The Hellada Photogaphy Studio is a gallery in the East Village Art District of Long Beach, CA. Every second Saturday of the month an art festival is held called “The Long Beach Artwalk.” At 5:00pm during each event everyone can submit one original art piece to the Hellada gallery. A panel of judges will select the most creative work called “Long Beach Masterpiece.” The judges consist of 12 – 16 well established artists from the Los Angeles County area. They are usually finished judging by around 6:30pm. The winner is awarded $75.00 and free display of his/her piece at the Hellada Gallery until the next Art Walk.
The lad in charge of this event, the Hellada gallery and also Chief Executive Director / Public Relations is a white man named Marek Dzida.
So March 9th of this year I decided to give it a shot and enter one of my pieces, my portrait of the Great Satchmo Louis Armstrong. After winning that night there were four things that made me question his character. The first thing was a limp handshake. The second thing was he claimed he didn’t have the prize money. Which was odd to me because he collects money from ALL of the rented booths during the Long Beach Artwalk which range from $40 a spot to $75.00 for the commercial booths. On top of that the gallery is ALWAYS filled to capacity with art. This isn’t a free gallery. The main gallery (space B/C) rental fee is $650.00/month, $200.00/week. Studio gallery (space D) rental fee is $450.00/month, $150.00/week. And not to mention gallery rental for art classes is $15 an hour. Just so you know I’m not making this up you can go here http://www.hellada.us/spacerent.htm to see the prices I listed. And like I say, this gallery is always filled to the brim with art. Yet he told me write down my address and he would mail me a check in two weeks or I could drop by to collect it from the gallery. The third thing was after winning he didn’t place my piece in the front gallery window, UNLIKE the PREVIOUS “Long Beach Masterpieces.” Then the fourth and final thing that made me raise my brow was a comment he directed towards my piece. I was inside the gallery talking to another participant when I overheard a photographer (who was about six feet away from me) say how marvelous my work was and Marek paused for a few seconds then said, “It’s funny” in a stale nonchalant tone. He walked off right after. Maybe he didn’t think I was listening since I was already engaged in conversation with someone but I said to myself “What does funny mean?” How is it(my portrait of Louis Armstrong) FUNNY??? At this point It may seem like I’m nit picking but being a black man in America, aware that people tend to be extra critical of anything black, certain presumptions, unfortunately, are warranted. I even questioned myself after this and gave him the benefit of the doubt because when it comes to racism/bigotry and prejudice that is a heavy burden to place on a man’s character. Some people just have character deficiencies regardless of Race or color. So I let all this slide like water off a duck’s back and enjoyed my moment as a winner.
Three weeks later after no check in the mail and neither a phone call telling me to pick up my check I decided to stop by the gallery after work. When I arrived not only did I find out he didn’t have my money I also noticed my piece wasn’t in the front window. It was in the cut on a side wall. But nothing was more ridiculous than the fact that he had NO INFORMATION NO LABEL on my art. So technically if somebody wanted to buy it they would have just been out of luck. His excuse was that he LOST IT. The Chief Executive Director / Public Relations LOST my business card and LOST the sheet of paper I gave him which had the NAME, MEDIA and PRICE of my Armstrong portrait written on it, placed DIRECTLY IN HIS HANDS BEFORE I LEFT THAT NIGHT. Can you believe it? I had no choice but to believe he had something against me because a grown man that irresponsible can’t possibly be a CHIEF, a DIRECTOR or have anything remotely to do with PUBLIC RELATIONS. Marek looks like he’s in his mid 40′s not late 70′s but if his memory/organizational skills are that poor, in my honest opinion, resignation wouldn’t be a bad idea. I kept my cool though. I gave him ANOTHER business card and wrote down the info for my piece ANOTHER time. I finally got my money the following Artwalk which was April 13th. The “Long Beach Masterpiece” winner for that night was a young white lad who was a professional photographer. It was a beautiful piece, a photograph he took in Kauai while on his honeymoon. I had the chance to talk to him for a few minutes. He was an interesting fellow, probably about as humble as they come. His piece was escorted to the FRONT WINDOW immediately after the judging was over. Unlike mine, which stayed exactly where it was after I won (as seen in the picture above).
In late May I decided to experiment with something new, something on a bigger scale since my goal is to do murals one day. I went to Ace Hardware and picked up a 36x48inch piece of drywall for my next painting project. With God’s help it came out way better than I expected it. So I entered it into the contest, which was June 8th. This time it was a tie between me and a white man by the name of John Barney. Checkout the picture below.
Since it was a tie we both won $50.00 instead of $75.00. And of course he didn’t have my money. He told me he’ll have it in two weeks, just like before. Marek had no choice but to put my Miles Davis portrait in the front window right along with the other participant since it was so big. I figured I outsmarted him without even trying to. But racism and prejudice finds a way. You’ll SEE for yourself just keep reading. That same month my big sister and brand new nephew came out here to visit. She wanted to see my Miles Davis while she was out here because her or my family never had the opportunity to see my work on display. The day we went was Friday June 21. And as you can see in the picture below my painting is in the front window. Marek was there with some of his colleagues watching my family take pictures in front of my art.
And of course he didn’t say anything about the money. This was well over two weeks by the way but that didn’t bother me because I expected it. Moving forward, Saturday June 29th I happened to be in the area of the gallery so I decided to drop and see if he had my check. Lo and behold, my piece was REPLACED, my first reaction was, “My painting isn’t on display but the other man’s work is still there so somebody must have bought it.” I walked inside looking for Marek. He wasn’t there so I walked through the gallery seeing if any new artwork was there that I haven’t seen before. Just as I finished walking through the entire gallery and making my way back to the front I heard Marek’s voice. He was next door at the gift shop with two of his friends. I asked him where was my painting. He said in his EXACT WORDS “I took it down a few days ago, we had an event.” Smiling while he said it. So I said are you going to put it back up? He said, “I don’t know, maybe next week.” No lie. An explosion went off in my head when I heard those words because for one I knew he was lying and for two if there WAS some type of event going on why was MY ARTWORK taken down and why is the other man’s ARTWORK still in the FRONT WINDOW????? I could not address this issue at the moment because I was too furious. So I played it cool AGAIN. And on top of that he still didn’t have my money but at this point I didn’t care about it. If it’s one thing I learned in life, whether you are in the wrong or right, you can’t talk to people when they have you at a breaking point. In the book of Proverbs it says be slow to anger and quick to understanding. Instead of cursing him out in front of his friends, giving him a reason to call “My Kind” brutes I decided I would confront him at a later time. I figured I could write this article and expose this man for his prejudice. Sharing this article with every local news station and newspaper would do more damage than going on an emotional tirade. I can have my cake and eat it too. To show you how flawed this man’s character is not only MENTALLY but BUSINESS WISE he would rather feed his own bias than have a painting displayed that if sold he could get %30 of the profit. I was selling Miles Davis for $2,500 and %30 of that is $750. It seems like he would NEED all the extra money he can get from the gallery since he has such a hard time cutting a check for fifty bucks. But he would rather keep his gallery LILY WHITE. But that’s the ignorance of racism. Rather support one another and treat everyone equally racism teaches one to support a CERTAIN GROUP/TYPE of people instead of ALL people, even if the prejudiced one can BENEFIT from the excluded group. More than anything I feel sorry for Marek because he is sick and belongs to an ignorant institution. But this isn’t about ME it’s about other artists of MY COMPLEXION who came before me or who will come after me in hopes to get an EQUAL OPPORTUNITY as the Caucasian artists, the Asian artists, the Hispanic artists, etc. because it’s no telling how many Negroes like myself he’s done this to. And it’s no telling how many MORE he will do this to if I just let it slide. So besides my one on one intellectual thumping I’ll commence on him tomorrow after work I won’t stop until he is exposed for what he is. Below is the picture I took of the front window of the gallery the day I found out he took my piece down. Notice the piece I tied with was still displayed on the far right. Mine was replaced by the painting on the far left. And Miles Davis was never put back up. I decided after I enter this last piece which was my 48x48inch portrait of Sade Adu I would officially be done with this gallery. I didn’t receive ONE SINGLE VOTE. Would it be farfetched to say he could have put salt in the judges ear? That just made it easier for me to say what I have to say about him and how he runs his gallery.
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