LA Art Box gives Filipino Americans their own gallery

This story is published in partnership with SoJannelleTV, a magazine about Filipinos in North America.

The concept of the LA Art Box touched Bernie Bernardo closely. The Filipino-American business executive turned entrepreneur immigrated from the Philippines at the age of 7 and grew up in California’s Bay Area, but saw that her son had little connection to the culture she had known so intimately growing up.

She was determined to give him and other children like him a place to live their roots.

“It’s an idea that came out of a discussion I had with my son. He didn’t feel quite connected to our Filipino past,” Bernardo told Filipino-American media pioneer Jannelle So Perkins, on behalf of the latter. So Jannelle TVwhich airs nationwide on The Filipino Channel (TFC) and ANC cable channels, as well as AC’s local southern digital channel KNET 25.1.

LA Art Box – located on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles – opened its doors in October and is both an art gallery and a space for cultural creation. The exhibitions they have had so far have highlighted this original vision. They opened with Luminaria, an exhibition that Bernardo said was meant to show “diversity and inclusivity, and tell what the lights meant to different cultures”, and followed it with a pop-up exhibition by Jefrë, a Fil-Am artist from Orlando. .

The upcoming exhibition, “Katutubo,” will partner with San Francisco-based dance company Parangal for a celebration of indigenous peoples in the Philippines.

These are the kinds of stories and experiences Bernardo had in mind when she opened the institution with longtime friend-turned-business partner Mar Dumlao.

“It’s a passion project, it’s a place we’re so proud of. We want this to be a space for people from communities of color, especially Fil-Am creatives. We wanted it to be a destination where we can tell stories,” said Bernardo.

Dumlao admitted that Bernardo’s reasoning for starting LA Art Box was what made him take the risk of opening the business.

“I felt a bit sad because Bernie and I had had a community of Filipinos who taught us what it meant to be Filipino. It wasn’t just about speaking the language or understanding it or eating the food, it was it was about [how] we are a representation of history and everything that came before us, and we accept that and do the same for our brothers and sisters to come,” Dumlao said.

“It was the right time, it was the right place. We decided, sometimes you have to take this huge leap of faith and just build your wings on the way down.

Dumlao recalled how many people had suggested opening the business in Historic Filipinotown, where support was guaranteed, as opposed to Melrose Avenue in uptown Los Angeles. For Dumlao, it was important to show that Filipinos were more than just doctors and lawyers – that they could also be creative.

“If we were still in Filipino Town, we would only have this conversation with ourselves. The fact that we are here, we are brown, we are [Asian American, Pacific Islander]-belonging…. We are Filipinos,” Dumlao said.

LA Art Box gives Filipino Americans their own gallery

Bernardo and Dumlao both understand the importance of hanging on to history. Bernardo remembered her mother’s sacrifices, giving up a lucrative nursing career in the Philippines after her degrees were deemed insufficient in the United States. Her father worked at the cemetery as a security guard to support the family. Dumlao came to the United States when he was 3 years old. Her father was in the United States Navy and they eventually settled in Stockton, California, a Filipino enclave in Northern California.

Bernardo absorbed the risks of opening a business like his during a pandemic, and said it was worth seeing how his son reacted to LA Art Box.

“He was there for the premiere, he was even interviewed. I was laughing because he was like, ‘It’s my mom’s idea, I’m so impressed I couldn’t believe she could do it. happen,” recalls Bernardo.

“But he’s so proud of me, and he’s so proud of what we’re doing here in LA.” Jannelle So Productions |

Rappler partners with Jannelle So Productions Inc (JSP), founded by Filipino-American pioneer and Los Angeles-based journalist Jannelle So, to publish videos and written stories from SoJannelleTV about Filipinos’ travels, successes and challenges living in America.

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James C. Tibbs