LA gallery Junior High intertwines creativity and social activism

There are not many cultural institutions that offer art, concerts, yoga, comedy shows, and gardening classes under the same roof, but all that and more can be found at Faye Orlove’s Hollywood passion project, Junior High.

Story by Sam Falb


There are not many cultural institutions that offer art, concerts, yoga, comedy shows, and gardening classes under the same roof, but all that and more can be found at Faye Orlove’s Hollywood passion project, Junior High.

Catalyzed into creation on 5656 Hollywood Boulevard in 2016, the project came together with the help of Kickstarter, and the carefully detailed finance information and plans for the space included on the profile in Orlove’s signature genuine, energetic style.

“With your help, I want to host gallery shows, music events, comedy nights, and most importantly, community workshops like art classes and portfolio consultations for people of all ages,” said Orlowe during the funding campaign.

After exceeding fundraising goals and opening shop soon after, the space, dubbed Junior High, has seen those initial plans turn into a packed few years of productive programming. Events such as “Royal Blood”, a recent exhibition highlighting female skaters and hosted by queer skateboard photographer Zorah Olivia, and “Miss Representation”, an art show designed to subvert classically white-centric imagery by recreating it through a WOC lens, have since helped the non-profit attract curious local viewers and tens of thousands of social media followers online.

Outside of the gallery space, Orlove also maintains a directory on Junior High’s website entitled “Mapping LA”, a strong resource for mapping the female, queer, and POC-owned spaces in Los Angeles. A recently launched gallery-associated magazine, aptly named Junior High Mag, is her latest venture. Topics such as feminism, personal expression, and conversations with artists from underserved communities can be found in each quarterly issue.

With the myriad activities and goings-on happening at the gallery each week, the question begs as to who is Faye Orlove, and how has she created such a unique, colorful space?

The self-starting curator moved to Los Angeles from Boston about six years ago, and has developed her creative repertoire through working on music videos for Mitski, Downtown Boys, and Potty Mouth, co-creating webpaper “Fvck The Media”, and fine-tuning her own artistic skills in illustration and animation along the way. Through Junior High, she has worked tirelessly to promote marginalized voices and fledgling creatives with the outlet she has built.

What is your daily work schedule like? Is it more routine/flexible?

My daily schedule changes a bit, but I try to keep a routine/at least start and end every day the same. I usually drink coffee and read dumb celebrity news when I wake up. Feed the cats. Check emails. And then I get to work drawing or doing designs for my own brand or for clients. Lately I’ve been going into the Girlgaze offices to help out and I’ve been making tons of runs to my local printer to figure out logistics for Junior High Mag. I definitely thrive with routine, so even though my work varies so much, I try to keep consistency at the very least in how I wake up.

What do you hope people take away from their visit to Junior High?

I hope people feel welcome! Like they know they are in a space that values them, that prioritizes their safety, and that wants to listen to their thoughts and ideas.

The gallery resonates with people in a unique way. What is the secret to keeping your audiences engaged?

I’m curious YOUR thoughts on this! Do you think Junior High resonates? That means so much to me! I try to infuse enough of myself into the space that people know there are real humans behind it, but I don’t want to put too much of myself in where it feels like only my narrative is being included. There’s a tough balance between weird corporate entity and super-insular project. I’m glad to hear it’s working in some capacity!

One day last June [2017], I remember scrolling through my Instagram feed and seeing that HAIM would be performing at the space; I was blown away. How has Junior High been impacted by high-profile performers such as HAIM and Frankie Cosmos?

Oh man, yeah! HAIM was the best. Honestly, the space hasn’t been affected by “high profile” performers any more than “low-profile” ones, (laughs). I think I learn a LOT from everyone we work with. Even with HAIM, the event was a collaboration. Those girls work HARD. They have a team that helps, but they were there until midnight setting up with the rest of us, you know? So even though they have a ton of followers or whatever, the event mirrored most of the other ones. We voice ideas and listen to each other, and form an event that is representative of a shared ethos and shared vision. I think the biggest impact events are the ones that are really focused on community and showcasing voices that don’t have other spaces to exist. Then so many people come out to support because spaces that prioritize them are so few and far between.

Can you describe a moment (or the moment if it exists) in which you knew you had made the right choice in creating Junior High?

Yeah, I totally remember the moment. Early on, maybe a year into the space I only had one intern. And she was over at the shop hanging out with me for the day and their mom came to pick them up. And while my girl was turned away or something, her mom told me that they could see a real change in their daughter. That their kid was more confident. More vocal. I mean that was it, the only thing I’ve ever wanted. To help one young girl feel anything but the way I felt at that age. It’s the hardest thing in the world being a teen girl. I know you always hear people say like “if my music can touch one person, then it was all worth it!!!” and it seems so cheesy. But like, legit. I guess it’s true (laughs).

How was the gallery received when it first opened?

Ultimately, good. But there was definitely a learning curve. I think I wasn’t prioritizing artists of color enough right off the bat so people were rightly weary of Junior High being a white-feminist space. Now, not only do I make absolutely sure that the white voices aren’t overpowering, but I have different payout structures for events hosted by POC to guarantee that they are getting paid. Our events don’t generally have a payout guarantee due to the nature of running a non-profit space in an expensive city, but we make adjustments to make sure artists of color feel safe, welcome and prioritized.

Have you received criticism along your journey with the gallery?

Yeah. Definitely. But I really appreciate criticism. I like when people feel strong enough about the space that they can reach out and help me be better, ya know. It’s one thing to just dismiss me, but to receive actual criticism is kind of an honor. Aside from what I said before about when we first opened, we used to sell merchandise that was very cis-centric. A lot of “boobs” and “vagina”-type tchotchkes that can make trans folks feel ostracized or uncomfortable. That was a huge mistake. I still feel terrible about it. But I’m learning! And people who give me a second chance are like, the real heroes!

What advice would you give aspiring artists looking to make their own mark?

Work very hard. Nothing happens for you. If you are waiting for someone else to hand you a shop or a gig or a book deal, you’re gonna be waiting a long time. I literally hate people that aren’t self-motivated. LOL. This is advice for getting far in life and for being my friend.

If you weren’t running Junior High, what would you be interested in doing?

Hm, I’m doing 200 other things right now too so probably still all that. All the drawings and animations and design work! But outside of the design world completely I want to be a mom, a carpenter, and I want to be the next Rihanna. Wait no, I just want to be friends with Rihanna. But I can probably do that and do Junior High.

Interview conducted in May 2018