Lauri Firstenberg, who founded the nonprofit LAXART in 2005, is among those who have lent expertise to the project coming on board as artistic director to oversee curatorial decisions. All of Compound’s programs are infused with a Policy of Belonging. To make no mistake about it, You Belong Here, a blue neon work by Getty artist in residence Tavares Strachan is mounted on the façade, over the front entrance of Compound declaring that this space is a welcoming place for all who choose to enter.
As museums and galleries across the country struggle to find new ways to remain relevant in our current pandemic-induced age of anxiety, Compound, a bold new showcase melding contemporary art practice, health, and wellness, along with community engagement has burst on the scene. Housed in a renovated 15,000 square foot 1930s Art Deco building in Long Beach, California, Compound is the passion project of founder and creative director Megan Tagliaferri.
Coming to the project as an art collector with a background in philanthropy and interior design, Tagliaferri utilized her entrepreneurial spirit to convince others to join her in realizing an immersive creative experience that is free and welcoming to everyone. Her belief in the transformative power of art as the harbinger of change, all to the betterment of the collective good, undergirds the multifaceted programming offered—now virtually—at Compound.
The artwork is an invitation, particularly to the residents of Long Beach, that they need not be steeped in art history or aesthetics, that they may come to participate in a yoga class or enjoy a family art workshop like the one recently taught by Colombian American artist and Joan Mitchell Foundation Grantee, Carolyn Castaño. She elaborates, “It was Lauri Firstenberg who invited me to create a series of four family workshops, starting in December 2020 on Zoom, telecasting from my studio.”
Castaño has so far been pleased with the collaboration, remarking, “Compound has all the tools to succeed. They have an idea that came at a perfect time. Soothing for the soul. People are looking for art to connect them with other experiences.”
All programming at Compound is free and currently virtual as in many other institutions during this time of pandemic. Events and exhibitions fall under four main categories; Arts & Culture, (including: Artist talks, First Friday Films, Idea Lab) Wellness, (yoga, sound-bath, meditation, farmers market pop-up, breath work, apothecary), Community (empathy lab, speaker series voices of empathy) and Education (family workshops, slanguage).
Artists featured at Compound are invested in both poetics and politics. They often identify as artists and activists using their artistic endeavors to promote cultural change, environmental justice, and wide-ranging systemic reform. Tagliaferri acknowledges that cultural healing has to start with an individual’s power to heal themselves. The integration of a wellness program promoting mind/body health with a physical space dedicated to the arts seems totally new, like a much-needed recipe to begin curing a society whose ills have come glaringly to light.
Radical Empathy, editorial is the title of the second issue of Compound-ed, an online magazine offering interviews and commentary by some of the artists working with Compound. I discovered the fascinating, complex intersection of art, science, ecology, and myth in the work of Lithuanian artist-filmmaker Emilija Škarnulytė in the pages of this magazine. Operating on the cutting edge of human endeavor Škarnulytė has traversed the most inhospitable terrain from a decommissioned NATO submarine base to the site of Chernobyl’s Nuclear Power Plant explosion to create films that contemplate the past from some imagined point in the future. In 2019, the PinchukArtCentre in Kiev, Ukraine awarded Škarnulytė the prestigious $100,000 Future Generation Art Prize given to an artist 35 or younger every other year.
The term “social practice art” can be applied to the 2014 MacArthur “Genius” Award-winner and Houston, Texas-based artist Rick Lowe. His founding in 1993 of the ongoing Project Row Houses along with six other African American artists cemented his reputation as a visionary who could utilize creative energy to transform the lived environment of an entire community.
Compound has emerged from a five-year planning phase to actively build a dream team to bring Tagliaferri’s concept to fruition. Newly appointed executive director, film producer, and health activist Airron Copland, aka “Air”, told A&O, "We are so excited to bring this community space to the city of Long Beach. Compound is for everyone to connect, collaborate, and create, exploring human potential and our unlimited possibilities."