Meet Joanie Del Santo, the Model and Creative Who Brought LA’s Other People’s Children Pop Up to Life

When I arrive at a coffee shop in Silver Lake on a rare rainy Thursday to interview Joanie Del Santo, the LA-based model, stylist, and co-curator behind Other People’s Children, an experimental creative collective that aims to empower emerging LA artists, I admit I don’t really know what to expect. Their debut art pop up, which runs through mid-April, loosely functions as an art exhibit meets concept store, featuring work from fourteen artists and six designers, bringing a gritty and unfiltered DIY sensibility to their swanky location on Melrose, one of LA’s most well-known shopping destinations, skillfully merging the underground with the mainstream and giving young artists a unique opportunity for exposure. The promo video for the exhibit, which Joanie creative directed, is a thrilling two minute snippet of the artists covering themselves and each other in paint, rolling around on the floor in slow motion, their faces smeared kaleidoscopes of primary color. Set to the repetitive tune of Pop Goes The Weasel, which lends the feeling of a creepy ice cream truck circling the neighborhood, the video is bizarre and unsettling and entirely unselfconscious, documenting a bold energy and fearless freakiness. It feels rare and raw and refreshing. My first thought upon watching it was, “What did I just experience?” My second was, “I need to see that again.”

Decked out flawlessly in a long, furry powder blue coat and slashes of blue eye shadow while the rest of us are slumping around in our rain clothes, Joanie laughingly explains that a lot of people have had trouble understanding the concept at first. The brainchild of Jesse Simon, Taj Alwan and Blair Green, Other People’s Children aims to serve the underground fashion, art, and music scenes by connecting the three in a way that promotes community, allows rising voices to be heard, and remains rooted in a genuine desire to give back.

The trio tapped the vibrant duo of Joanie and model/menswear designer David Friend to co-curate the daring mixed media debut show, which includes everything from painting to photography to sculpture to immersive experiences, rounded out by live music performances and a pop up shop. Armed with a thoughtful wisdom beyond her years and an infectious lust for life, speaking eloquently and excitedly about everything from her vintage clothing shop to Joan Didion to ghost sightings, it’s not hard to see why the multi-hyphenate Joanie is rapidly becoming a rising star on the LA creative scene. Her fearless and playful sense of style, enthusiastic eye for creativity, and unparalleled appreciation for authenticity make her quite the woman to watch. We chat about her love of old school LA institutions, how her styling career evolved out of her tendency to “dress weird,” and why, as a curator, she feels it’s important for artists to have no restraints.

Q&A

Live FAST Mag: Hi Joanie! Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.

Joanie del Santo: I started modeling when I was 17. I just switched over to LA Models and it was the best decision of my life. They just foster every part of you, so it’s not just about the modeling. I also style, and I have a vintage store online. I’m basically a hoarder and I accumulate so much good vintage traveling and modeling. Probably two weeks after I signed with LA Models, I told them I had had a few offers to curate stores in LA and they were like, “We actually have this concept we’ve been working on for a long time called Other People’s Children, and we would love for you to curate it for us.” And I totally just fell in love with the concept.

LF: So what is the concept? I was drawn to Other People’s Children because it seemed like this underground creative collective that feels kind of punk but also exists on a bougie shopping street. Correct me if that’s wrong.

JDS: No, that’s totally right. When they told me about the concept, Jesse [Simon], who kind of heads up this whole situation, was like, “I’m a straight white guy in fashion and my whole life, my friends have made fun of me and asked me, ‘What do you even do for work?'” He would be like, “I manage other people’s children.” So our concept kind of comes out of that in that we support the grand scale of other people’s kids. Especially right now, in this tumultuous and political time in our country, everyone is so torn apart and divided by race, gender, and politics. I just don’t feel like people feel united or supported. So I was really stoked to get on board and bring together all of these different people in a city that I grew up in and love. We host art, fashion, and music. Whenever we do events or have art shows, we have local bands play. I’m super into all three – art, fashion, and music – so it was cool to bring them all together. That’s not really done, ever.

LF: And the collective consists of LA-based creatives?

JDS: It’s all LA-based. We’re just supporting all these young kids who wouldn’t necessarily have an opportunity to be in a gallery at this point in their careers. They’re all super talented, but you know how galleries are. You’re definitely not going to have your work shown on Melrose if you’re just starting out. All the artists are pretty excited about that.

LF: So this is the collective’s debut art exhibit?

JDS: Yeah, and it’s a pop up. It’s up until mid-April. We brought in 14 artists and we had three bands play and we have six different local designers showing in the space who haven’t really shown anywhere else except their garages. We just had our first launch party and it was crazy. It was like ten minutes before everyone got there and I was picking up a drill to keep drilling holes in the wall.

LF: That’s pretty punk.

JDS: Honestly, there were aspects of it that were super punk. We had stuff duct taped to the wall. There was a mosh pit. It was super DIY.

LF: It sounds like you really tapped into that DIY sensibility. Why were you compelled to create this space where artists could get weird and messy and just lose control a little bit? 

JDS: I think right now everybody is so politically correct and scared and sensitive to what everyone else is sensitive to – it’s a weird time. I don’t really think that is healthy for the human mind. I really wanted to create a space where people could just say whatever they want – obviously, to a limit – and do what they want and not feel like there were any restraints. We tried to convey that feeling to the artists and to the bands and everyone involved as much as we could. I would approach every artist and be like, “We love what you typically do but you don’t necessarily have to do that. If you want to go out on a limb and produce something you’ve never done before, we’re happy to show that.”

LF: How did you approach choosing the artists? Was there any sort of overarching theme for the show?

JDS: We totally didn’t have a theme. Basically when David [Friend, the show’s co-curator] and I were approached to do the project, we got together and racked our minds and put together a list of people who are groundbreaking in the way that they’re sharing art. Like Sasha Frolova – she did this portrait series called “Bust” and it’s all women that she photographed in front of a painted backdrop and all their nipples are photoshopped out, which is kind of an ode to the censored political culture we live in. Everybody did their own “stick it to the man” type situation even though there was no theme.

LF: I feel like that kind of freedom is rare in art exhibits.

JDS: I think it’s really important, especially for artists, to not have restraints. I don’t think it’s healthy for people to tell you what to create, because that’s your artistic expression. When we were thinking about it, we were just kind of thinking of emerging artists who hadn’t really shown in galleries yet. Tali [Lennox] and Frances [Bean Cobain] had shown in galleries prior but I think those are the only two that had. Oh and Sarah Wilson! She made this insane chair. It’s like a ten foot chair and we chained it to the ceiling. Incredible. Something that David really wanted to do was to mix mediums. So the show has photography – Daria Kobayashi Ritch did an amazing print – along with paintings and sculptures. Matthew R. Cook did an incredible ode to the gun violence situation we have in the country. It’s so moving. As a concept, we really wanted to support society and every artist put in a piece that supported some kind of thought. I feel like people don’t really critically think anymore and I would say all of the pieces caused people to think.

LF: That’s so telling about what’s at the forefront of people’s mind, since there was no theme yet all the pieces seem connected thematically.

JDS: There’s also immersive pieces. We’re in the old Helmut Lang space and because we’re a pop up, we didn’t want to do too much to the interior because we’re leaving, so we turned the dressing rooms into these cool cubbies for the artists. Tucker Tripp made his cubby into a motel room ambiance – he set up a shitty little night stand and a weird TV which was playing one of his films and then he tacked up all these photos he had taken over the years on the wall. We’re going to keep having events with music and we’re going to show another round of artists – more immersive art, like 3D art – before the end of April.

LF: Community and giving back also seems to be a driving force behind OPC. Tell me a little bit about that.

JDS: We’re partnered with Known Supply. They’re known as the most human brand because they stitch the name of every person who actually touches your garment inside it so you know this is from a real person who’s getting paid a fair wage. We partnered with them to make shirts that say Other People’s Children. The proceeds of the t-shirt sale are going to an LA based charity called Urban Possibilities, that helps homeless people prepare for life beyond homelessness. We’re hoping to do a lot more with charity in the future.

On that note, we feel lucky to have stumbled into a lease situation with somebody who was just as stoked as we are to give back to the community and support kids. We don’t take a 50/50 commission from our artists which is what most galleries and stores do. We actually take a significantly lower commission, because it’s in our mission statement to foster emerging artists, and it’s not really doing that if you’re taking 50% of someone’s money to show them in a space.

LF: I was surprised at the location. Why Melrose? It’s a really interesting spot for such an edgy show. 

JDS: It kind of bit us in the butt a little bit because the concept doesn’t necessarily translate to that side of town. The art and the clothing have a little more of an east side vibe. It’s cool but it’s hard to get people to come in. Everyone goes into DASH and walks right past us. We’re working on that.

The commercial real estate company has been super supportive since there is a need to build up the neighborhood in a new way and inject a bit of culture to the area. We’ve had so many cool ideas, like art classes on Sundays where the artists who are debuting their work teach little kids how to do similar art, but you need funding for that and we’re totally self-funded.

LF: So this is kind of like a passion project for you guys?

JDS: This is totally a passion project. Because we’re really not trying to make money off of the artists, we don’t have a lot of money to put towards it yet. But, we’re still a baby – we just launched two weeks ago.

LF: What about long term goals, both for you and for Other People’s Children?

JDS: I’m definitely going to keep curating, hopefully with OPC, but if not I’m going to do my own thing. The ultimate idea for OPC was that it would be a pop up and go to other cities and do the same thing in other cities as it’s doing in LA. That’s the long term goal.

LF: I noticed that a lot of the artists are also models.

JDS: Yeah, that kind of came naturally. A big thing for Jesse – and OPC is really his baby – is that he wanted to show the world that models are more than just models. You don’t get skill or personality from a photo – it’s just a face and a body. I feel like now people are starting to cast kids that do more than just have a pretty face which is awesome, but there hasn’t really been a place in fashion to support industry people who also do other things, which is really important.

A key word for this whole project is sincerity – the project in itself is sincere. Jesse, the brains behind it all, is super sincere. Everyone involved is sincere, which is why it’s probably going to fail. Just kidding! Which is why, hopefully, it will succeed. It was definitely a struggle because it was self-funded but it ended up working out because we didn’t have a boss man that we had to please. We could do what we want.

LF: One of the things I liked about this project was that it merges the high brow fashion world with this low brow DIY punk scene. What are your thoughts on the LA art scene and where it’s going?

JDS: You can tell there’s a defined art scene in New York. In LA, there really isn’t. It’s really blossoming into something beautiful. LA is just busting with amazing artists and thanks to social media, all these artists are getting the recognition that they deserve. It doesn’t really feel competitive here – it feels like the more, the merrier. LA in general is pretty laid back, and I think the art scene reflects that.

LF: There’s also a lot of space. It feels like there’s room to have a weird show or take a chance on somebody.

JDS: It’s so important to take chances on things. Walt Disney took a chance on Disneyland! I’m such a dreamer. I’m all in. My dream situation, whether I do this with OPC or on my own, is to get funding from brands and give an artist $5000 dollars and three rooms and tell them to just do whatever they want. There’s such a weird distribution of wealth in this country and for people or companies who have a lot of it, I think it’s important to sink that money into art because it makes people happy. My dream is to be able to commission artists without restrictions.

LF: It’s really the only good thing we have going for us as a society, that we make cool things. So you’re a model, stylist, curator, art director, and you run an online designer vintage shop. Tell me a little bit about how you came into all these different jobs?

JDS: I got scouted at 16 and started modeling from there. I started styling because I dress really weird. I dress so out there and people are always commenting on my style. My friends would ask me to pick out outfits for dates and events and then I was like, “Wait, I really like this.” As a model, they put clothes on you and you’re just like their doll, and I didn’t really feel like a creative being just doing that. At first I just styled friends for events and then it turned into photo shoots and commercials and music videos. I really like doing it. You’re born with your face and body and you can wear makeup and stuff but your outfits are the only way you’re able to uniquely construe who you are without words. I always try to bend the limits a little bit and do weird things. Like, I think it’s probably embarrassing for my friends, but I go out in full costume sometimes. I think clothes are costumes so you might as well blur the lines. I think that’s why people hire me, because I dress so crazy. I can always take it further.

LF: How would you describe your personal style?

JDS: I love anime and Japanese culture, so as much as I can look like an anime character, that’s my vibe. I also love Western culture, like I love rodeo garb and I’m a total fake cowgirl. I wear cowboy hats to things and people are like, “You don’t ride horses.” I’m like, “Yeah, it’s called style.” My vintage store, Saint Liberata, emerged because its really hard to dress uniquely when everyone is wearing the same things and shopping at the same places. So the main shtick of my store is wear things that tell a story. Fashion is made to appeal to the masses so the only way you can really dress uniquely is by wearing vintage.

LF: And you have vintage pieces in the OPC pop up?

JDS: Yeah, I do. I have some killer stuff. I’m selling stuff I never thought I would want to sell. I marked them really high because I still kind of don’t want to sell them, like this haute couture denim dress from 2003 that Christina Aguilera wore once…

LF: Who or what inspires you?

JDS: This is so random but you know who inspires me? JK Rowling and Joan Didion. I think they’re both just badass bitches. I’m a super nerd and I love to read. I just finished Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking. I thought it was such a beautiful way to capture loss in general, whether it be death or identity loss or a job or a lover or a friendship. The most interesting thing to me was that in the 1800’s, we dealt with grief so much better than we do now.

JK Rowling is amazing because she literally wrote Harry Potter on napkins. And she was homeless! She just has such a beautiful imagination.

LF: You were born and raised in Pasadena. What’s your favorite thing about LA?

JDS: LA is so weird because everyone is trying to gain something from the city. I really like the parks here. I like to picnic and lay in parks and read books. My favorite park in LA is Lacy Park in San Marino. It’s kind of like a mini Central Park. It’s old timey, which doesn’t really exist anymore. The other thing I love about LA is the diners and the weird old restaurants that exist from the 40’s and 50’s. I also love ghosts and I think that LA has the most ideal ghost history.

LF: What’s a hidden talent or something we wouldn’t guess about you by looking?

JDS: I used to tour around the United States playing piano when I was four years old. I started playing when I was three. I would play Mozart and stuff. I’ve actually totally lost all my skills but I’m re-learning piano because I’m joining a band.

LF: How fast do you live?

JDS: I live so slow. I’m all about the 1950’s style of living. I like a slow-paced life, reading books in parks and going to old school joints. If you live too fast, you stop enjoying the little things.

Catch Other People’s Children at 8382 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA, through mid-April. Follow along here: @otherpeopleschildren.

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