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Mercado La Paloma, an economic development project of Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, is a non-profit community marketplace in South Central Los Angeles that provides space for emerging entrepreneurs specializing in culinary, homemade, handmade and cultural items.

Mercado La Paloma is working to be the go-to place to explore and experience the indigenous cultures of the diverse residents of South Los Angeles and their present day manifestations within and outside their countries of origin. A different cultural group will be celebrated every other month, through fixed media exhibits, film screenings, music performances, dance, workshops, cooking classes, tastings and lectures.

ArtPlace spoke with Damon Turner, Art & Cultural Programming Coordinator about their ArtPlace project.

ArtPlace: What has been the thorniest issue you’ve faced to date?

Damon: Mercado is a unique space; it is an economic development project that was created to revitalize the community with small business opportunities for local residents. Within our space we house six restaurants and five non-food businesses that are each occupied by individual vendors. We partner with the vendors to host each cultural event and/or performance. These partnerships represent our thorniest issue; we have experienced resistance from some of our vendors in planning some of our cultural events that bring in new vendors.

Our permanent vendors have a leased space within the Mercado and they resist new one-day event vendors coming into the Mercado with goods that compete with their products. We do screen vendors coming to events, but there was a vendor at a previous event in 2011 that caused some problems with the already established vendors. Therefore, with a sour taste in some of their mouths because of a mismanaged partnership that brought in ill-advised vendors for our Dia De Los Muertos event, the thorn in our side has been how do we navigate and gain the trust of the vendors that we can successfully bring in outside vendors who will help bring in new patrons and not be in direct competition.

We are faced with the challenge of how do we meet the needs of our leased vendors with our one-day event vendors while bringing in new visitors to create a broader more diverse regular visitors.

ArtPlace: How have you dealt with it?

Damon: This year for our Holiday Marketplace, we were very attentive to the disdain of the Mercado vendors and produced a marketplace that was tasteful and authoritative. Our biggest job was to make sure there were no outside vendors who sold the same merchandise that our in-house vendors sold. During our debrief session following the Holiday Marketplace, the vendors said it was one of the best events they had seen in the Mercado.

The fact that our vendors saw us really making sure one day event vendors complied to our rules and regulations really resonated with the vendors and made an impact on the perception of the event and has helped us repair our relationship with our vendors. Although they still are skeptical of bringing in outside vendors we are taking steps towards maintaining a harmonious space where we can maximize the usage of the space and create more spaces that attract new visitors into the Mercado.

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