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Environment: The 'anti-art gallery' that's uplifting artists in Long Beach

Owner Samuel "NA$A” Wright wants to showcase budding artists, host workshops and create a safe space for all.

Environment: The 'anti-art gallery' that's uplifting artists in Long Beach
Samuel “NA$A” Wright sits inside Environment, an art gallery located at 1700 E. Broadway, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Perhaps more than ever, being an artist is a viable career. But for many young, self-funded artists, exhibiting work in traditional galleries, building community and networking can be challenging.

Tucked away at the corner of East Broadway and Gaviota Avenue in Alamitos Beach sits what founder Samuel “NA$A” Wright hopes is a solution.

Environment, which opened in November 2023, is a community space that platforms local artists of all mediums from cut and sew artists like Wright to musicians and everything in between.

“This is technically an art gallery, but it’s also the anti-art gallery,” Wright said.

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The walls of the gallery are painted by friends and fellow artists that Wright has gotten to know over the years. On the front door, “art, culture and community” are clearly written as the shop’s guiding mission.

The space will have multiple events planned for June including concerts, a free tiny farmer’s market pop-up and art installation, and a “no gatekeeping” workshop that helps creatives find grants and funding for their work. There will also be a “cognac, chess and jazz” night where people test their chess skills or just enjoy a drink and some music.

There’s also the art itself, everything on display in the shop is for sale. Wright curates the space to give people a niche within a niche.

In the gallery’s clothing section, it’s about finding already cool vintage pieces and putting them together to create something new, Wright said.

Art hangs inside Environment, an art gallery located at 1700 E. Broadway, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Breaking away from gallery norms, Wright hopes to better accommodate artists who are just starting out and may be struggling financially.

It’s taken a long time for Wright to get to this point of uplifting other artists and carving a space where people can find, purchase, and celebrate unique art.

Wright grew up in Bellflower, but has lived in Long Beach for the last decade. He’s always been a creative, beginning with music as a rapper, singer and songwriter. Along the way, he picked up more conventional means of work, from being a camp counselor to doing traveling construction.

As a construction worker, he saw a vision of his life in his colleagues that were years older than him and knew he did not want to end up in their shoes. He saw a friend doing some sew and cut work and decided to enroll at Orange Coast College and take sewing classes.

“I had always been attracted to fashion,” Wright said. “On my first day of class, my teacher asked ‘Who has never touched a machine before?’ I was the only one to raise my hand. I felt like I was on an island.”

He was told he should find a beginner class, but he decided to stay put. He said he found his more knowledgeable classmates willing to help him such as women who had been sewing for years but were taking the class to take advantage of the professional tools available.

“There’s so much knowledge in that class,” Wright said. “The people you meet are the real knowledge there.”

Art hangs inside Environment, an art gallery located at 1700 E. Broadway, Wednesday, May 22, 2024. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

During the pandemic, he began attending open-air pop-ups showcasing his work and getting to know other local artists. He works under the name NA$A — Never Accepting Society’s Absolutes.

Wright was exhibiting his work at a pop-up within the Alamitos Beach space when he met the landlord in July 2022.

That investment in his vision has allowed him to build somewhere that can give back to other artists and provide a new model to commercialize art.

“Everything in my past has prepared me for this,” Wright said. “The construction allowed me to build the stage, being a counselor taught me how to create a safe atmosphere and being an artist, I’m not just profiting off artists.”

Wright says he cringes at galleries that force artists to sell their own tickets to an exhibit or pay a fee to have the art placed on the wall. Many artists already work odd jobs to fund their craft, he said.

“Just because you don’t know these people yet doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect,” Wright said. “Being an artist is the most vulnerable thing.”

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Many galleries have a policy that requires artists to cover the tickets they aren’t able to sell at their exhibit. Wright calls this a “fear-based system.” Alternatively, he aims to employ a reward-based system, under which proceeds from an event that sold above a minimum threshold will go right back into the artist’s pocket.

Wright also works with an artist's budget to figure out what's most feasible for what they want to accomplish.

That style of business has been his “biggest multiplier,” Wright said, with sold-out shows and a gravitational pull of like-minded individuals interested in lifting each other up.

“I’m taking business classes to make this a sustainable business going forward,” Wright said, “but I don’t need to be trained on the community part.”

The space continues to grow and evolve, and he credits the community with breathing life into it.

Toward the end of summer, he plans to host a grand opening event and block party to celebrate the future and everyone who has showcased their work in the space thus far.

Environment is located at 1700 E. Broadway. Follow Environment on Instagram for updates on events and exhibits.

Editor’s note: this story has been updated with the correct spelling of Samuel Wright’s name.

Samuel “NA$A” Wright stands in the doorway of his art gallery Environment at 1700 E. Broadway Wednesday, May 22, 2024. Photo by Brandon Richardson.


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