Neighborhood Stroll – Holly Socrates and the El Segundo Art Walk

Holly Socrates 2

Holly Socrates, head curator of the El Segundo Art Walk. Photo

Holly Socrates hasn’t been standing still. It was only last November that she opened her own art space–the petite Holly Socrates Gallery–on the corner of Franklin and Main in downtown El Segundo, across the street from Rock & Brews and an easy lob from ESMoA. Her business enterprise hardly off the ground, Socrates corralled various business owners and last month launched the inaugural El Segundo Art Walk. Another one–the second of three this summer–takes place tonight, Thursday, from 5 to 9 p.m.

Community spirits

Who is Holly Socrates and how did this ambitious endeavor get started?

Until recently, Holly Socrates worked out of her home in Manhattan Beach while raising two young children. She’d been showing her work (more on that momentarily) at the local Hometown Fair, but had not yet been artistically prominent in the Beach Cities.

“I’ve been showing and selling my work for the last seven years,” she says, “and I either needed to quit or take the next step.” That next step–a leap for many of us–was to find a location of her own not far from where she lived. Besides, this was where many of her customers and clients lived as well.

“So I started looking for spaces, and El Segundo seems like a natural fit because it has such a creative vibe to it anyway, and with ESMoA being here that’s like the anchor of cultural arts in the South Bay. I thought it would be a perfect place.”

But is it perfect for an art walk? After all, there are just two art venues in town, with ESMoA seldom focused on local artists and Socrates’ own display capabilities quite limited.

Socrates has an answer for that. “There are lots of cool, creative businesses and spaces in town, a lot of interesting things going on down here but not directly related to fine art.”

Her initial thought, Socrates says, was for a kind of tour through these diverse businesses that people “would normally not walk into, because it’s not particularly a retail space that you would walk into. Then somebody suggested [placing] an artist in each one. So I’m curating artists to go into most of these venues that you’re walking into.”

“Untitled (Horse with No Name),” charcoal and coffee on canvas, by Holly Socrates

“Untitled (Horse with No Name),” charcoal and coffee on canvas, by Holly Socrates

She gives an example: “Maybe you wouldn’t normally tour a graphic designer’s office, but now there’s an artist showing inside, that’s working there. So you’ll walk through, and then you meet the graphic designer–and maybe next time you need something printed you’ll think about that person.

“I really wanted to bring more attention to the existing businesses here,” Socrates continues, “and so the art walk–in addition to having artists inside, and using these venues as kind of pop-up galleries–[encourages] each business to promote their business however they want to on that evening. Some will have live music and some will have refreshments.”

A surprise or two could be in store. The Copper Willow Paper Studio, over on Richmond Street, is offering a children’s workshop at this evening’s event, to impart the basics of printmaking. Also on Richmond Street, to the south, is the Old Town Music Hall with its Mighty Wurlitzer Pipe Organ. As Socrates says of the latter, “They’re like one of the best-kept secrets in L.A.”

Well, that’s fine and jim dandy, you’re thinking, but how do I find my way around?

Each of the participating businesses–24 last month, maybe 30 this time–will have maps on hand, or one can simply leave home prepared by going to Although the largest cluster of venues is on Richmond Street, between Holly and Grand, a few more can be found to the east in the Smoky Hollow district and on up to South Bay Customs and Smoky Hollow Studios on Penn and El Segundo Blvd. By foot that’s a bit of a trek, but there’s also a shuttle that can get people from one end of town to the other. See? They’re thinking of everything.

The map not only gives the location of each business, it tells which artist is featured there, indicates which venues offer live music, and pinpoints the location of the food trucks. By the way, the art walk benefits a local charity each month, and this time it’s Portraits of Hope.

“What also makes the El Segundo Art Walk unique,” Socrates says, “is that it was such a collaborative effort between business owners and artists,” with so many artists pitching in to get the concept off the ground and into reality. Socrates points out that artists aren’t required to pay a fee in order to be shown (as they often are in galleries), nor do they have to fork over a percentage of their sales: “They keep 100 percent of the profits for themselves.”

Some art walks across Los Angeles–and this is true for San Pedro’s First Thursday Art Walk–take place year-round, rain or shine, drought or earthquake. But not wanting the local venues to burn out or lose interest, Socrates envisions the El Segundo Art Walk to just take place during the summer months, when the days are longer and the weather is pleasant.

Cutting the ribbon for the inaugural El Segundo Art Walk, which took place on June 18. It’s also taking place tonight from 5 to 9 p.m. Photo by Chris Miller

Cutting the ribbon for the inaugural El Segundo Art Walk, which took place on June 18. It’s also taking place tonight from 5 to 9 p.m. Photo by Chris Miller

The Socratic method

Now, what about Holly Socrates herself? Where did she come from?

“I’m originally from Maryland,” she replies. “I went to college in Florida and studied Fine Art and Advertising, [with] a minor in Graphic Design. I thought I’d end up designing soap packages or something.”

Twenty years have passed since Socrates moved to the South Bay.

“When I moved out to California,” she says, “I ended up working in the fashion industry for ten years. Got married, started a family, and–choosing to stay home with my family–art sort of became my creative outlet that I could work on and sell at my discretion as opposed to having to be somewhere 9 to 5.

Damian Fulton creating a mural at Tyler Surfboards on Grand Avenue. Photo by Chris Miller.

Damian Fulton creating a mural at Tyler Surfboards on Grand Avenue. Photo by Chris Miller.

“It was a really nice part-time fit, and then as my children have grown, my business grew. Starting in the fall, my children are both going to be in grade school all day,” which means that Socrates can “use those hours to be in the gallery. So it kind of has naturally grown together.”

Her own work? The series currently on display, “Surf & Turf,” through Oct. 31, was inspired by land and sea, and Socrates herself stresses the serene nature of her work (quiet tones abound), which includes painting, drawing, and block prints. On some of her large charcoal drawings she adds coffee stains to presumably give the impression of works created with urgency and deep concentration, fueled by the frenzy of caffeine.

As for El Segundo, it’s always been somewhat of a sleepy town, hemmed in by the Chevron refinery to the south and the airport to the north. What happens if it brings too much attention to itself and the real estate market goes through the roof?

“I would love for it to keep its integrity, the charm and small-town feel,” Socrates says. “I feel there’s a strong desire for that within the community.” On the other hand, she’d like to see more walk-through traffic and a greater visibility for the stores, shops, and restaurants already in place. Thus the need for and importance of an art walk that highlights the neighborhood. “So, can we keep the integrity of the small-town feel and just get more exposure to these amazing, existing businesses here?”

Whatever future awaits the city itself, Holly Socrates is doing her part to bring the artistic, creative, and business communities closer together.

The El Segundo Art Walk takes place this evening, Thursday, July 16, and also Thursday, August 20, from 5 to 9 p.m., throughout downtown and Smoky Hollow. Details aplenty at


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Written by: Bondo Wyszpolski

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