Rock Rose Gallery is an ‘incubator’ for art and community engagement

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Rock Rose
The front entrance of the Rock Rose Gallery in Highland Park, Los Angeles, CA. Nov. 10, 2022. Anna Beatty/The Occidental

Opened in 2000 on North Figueroa Street, Rock Rose Gallery — an “arts incubator,” according to owner Rosamaria Marquez — is a gallery and event space focused on community engagement and outreach. Rock Rose is part of the Arroyo Arts Collective and is supported by the Inner City Cultural Center, a multicultural theater to which Marquez is a board member. The store consists of two parts: one half contains vintage folk art from Mexico and Central America, which Marquez bought from The Folk Tree after its owner, Rocky Behr, passed away. The other is a gallery and performance space where most of Rock Rose’s events take place.

A first-generation Chicana, Marquez said she found her way as a visual and performing artist in LA in the 1970s. According to Marquez, she was a puppeteer on the Emmy-nominated children’s show “Angie’s Garage” and played several other roles in public television. Although her TV career is now over, Marquez says Rock Rose has been her way of staying involved with the arts.

“I decided that I would do the work I do in a smaller space that the community could access and benefit from,” Marquez said. “My work throughout my career has been art, culture and community. Always. It’s never been for profit. Even when I did work, it was always public affairs television, community theater — everything was about art, culture and community.”

Rock Rose has hosted Sunday jazz nights, jewelry-making workshops for children and book signings with authors such as Vibiana Aparicio-Chamberlin.

“Musicians wanted to use the space to rehearse their jazz, and I said, ‘You can rehearse your jazz if the community can come and listen,’” Marquez said. “If I give it for free, then they have to allow me to share it with the community.”

Rock Rose
The front entrance of the Rock Rose Gallery in Highland Park, Los Angeles, CA. Nov. 10, 2022. Anna Beatty/The Occidental

According to Marquez, Rock Rose was also the site of Highland Park Neighborhood Council meetings in the early 2000s. She met longtime friend and collaborator Carmela Gomes through their involvement in the council. Gomes, a retired teacher and former Lummis Day board member, said Marquez’s generosity and commitment to Highland Park have made her an important role model in the community.

“When there’s nobody else thinking of it, she is. Now that’s art in action,” Gomes said. “She makes me think very deeply about anything I do. ‘What would Rosamaria do? How would she manage?’”

An educator herself, Gomes is familiar with how art can open up possibilities for students.

“Education isn’t only reading, writing, arithmetic and history,” Gomes said. “All of that came about because there was the arts that link it all.”

Marquez said she created an internship program six years ago, taking in students from local high schools and pairing them with professional artists to help them prepare and break down events. According to Marquez, her interns have been able to contribute to the Grand Park Día de los Muertos ofrendas, Joe Bravo’s “Water is Life” mural, the Arroyo Art Collective’s Shade in LA event and more. Currently, the interns spend three days a week at Rock Rose and assist Bravo in painting the mural once a week.

Marquez said the goal is to provide opportunities for her interns to learn, create and experiment with new passions.

“These young people are learning and they’re being exposed,” Marquez said. “Going to help with the mural, they may find that they really like it, and they get it and figure, ‘Yeah, I can do that.’”

Her current interns, three seniors at Academia Avance Charter School, said working at Rock Rose has taught them valuable lessons beyond just art. Intern Roxana Roque said her responsibilities at Rock Rose have helped her build important life skills.

“Professionalism,” Roque said. “Being organized too. [Rosamaria] has a lot to take care of, so time management and making sure she knows where everything is at [is important].

According to Edd Melendez, the longest-tenured intern at Rock Rose, his time working there also taught him an unexpected lesson.

“One thing I really learned was patience,” Melendez said. “Art takes a lot of time and you have to understand that not everything is going to be done immediately.”

Although running Rock Rose is a difficult job, Marquez said it is still rewarding.

“I feel like I landed in the right place,” she said. “I think I’m achieving what I started off to do — expose the arts to our community… We’re making greater LA a better place because of what we have here.”

Although Rock Rose is currently closed, Marquez said she plans on opening it up, letting people purchase books and art and participate in community art sessions.

Contact Oliver Otake at ootake@oxy.edu