Urbanists Collective seeks to bring art and education to Kitsap

Erik Gonzalez and his collective of non-profit urban planners, campaigning for arts education, joined Bremerton’s first Friday art walk on October 1, using the empty space of the Amy Burnett Building on the corner of Fourth and Pacific to house a pop-up art gallery.

Gonzalez brought downtown Bremerton to life in a space that had been vacant for over a year. The gallery he erected contrasted with the traditional galleries that once inhabited the space previously held by Burnett, the 30-year-old owner and namesake of the building.

After:Bremerton artist Amy Burnett sells iconic downtown building to Seattle real estate firm

Graffiti and street art are in the planners’ DNA, and this culture was represented in most of the pieces in the pop-up gallery, including paintings done on spray paint cans.

Gonzalez, originally from California, moved to Kitsap County and started his collective’s newest chapter in Washington State in late 2019. He never got things done as much as he had. expected because of the pandemic.

The pop-up served as a night out for planners while providing much-needed financial support that will pay for “any overhead that the grants don’t cover,” Gonzalez said. The non-profit organization can now develop its roots in Kitsap. He plans to organize a Bremerton city-wide mural festival and is seeking funding for a new scheme, DSGN, which introduces young people to creative careers.

As a skateboarder who grew up in Los Angeles, Gonzalez was inspired by street art from an early age.

“It was impactful, it hit me, and I got into graffiti art,” Gonzalez said. “Teachers, family, society tell you ‘you’re not going anywhere with this, that’s wrong, blah blah blah’, but I stuck to my guns and kept doing what I like to do even though I got in trouble a few times.

Now part of her mission with Urbanists is to keep kids out of trouble and into art. Gonzalez litigates in court for young people facing overcharges for non-violent crimes, like painting in the wrong area, for example.

Emilio Gonzalez exhibits artwork at his father's pop-up.  Through an app on their phones, the painting comes to life with an animation created by Emilio.  Erik Gonzalez films his son's phone, which displays animation on the pink skateboard hanging on the wall.

The pop-up’s main display consisted of 34 used skateboard decks that had been repurposed as canvases for numerous guest artists. Anyone who wanted to paint and sell a terrace was welcome. Twenty-eight artists presented pieces at the event, six of whom had never shown their work before, including a student who sold his very first print.

“It was a bit surreal,” said Castor Buhman, a senior at Bremerton High School. “It was an eye opener for me to see someone really appreciate my work and for it to be truly valuable.”

Gonzalez was grateful that the nonprofit was able to raise funds, provide opportunities for young artists, and have a fun and exciting creative congregation.

“We wanted to collaborate with the skate shop next door – super cool guys, Location Skateshop, and I mean, it made sense,” Gonzalez said. “They were like, ‘yo, we’ve got like 20 turntables here that people can remix,’ so we were able to open the doors and share the traffic.”

The area was bustling on Friday evening as dozens of people attended the art exhibition at all times as part of Bremerton’s First Friday art walk. The Fourth Street sidewalk was shredded all night long by skate shop owners, neighborhood kids and even Erik briefly, contributing to a lively scene.

Erik Gonzalez offers to teach Darrell Spencer's 6-year-old daughter, Breiel, how to use spray paint cans during a pop-up exhibit at the Amy Burnett Building on October 1.  It has special smaller cans for kids, and after struggling with a bit of pushing the top down, she was able to write her name and experiment with filling shapes.  The family had been out on a date in downtown Bremerton when the art exhibit caught their eye.

Although new to the area, Gonzalez said he learned about the people, land and culture of the county from his home in Hansville to Port Orchard.

“I was able to network with people who really helped me establish myself here,” he said. “It was nothing but love all through Kitsap.”

Brook Oak Real Asset now owns the building Amy Burnett, and director Kane Fenner said he was happy to have something to do in the marquee, even for a short time.

“Obviously we’re looking for tenants who can pay rent,” Fenner said. “In the meantime, it’s nice to be able to activate the building with people who are a good cause and enrich the neighborhood.”

Fenner added that he would be happy to officially lease the store to full-time city planners, but the nonprofit cannot afford it. The most likely future for the historic art space is as a restoration facility.

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