The Long Beach Museum of Art (LBMA) merged with the former Art Exchange this summer to create the new LBMAx. The merger was a unanimous decision by the museum board, according to LBMA and LBMAx Executive Director Ron Nelson.


LBMAx, formerly known as the Art Exchange, is a collection of four connected, historic buildings located at 356 E. 3rd St. in the East Village Arts District. It includes a second-floor office space as well as multiple studios for its artists in residence to use, along with a gallery space on the first floor.

Long Beach Museum of Art and LBMAx Executive Director Ron Nelson stands alongside the current art exhibition at LBMAx, “Practice and Pedagogy.” The exhibition features work from studio art faculty at Long Beach City College (LBCC). Pictured paintings are by Carolyn Castano, LBCC assistant professor of drawing and painting. (Photograph by the Business Journal’s Brandon Richardson)


Boardmembers from the Art Exchange joined the LBMA board for the merger. The full board will hold its future meetings at LBMAx, which now functions as one of the museum’s departments and as its downtown campus. The newly-formed LBMAx also adopted the artists in residence from the Art Exchange and will continue to provide studio space for them.


“What I want to do is, number one, bring this [institution] to a place that everybody in the city would be proud to have,” Nelson said.


Nelson intends to position LBMAx as a transitional space providing the opportunity for local artists to reach their goal of presenting a museum exhibition. He noted that resident artists Shay Bredimus and John Sonsini have both graduated to showing their work at the Long Beach Museum of Art. Bredimus is an artist and tattooist whose recent collection of tarot card art was displayed at the museum this past May. Sonsini will present his collection of paintings, inspired by Latino day laborers in Los Angeles, called “Daywork: Portraits” this October.


“[The artists] need that jump to a museum, and some are just not ready,” Nelson said. “Some just need a show in a space such as this that’s going to push [them] to go further. Being able to have artist studios here, and to be able to have artists in residence, to me, is something we’ve been lacking in the city, and my intention is to fill that hole.”


Nelson wanted to make sure the space would be a great contribution to the liveliness of the downtown and East Village communities. “I am trying to make it [an attraction] for anybody coming in from out of town, anybody in the hotels for the convention center and anybody who’s here [in the city],” he said. “I really want this place to be seen as the gem that it can be.”


LBMAx is located on the same block as the planned Broadway Block development by Ratkovich Properties, which is set to commence construction in 2019. The development will include a 21-story residential tower west of the LBMAx building. Nelson said Ratkovich granted the deed for the former Art Exchange building to the museum.


“Downtown is going to be transformed within the next five and 10 years. It’s going to be a completely different place,” he said. “And we really want to be a part of making it special and being part of that growth.”


Nelson plans to add to the facade of the LBMAx building by extending the windows to the floor and adding a perforated, black-steel screen to enhance the uniquely designed windows already in place at the top edge of the building.


A sole donor, Josephine Molina, was instrumental in making these improvements possible. “I’m really thrilled to have funding to make this possible by a single person,” Nelson said. “And Josephine is truly a philanthropist to the arts.”


Molina is the daughter of David Molina, who founded health care company Molina Healthcare. She is the founder of the RuMBa Foundation, which works to make the arts accessible to students in Long Beach. Molina agreed to donating about $500,000 to bring the vision of the new LBMAx to life through her RuMBa Foundation, according to Nelson.


LBMAx routinely features exhibitions in its gallery space. Its current exhibition is “Practice and Pedagogy,” on display through October 28. The selection of art features work by full-time faculty members from the media arts department at Long Beach City College.


LBMAx is free to the public. The downtown campus is open Thursday and Friday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Every second Saturday of the month, LBMAx participates in the Second Saturday Art Walk in the East Village Arts District and stays open an additional two hours, until 9 p.m.


Nelson plans to institute a free educational program for local students at LBMAx similar to those offered at the Long Beach Museum of Art. The museum’s free KidsVisions program, for example, allows 5th graders from the Long Beach Unified School District to visit the museum.


Along with educational programs, LBMAx will also become the main headquarters for the team behind the mural festival POW! WOW! Long Beach during next year’s festival. The week-long summer festival gathers people to celebrate art through mural paintings and street art events.


Nelson’s overall vision for LBMAx is to present exciting, thought-provoking and creative exhibitions, and to improve the design and aesthetics of the exterior of the building.