News and Events
by Jovie Baclayon
It’s easy for passersby to miss the M. Hanks Gallery hidden among the liveliness and crowded streets of Santa Monica, California. But as art appreciators and curious wanderers know, inside the space awaits a cultural, historical and artistic treasure at oldest African-American owned art gallery operating in Los Angeles.
What they may not know is that the gallery is owned by Pepperdine alumnus Eric Hanks, a computer consultant turned gallery owner and dedicated philanthropist. At the gallery’s annual fundraiser in January 2005, Hanks raised more than $33,000 for the African American Experience Fund, which oversees 18 sites of historical and cultural importance to African Americans, including the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom and the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. In the past, the gallery raised money to benefit the Hello Friend/Ennis William Cosby Foundation, dedicated to helping children with learning disabilities, and the Santa Monica Gym, which gives scholarships to college-bound African Americans.
Hanks opened the gallery in 1988 after learning about the history of difficulty Black artists had in showing their art to the masses. His interest in art was cultivated by his older sister who began collecting African American art with her husband while Hanks was young. “I used to meet some of the artists and hear them complain about the lack of opportunities just because they were Black. So originally, my desire to be an entrepreneur was combined with the desire to fill that gap in the art world, and to have a respectable place that showed Black art for people of all races to enjoy,” explains Hanks who was born in Washington, D.C., and raised in Maryland.
To hone in on the entrepreneur within, Hanks applied to the MBA Program at Pepperdine’s Graduate School of Business Management and graduated in 1992. “Completing the MBA program at Pepperdine helped me out because a lot of the projects I worked on in school was related to the gallery. I was able to get valuable feedback and practice,” he says. In 1988, he unveiled the M. Hanks Gallery. The “M” is a tribute to his eldest daughter, Monica, who was 5 years old when the gallery opened. Word spread fast about the gallery, thanks to the prominence its first exhibition of works by a well-respected African American painter Elizabeth Catlett.
One of Hanks’ goals is to be a center for education and acceptance. “There’s so much snobbery in the art world and it tends to build a wall between the average person and the artwork itself. Our philosophy is just the opposite: we try to make people feel as comfortable and relaxed and hope we can bridge that gap,” says Hanks who also teaches seven classes at his gallery, including How to Collect Art, Appreciating Abstract Art, Subliminals in Art and African American Art. “People of every ethnic background come to the gallery to admire the work and also invest in the work. We’re very happy about that because we think one of the ways we can all get along better, is by understanding each other a bit better.”
The April exhibit is titled, “Tomorrow’s Masters” and will feature up-and-coming, young artists, many who are from Los Angeles. In addition to the exhibits and classes, the gallery also hosts discussions, guided tours, and poetry readings, which are all open to the public at no charge. The M. Hanks Gallery is open Wed. through Sat. from noon to 6 p.m. and by appointment. A full schedule of upcoming events can be found on the M. Hanks Gallery Web site.