By Ashley Orona
SOUTH GATE — A local artist was honored with a mural of himself Sept. 29 as part of an initiative by Estrella Jalisco to celebrate people making an impact in their communities.
Eric Contreras was honored in his hometown of South Gate. Contreras was nominated by his community and chosen for the mural due to the monthly open mics he hosts out of his garage in his current residence of Bell called Alivio, which is a Spanish word for relief.
The mural was made possible by an initiative by Estrella Jalisco. Contreras was chosen to be part of the company’s artists in residence program. The program is a collective of nine people from across the country including communities from Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and El Paso.
Before Contreras’s open mic, artists in Southeast Los Angeles had limited spaces to come together and create art that didn’t require them to leave their city’s boundaries. The Alivio open mic has allowed for a collective of artists to flourish in the region and has become a big component of the SELA Arts Festival.
“The void that existed in Southeast L.A. is what drove me to want to create a space in Southeast L.A.,” Contreras said. “Everytime I wanted to share my poetry [and] everytime I wanted to celebrate other people’s art I always had to extract myself from my own community.”
In January it will be seven years since Contreras opened the doors to his garage and inaugurated the Alivio open mic. Every month, different artists are featured to showcase their music and poetry; vendors are also given the opportunity to sell food and artifacts they create.
Most recently, the Alivio stage was part of the SELA Arts Festival. The annual arts festival takes place on the L.A. River, however, due to coronavirus physical distancing guidelines the festival was forced to move online this year. Artists were able to perform on the open mic stage and festival attendees were able to stream them.
“We are here, we are present, it’s just that we needed spaces,” Contreras said. “People that had like-minded views and visions of our neighborhood started creating groups together.”
There is a large artistic community in Southeast Los Angeles that for years was inactive because people did not have a space to come together and share their work. Many community groups have been created that are made up of artists, entrepreneurs, and activists that have united for community collaboration and are even advocating on a political level for change and progress in the last few years.
“COVID drastically impacted artists in many negative ways,” Contreras said. “Through Alivio we had a vendor community that would go make money for themselves by selling their art and now a lot of that has been removed.”
In the early months of COVID-19, Contreras created an emergency fund that raised almost $5,000 dollars for local artists and vendors who rely on gigs for income. The funds went to creative people who indicated they were financially impacted by the pandemic to help them pay for rent, debt, groceries and other essential needs.
Alivio’s open mic has gone digital since March due to coronavirus gathering restrictions. They are holding events live on Instagram every Friday.
Ashley Orona is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the East Los Angeles area. She can be reached at Oronash@gmail.com.