By Brian Feinzimer
By Charles Lam
By Joel Beers
By LP Hastings
By Dave Barton
By LP Hastings
By Joel Beers
For Anna Hansen, resident printmaker, it has been about adjusting. "It's a good human lesson for how to love your neighbor," says the Utah native. "When I first became part of this place, I assumed we were all liberal, but there are people who identify as Republican! But we still agree on so many other points. People are not just who they vote for."
"Before this, I've never really interacted with white people," says Josue Rivas, a colony photographer who shoots for the Weekly. He's the kind of guy who, while everyone sits around drinking and goofing off after a group project night, will suddenly announce, "I think it would be good if we all go around the room and tell what is inspiring you right now," then convinces people to participate.
"My position in society was always as 'the Mexican,'" he continues, "but when I met [La Tour], I was having intelligent conversations, and it shaped my personality outside of my race." He pauses. "Oh, God, I'm gonna cry just thinking about it!"
As nurturing an environment as it seems, the colony does have inner conflict. For this, La Tour says, they have "a resident psychologist." Ricardo Gonsalves, a licensed art therapist with an office in the colony, will sometimes hold group sessions when arguments arise.
"At the Kelly Thomas show, I wanted everyone to leave pissed," remembers Stephan "Bax" Baxter, owner of the Egan gallery. He curated a collection of artworks inspired by the homeless man's brutal death at the fists of Fullerton police officers. "But [Mike] didn't want that, you know, because the colony is a sanctuary."
"I wanted to create a space where the [enraged] community could use art to voice their feelings," Mike explains, "but also be all inclusive to those with different viewpoints, whether they were supportive of police or councilmen or in some way anti-Kelly Thomas. It's easy to be 'nice' to 'nice' people; but if you want to change hearts and minds, then you have to be willing to reach out to people who might not see things your way."
The collective compromise for the Thomas show was to offer panels on which visitors could write a positive message about Fullerton as they left. "It took away the ability to say we were just being negative," Baxter says. "We agree that we want people to be treated with dignity, but we don't always agree on how to get there. In the end, we always compromise, and it ends up bringing more people in and makes it a better community."
For the little issues that don't require big sit-down sessions, there's Vince Morgan, the colony's gatekeeper and security guard. An accident at his father's workshop left Morgan's right hand mutilated, which sent him into a downward spiral of drugs, pain meds and homelessness. Pete came across him more than 20 years ago, connecting through their mutual interest in model building; his storefront on 232 W. Commonwealth is a hobby shop, Model Mania. Eventually, Mike offered Morgan a job.
"[Morgan] is like the white blood cell in this whole thing," Rivas says. "He's always here and he protects this place."
He does more than monitor doors, though. "Vince serves as the check and balance," Mike says. "The last thing we want is people to think the colony is where people are doing drugs and it's just drunken debauchery. When the tiniest shreds of that happen, [Morgan] is right there, and he reels them back in."
"[Morgan] probably pisses me off more than anybody on a regular basis," Baxter admits. "I'll be showing the colony to a client, and he'll come in yelling that someone didn't clean up the dog puke on the floor. But then I'll ask him what he thinks is wrong with my Vespa, and two hours later, he's still mumbling about it to himself, trying to figure it out."
On a recent night, Morgan wandered past Baxter, ready to take Mike and Candace's dog, Satine, out for a walk. Baxter sauntered after him and gave Morgan a bear hug.
"Get off me, Bax!" Morgan growled. Later in his office, he explains, "I'm like Quasimodo, and this is my sanctuary," extending his arms out, then dropping them to his lap. "I've learned to let go a little. I don't wanna be the grouchy old man . . . but I don't know why Bax is always trying to hug me."
* * *
In January, Mike called a colony-wide meeting. Every chair and couch was pulled around the Burning Man trailer in the back smoking room; with the low lights in that section of the warehouse, the atmosphere was reminiscent of that of a campfire. The last few colonists snuck in as Mike began, the wind chimes on the back of the door announcing their arrival.
To prepare for this meeting, group members had to answer a long survey with questions such as "What art do you most closely relate to?" and "What dimension does your art exist in?" and "Do you fear the unknown?" As the colony finally reaches its capacity for gallery spaces, the group must vote on its future and whether they'll let the public in, as at any commercial gallery.