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Meet Alexey Steele of Artward Initiative

Today we’d like to introduce you to Alexey Steele.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Alexey. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Following in the tradition of my late father, a great artist of socialist realism school of painting in the USSR Leonid Steele, I am a long time proponent of art as an active tool of social action and community engagement in a form of public art. When my friend, patron and collector Richard Rand brought me to Carson from the West Side and with his great support I founded my studio on his property there in 2005, I was immediately inspired by one of the most statistically diverse cities in the nation and began working on My Neighbor Series.

The concept behind my work is to capture uniquely inspiring local heroes who command a special universal love and admiration even within most difficult neighborhoods. In 2015, I was awarded my first grant by The City of Carson Cultural Arts Commission to continue the work on the series which helped me make this personally important project my artistic priority.

With the series at the center, I built in the City of Carson a public art project Love My Neighbor. The goal of the project is to introduce into our contemporary society a unifying Love My Neighbor message through compelling images and stories of the beloved and inspiring diverse neighbors who serve as unique binders for the local community.

I made the focus of my 2016-2018 work the notorious Carson neighborhood of “Scottsdale,” one of the most difficult of Carson communities. The process of creating the artwork right there on-site in the series of live sessions open to the public became a unique way of community engagement that never happened there before. It opened the door into the community and built the trust with the residents of this difficult neighborhood, created the opportunity for continuous engagement in this notoriously hard to set foot in the community.

In collaboration with the non-profit Artward Initiative in 2017, I founded the non-profit Artward! Gallery “Scottsdale” to directly engage this long-underserved community with Love My Neighbor public art project. The gallery now serves as a base for continuous community engagement. Opposite to often seen role of art and artists as agents of gentrification, we are developing in Carson the model for public art serving as a viable tool of community rebuilding and turn around.

The core Love My Neighbor public art project opened the opportunity for the scope of community outreach programs centered around it that we developed with Artward Initiative in Scottsdale. Artward Initiative was recently awarded a prestigious federally funded state grant by the California Arts Council to support its outreach work and to maximize the opportunities for community engagement opened up by my public art project.

We achieved measurable results that show public art can be a unique instrument of social action. We proved that a well designed public art program can significantly help residents of long-neglected neighborhood in their effort to turn around their community. Our project also provides an innovative blueprint in putting together a collaborative partnership between local government, corporate, private, non-profit and faith-based groups working together on a scope of outreach programs centered around core public art program.

Of a particularly unique significance is our recent partnership with a remarkable team of community activists and volunteers from Bank of America’s Better Money Habits program. Together we launched the new initiative – Love My Neighbor Day – an outreach program to which all Scottsdale children are invited, identifying kids with interest in art while Bank of America volunteer group provides free personal financial management advice to parents and older kids. We are doing it in great collaboration with Victory Outreach and Artward Initiative.

The Love My Neighbor Day collaboration formula we have developed proved to be a huge success locally. The word is now spreading, and events are being of a truly unique, vital and real community spirit. They opened for us a path to a wide-ranging impact. With my art at the core of this program, I feel uniquely fortunate to be able to turn my art into an instrument of social action with real and measurable results.

As an artist, I am totally inspired by the people my public art project is serving, helping their courageous effort to turn their long-neglected community around. I also think it is important to share this experience, so others perhaps would feel the excitement of doing something truly relevant for our time.

As an artist, I am truly curious and excited about the depth and width of impact the art can have on our society and want to explore it to the fullest. The Love My Neighbor public art project in “Scottsdale,” Carson gives me the opportunity to develop a body of work reflecting what is still incontestably best in our deeply troubled world, the compelling power of compassion and human dignity.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The biggest obstacle is the fact that the current system is not designed to support this sort of work and there is no playbook.

Don’t get me wrong I have not met anyone yet who would not agree with me that what I’m doing now is important.  I am beyond fortunate with the widest spectrum of support I could have ever imagined.  It is quite rare in the artworld for example, for the mayor to make a special announcement at the City Council meeting about the work of art being exhibited at a museum exhibition.  It is rarer yet to have veteran sheriff’s deputies getting excited about an art program.  It is ultimately rewarding when members of diverse ethnic and religious  communities, who are not always all that close to each other would come together for a joint art event.

Yet in many quarters what I’m doing now is considered “terminally unsellable”.  This is not something most art magazines would ask images for or certain commercially driven conventions would put on their program.  This is not something a hedge funder or a “celebrity” is likely to hang over their couch.  This is not the kind of material that is designed for maximum like count on Instagram.

Yet again and again emphatically – this is what urgently needed in our society today.   Despite everything and because of everything.  Yes, to me social action is sexier than Kim Kardashian’s underwear.  No, relevance is not measured by “like” count.   No, relevance is not measured by hummer price at Christie’s.  Not anymore.  The flaunting of hyper greed is so over.

There is a struggle going on.  The struggle for the very soul of our troubled society and I fully embrace it.  People on the street, government workers, corporate execs – they all know it, but few dare to step outside of preset boundaries which some see as safety net and some others, me included, as a surrender to imminent doom.  These are the times that need leadership, the ability to step outside existing boxes.

This is why I am so deeply grateful for the yet very unusual collaboration we are forging in Carson between the city, community organizations and Bank of America with me, an artist and my work serving as catalyst.  It is a special privilege to partner with dedicated and passionate community volunteers of Bank of America headed by awesome community activist Anh-Dung Nguyen: Gwen Givens-Jones , Maria Beckman, Vera B Stewart, Hewan Kelete, Patricia A Joseph, Miguel Jimenez, Elsa Olague, Carlos Donis, Mark Sederquist. What Bank of America is doing with their Better Money Habit is to me the right model for what a responsible corporate player shall be known for within a real community.  A genuine community facing effort is what makes the true value today.

I am fortunate to be part of inventing a new model, writing a new book in what works today and will work tomorrow and what role in it art can and shall play.  The obstacle is only the opportunity to jump higher.

The more people realize it, the sooner we can affect our world.

We’d love to hear more about what you do.
I am an artist. I was brought up in the artists family and art was so to speak our home religion. My Dad, a great artist of Socialist Realism School of Russian art, believed that art is not a decoration, but a power that shall be wielded on behalf of the people. I inherited this belief.

Art has Content and Form, and they are intrinsically connected. Content determines the aesthetic choices, which will drive the Form. In my quest for what I consider to be great ART, I am looking for the kind of subjects that will demand the ultimate level of artistic ability to capture the very essence of humanity.

I guess I am known for daring ventures into difficult territories, like large-scale figurative compositions in painting and drawing, landscapes, portraits. In recent years, I found such daring and inspiring material in portrayals of my diverse neighbors in the city of Carson.

Having a privilege to work with such remarkable and authentic characters within our often phony world, which looks more and more like it lost its way, literally heals my soul and forces me to be a better artist. It also gives me a profound level of satisfaction to see my art actively work within our society, as a real instrument of social action. True art serving true people, relevant in our real world is what needed today.

What were you like growing up?
I was incredibly fortunate to grow up in the family of artists and scientists. My step-grandfather was a national academician and president of engineering university in Kiev. In my childhood, I was never treated as a child but as an equal. I remember grandfather discussing with me, then a six-year-old, his passion and his research of thermal water energy which he believed will be an important sustainable energy source in the future.

Our house in Kiev was a crossroads of scientists, artists, musicians, actors, filmmakers, songwriters. My dad would take me on his long trips to remote Ukrainian villages where he knew people intimately and where life was still not much different than in the 19th century. He painted his great paintings there. He believed that real people were the source of great art.

He also believed in the public nature of art and in the importance of public cultural institutions, he was doing exhibitions in villages in which he worked, and he founded an art museum in the industrial Moscow suburb where we moved from Kiev. I was right there with my Dad and Mom through all the work, all the fight and all the excitement of making it happen. This museum is celebrating the 40th anniversary of its founding this year.

Occupying prime real estate at the center of town, amazingly it survived through bloody turf battles and gang wars of the 90s. When every lucrative corner was fought over, no gang would dare touching the beloved museum my dad founded. The power of art is real and perhaps the only true power – this lesson of my childhood I am now excited to put to work in our world.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 23400 Avalon Blvd. Carson, Ca 90745
  • Website: www.lovemyneighbor.us
  • Email: classicalunderground@yahoo.com
  • Instagram: @flamebrush
  • Facebook: Alexey Steele
  • Twitter: @AlexeySteele


Image Credit:

Hitman Photography, Jonathan Lipking, Matthew Vreeke, Alexey Steele

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