Right before we spoke, Jacques de Beaufort had just read, for the first time, the amusing and somewhat accurate phrase: "D.C. is L.A. for ugly people."
This particularly struck a chord with the brains and brawn behind Lake Worth's most daring art space, Unit 1. Starting out in the District, de Beaufort came to South Florida in 2010 after attending grad school at CalArts outside Los Angeles. "You could be at a party," he said, describing the similarity between the two cities, the hip and very not hip, "and people are looking over your shoulder trying to find out who's more important to talk to."
After taking a full-time position at Palm Beach State College, it was clear that the pretension de Beaufort was familiar with had no place around these parts. But quality art was also not easy to find.
"When I came out here, I quickly understood that there wasn't a scene like there is in Los Angeles," he says now. "It feels like a cultural wasteland in many ways, but there are so many great things about South Florida. Maybe one of them is that it's not so ruthless as Los Angeles and New York are, and people will actually talk to you. People look at art, and some of them can actually see the art and hear the music rather than always seeing it as how valuable it is in some sort of 'hierarchy.' "
His students, though, cannot believe he moved here after going to school with pals like Ariel Pink and the Liars ("But there I go sounding like a Los Angeles person," the 39-year-old jokes). "I feel like you have to go to those places to see the true nature of the competitiveness. I'm not saying people aren't competitive here..." But de Beaufort believes that the camaraderie of those in the scene here has made it easier to start a mixed-use space like Unit 1.
Downstairs in the Lake Worth CRA's Urban Arts Lofts is the gallery area, fit for just about anything — it's hosted eight diverse, popular exhibitions and events, including a prisoner book drive and a relatively new music video series. Upstairs, he lives in a private residence.
Unit 1 received New Times' 2014 Best Alternative Art Space award. Although it was well-deserved, the honor blew him away. De Beaufort called it "gratifying," explaining that a year ago, it was just an idea. But with his boundless creative energy and talent for gathering people together, he excelled at the "often-thankless task" of creating a locus for a scene. Of course, it's his pleasure to take charge of this "experiment," as he calls it. "Any success we've had has just been fantastic. I don't know that we've had any disappointments or failures, because we didn't have expectations," he reveals.
After moving to town, he spent three years in Palm Beach Gardens, flexing his muscle as a videographer in his spare time and creating a feature, Sanctum and Sacrum. This talent for filmmaking came in handy when de Beaufort started making new friends. He shot videos for psych troupe Band in Heaven and most recently for Hollywood doo-wop-inspired group Beach Day. These bands include some of the regulars you'll see at a Unit 1 opening. So it didn't take too long before de Beaufort came up with the idea to add music videos to his art space's foray and calling it Unit 1 Sessions.
Soon, he'd created a special setup where local musicians perform live while de Beaufort and a small crew of volunteers, including Killmama's Rob Kingsley of Reel Tone Recordings, use lighting and sound expertise to create atmospheric music videos in this downstairs gallery. First up was Raggy Monster. It went so well, de Beaufort decided to do another.
"You need three groups of people: your musicians, videographers, and sound guy," he explained. And a lot can go wrong when wrangling musicians along with those elements. "It was definitely an ordeal the second time around, but it was ultimately a triumph." Some of the bands de Beaufort hadn't known about till they showed up for the Sessions shoot. One he now loves is Ketchy Shuby. "Jason [Joshua Hernandez-Rodriguez, singer] is a fucking riot. My mom has a crush on him." He also is a big fan of Mykal Morrison, whom many know as the door guy at Propaganda. "He's got an amazing voice," the artist gushed.
These acts are doing this for no pay but are getting free, highly produced videos. If they're good live, they've hit the jackpot with Sessions. "Our job was just not to fuck it up, not fuck up the camera angles, not fuck up the audio. Create a situation where the band could really amplify how great they are," de Beaufort said.
As an offshoot to this hybrid project, de Beaufort is hosting another exhibition that again combines art and music: "Art by Musicians." It includes works both by people who actually make visual art and music and musicians who have no background in the visual arts. This comes only weeks after the musician/artist-curated exhibition "Echos Myron" at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, which was a big hit opening night. "Art by Musicians" is a little different; the space is independently run and, well, like we mentioned, it will show works by people who had never previously taken pen to paper.
Experienced artists showing at the exhibition include the Darling Sweets' Adam Sheetz, Hard Richards' Mathew Krug, and Beach Day's Kimmy Drake; there are some emerging talents like Band in Heaven's Ates Isildak and David Barnard of Sweet Bronco and Celebrator.
De Beaufort wrote in a news release, "The willingness to try something new, the vulnerability of that exploration, and the general spirit of creativity is what will make this show one you don't want to miss." He's also excited to bring these great creative minds together in a gallery setting, away from the seedy stink of bars. "Let's get these dirty rockers some culture!" he proclaims.
As far as the future of Unit 1, it seems there's no stopping de Beaufort from doing what he wants as long as he wants to do it. Though he wonders how far his project space will progress without the support of a much larger scene, it doesn't matter entirely because, as he pointed out wisely, "The act is the reward. Enabling things to happen is enough."