Renaissance on Main Street

With the arrival of the El Segundo Museum of Art in the heart of Downtown El Segundo, fine art finds a home and a willing audience in the South Bay.

If these walls could talk … a gallery packed full of South Bay patrons exploring works of art on display at the incredible new El Segundo Museum of Art (ESMoA).
Eva and Brian Sweeney are exuberant.

They give a tour of the El Segundo Museum of Art (ESMoA) with the pride of beaming parents, the passion of inspired art collectors, and the delight of children in a candy store. What started out as a plan for a simple structure to hold their growing art collection has evolved into El Segundo’s first art museum—and a cultural landmark for the South Bay.

Smitten by art collecting since 2002, Brian and Eva began a partnership with Eva’s brother Bernhard Zünkeler, who helped them assemble a collection that includes works by Monet, Klimt, Picasso and Warhol, to name a few. Nearly three years ago, when the Sweeneys were planning to build a storage unit for the collection, El Segundo’s mayor at the time, Eric Busch, suggested they open it two days a week to share with the community. Brian (an entrepreneur) and Eva (an architect) liked the idea so much, they ran with it.

After securing a narrow, vacant lot on Main Street, Eva designed a modern structure that she says “allows the artwork to energize the building.” Composed of cream-colored aggregate and concrete bricks, the three-story space is distinguished by its grand height and rows of adjustable solar skylights.

Despite its scale, it functions as an intimate gallery that can also be specifically tailored for each exhibit. Eva explains that the height allows Bernhard, now the curator for ESMoA, to install large works so “each exhibit will have a totally different look, so we will always create a surprise.”

Brian emphasizes that they want the space to be inviting. “It’s very family style. We wanted the whole experience to be very welcoming … somebody could come in and read a book. It’s an extended living room, really.”

As ESMoA is rooted in the Sweeney’s desire to share their collection with the community, this philanthropic approach also defines their goals of education and outreach. One of the first things they did was hire educators to create programs that would bridge the collection to the city and beyond. Their March/April exhibit hosted 2,100 school children, and by the time their latest exhibit opens on September 8, they will have hosted 3,000 local and neighboring children.

"We wanted the whole experience to be very welcoming … somebody could come in and read a book. It’s an extended living room, really.”

Education specialist Chelsea Hogan partners with school districts by setting up bus-in programs and scheduling free art classes. Brian believes this is a crucial mission for ESMoA, as so many local schools have been forced to cut art programs. “We didn’t know there was a need here, but we found it,” he shares.

In addition to being a resource for art education, ESMoA is, according to Eva, an “art laboratory.” This is an apt description for this unconventional addition to Main Street. There are no identification labels by the artwork. Rather, there is an interactive display at the entrance with numbers that correspond to each work that you can also access on a smart phone.

They have an artist-in-residence program in which they host an artist for three months, allowing the artist to live on-site and work, as well as teach classes. They offer yoga and cooking classes as well, to fully utilize the space. And with outdoor film screenings on the horizon and an upcoming exhibit involving Elvis impersonators, they are “pushing a lot of boundaries here and having a lot of fun,” laughs Brian.

As the South Bay now hosts a world-class art collection and a cutting-edge venue in which to experience it, you could say that the El Segundo Museum of Art has started a Renaissance on Main Street. Stop by and see for yourself.

The next museum experience, FAME, opens September 7 and runs through November 24. 208 Main Street in El Segundo, esmoa.org
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