Painter Matt Opoien grew up in Portland, Ore., where he enjoyed regular jaunts to art walks and the art district. Today, his own Slaughterhouse Gallery is part of a mini art district in south Palm Springs.
“My vision for Slaughterhouse was to create the feel of a big city gallery, but without all the pretension,” Opoien says. “The walls are gray, the ceiling is gray, the floor is raw cement, so it’s the art that shines. I’m interested in presenting cutting-edge work from local, national, and international artists. I want to show it in a sophisticated manner, and I want it to be affordable.”
Three years ago, the Backstreet Art District existed as nothing more than an interesting idea. Today, its L-shaped building comprises a significant collection of galleries and studios focused on contemporary art.
Located on Cherokee Way behind The Estate Sale Co. on Highway 111, the “district” began in 2005 with Dezart One Gallery and Dezart Studio, owned and operated by artists Kim Chasen, Marian Moiseyev, and Downs. Slaughterhouse, The Studio, Studio 13, Trevor Goss Studio, and Mondo Gallery have since joined them.
The newest is Mondo, founded by Todd Lathrop and Joe Murphy. Like everyone else, they are excited by the idea of working cooperatively to create and promote the district. “As soon as we saw the space, we knew it was what we’d been searching for,” Murphy says. “Meeting the other gallery owners and artists confirmed that.”
The district’s premier event is its monthly art walk, held from 6 to 8 p.m. the first Wednesday of every month. “It will probably grow to incorporate music and other things, but right now it’s all about the art,” Moiseyev says.
At this season’s first art walk in September, more than 250 art lovers converged on Backstreet for exhibitions, including Dezart One’s two compelling group shows — one featuring gallery artists Gary Janis, Michael Hovey, Dean Triolo, and Matthew Weidmann and the other featuring three artists from L.A.’s Metro Gallery: Tm Gratkowski, Polina Perl, and Valentin Toledo.
Several of the venues are utilizing their space in creative ways to generate interest. “At Slaughterhouse, we’re doing a student show in February in conjunction with College of the Desert,” Opoien says, “and we’re hosting a book signing for artist Yvette Hatrack in April.” Dezart hosts monthly poetry readings, as well as live theater performances of original plays, with its intimate setting serving as an ideal environment for audience feedback.
Nevertheless, the main focus is art. “Every gallery and studio is an equal part of the district,” Moiseyev says. “We all bring something exciting and unique. We all cooperate; and we all have the same vision of this being the hippest, coolest art destination in the desert.”