EL CERRITO -- Mark Canepa is a homegrown artist and the San Pablo Avenue gallery space where he displays his work represents what many artistically oriented residents would like to see more of in the city.

The space, known as The Village Shops and Galleries, once housed El Cerrito Lighting, a business founded by Canepa's grandfather decades ago, and about two-thirds of the display area is devoted to examples of his eclectic body of work.

"There's oil and acrylic (paintings), sculpture, jewelry, a little bit of everything," he said. "Some people think it's seven or eight different artists, but it's really me."

Gallery operators Heidi Rand, a San Francisco attorney and nature photographer, and Grace Taormina teach art classes in the gallery's studio space.

Metal Springtime by Mark Canepa at the Village Shops and Gallery, the only dedicated space for art in El Cerrito.
Metal Springtime by Mark Canepa at the Village Shops and Gallery, the only dedicated space for art in El Cerrito.

Canepa said he would like to host entertainment events at the gallery to attract a broader range of people.

"I'd like to bring in jazz bands, some celebrities," he said. "El Cerrito used to be a happening place."

Unfortunately for artists and their fans, The Village Shops and Galleries is now the only private space in El Cerrito devoted primarily to displaying art, according to Kathleen Glenn, the owner of Glenn Custom Framing on Stockton Avenue and a major promoter of the city's art scene.

Things have been going backward the past couple of years, Glenn said.

A gallery operated by artist Pam Fingado on Stockton Avenue closed about two years ago, removing a location where strollers could stop and browse.


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In addition, a "more edgy" gallery called Eclectics next to the Cerrito Theater closed, making way for a brew pub and a combined El Cerrito/Richmond open studios event fizzled after a couple of attempts, Glenn said.

Glenn said she eliminated her gallery space after she was forced to move her shop to a smaller, more affordable space across Stockton Avenue.

Advocates for El Cerrito's art scene admit it is a far cry from such places as Berkeley and downtown Oakland in both innovation and scope.

But, Glenn, Rand and others are working hard to give El Cerrito art and artists a boost.

Their latest effort is the revival of the Stockton Avenue Art Stroll, where a dozen or more artists will display their work and there will be live entertainment along a couple of blocks of Stockton from 6 to 9 p.m. May 10.

Jen Komaromi and her husband Kevin O'Neal, founders of the stroll, have display space for art in Well Grounded, their coffee bar on Stockton Avenue.

The couple opened an expanded location of their Jenny K gift shop two doors down from Well Grounded in October, freeing up more room in the coffee bar for art, Komaromi said.

"The coffee shop will have one artist in the main cafe area and one in the seating area," she said.

The stroll brings visitors to the small Stockton Avenue business district.

"We have no exposure on San Pablo, so the art stroll gives us more exposure," Komaromi said.

Sponsors are planning a second Stroll on Sept. 13. The event started in 2008 and is being brought back after a year's hiatus, Glenn said.

"The stroll started as an extension of my gallery space," she said. "When I eliminated my gallery, it pretty much stopped the stroll."

The first of this year's two strolls will be about a third the size of the largest event in the past. Glenn and other sponsors want to expand it in September. Komaromi said outside studios, including 4 Cats Art Studio in Kensington, have been invited to participate.

Rand wants to encourage more cutting-edge art by trying to help artists to use vacant storefronts on San Pablo as spontaneous "pop-up" galleries, something that has been done successfully in Oakland.

"Part of my intent is to help other artists come together," said Rand, a nature photographer and a member of the city's Arts and Culture Commission. "The city can advocate and help people negotiate with landlords and listing agents to have art in these empty storefronts.

"People in El Cerrito are a little more traditional," she said. "I'm trying to change that."

Although they tend to be less personal and less visible, El Cerrito also has several publicly owned spaces to show art. The second floor of City Hall has display space that artists can apply to the Arts and Culture Commission to use, with El Cerrito residents receiving preference.

In addition, the El Cerrito Arts Association, an alliance of artists and art enthusiasts, curates shows at the Community Center, the library and the state Department of Motor Vehicles offices.

The city has a creative base of artists that would support a more vibrant art scene, said George McRae, Rand's husband and a professional actor who helps out at her gallery.

"(El Cerrito artists) have a broad range of styles and perspectives that are not at all boring," McRae said. "Some take some interesting (artistic) risks."

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