pablo Freire, where classroom subject matter stems directly from the interests and needs of the participating community. Skira explains, “If you want to teach or share something, then you come to Liberation School and you do so. If you’d like to learn something, then you put a shout out and say, ‘I want to learn more about this,’ and I try to find someone who wants to come and speak about that.”
About the Liberation School’s scheduling, Skira adds, “Basically, it runs whenever it runs, so if someone contacts me and says, ‘I wanna do a class,’ then I post it and it’s Liberation School. Sometimes we’ll go on a spurt where we’ll have classes every day for a concentrated time period, and then it peters out a bit, and then it starts up again. It’s organized but at that same time it’s not organized, or it appears not to be. There are weeks when there’s nothing and weeks when things are really active. It depends on who’s here, who feels it. Every once in a while, I call a mass meeting to get people to come and to open up the doors and get something going again, but for the most part it just sort of happens, people decide when they want to do something or learn something.”
|Photo from CIELO FB Page: Children Painting at CIELO|
In regards to future plans for an evolving CIELO, Skira says that she’d like to make the space a literary capitol of LA. “I really want this to be a place for people of the literary world to come and to do their thing. I feel there are so many of us artists, whether that be visual or literary or whatever, that are waiting to be accepted into some place or some circle, and I just want us to have this mind set of ‘We can do this shit ourselves.’ We can support each other and we don’t have to always go to the mainstream or have to be looking at White-approved spaces. I think the literary world is very dominated by men and it’s also very White; it’s time that we stop trying to get in that door and that we have our own spaces, and then we’ll have them come and be our audience because they will come, trust me, they will come. That’s one of the important things about the Zora Neale Hurston reading that the Blk Grrrl Show organized here. Zora had such strong convictions. She was going against the grain in many ways, and even people that loved her didn’t always support her. Zora wasn’t scared to stir the pot. She wasn’t going to play that part of ‘Hush-hush-hush. Let’s be good Black people. Let’s be respectable. Let’s be acceptable.’ I can relate to that. I respect that.”
|Self Portrait: Skira Martinez|
To connect with CIELO on FB:
To connect with Blk Grrrl on FB:
To see Blk Grrl in Live Stream Action:
To learn more about Blk Grrrl Bookfair: