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Local women launch La Jolla nonprofit to help struggling artists get paid for their creativity

Liv Johnson (left) and Kalli Legakes have started the Fully Expressed Foundation.
Liv Johnson (left) and Kalli Legakes have started the Fully Expressed Foundation to help struggling local artists get out of “survival mode” and get paid for their art.
(Courtesy)

Two local women have embarked on a La Jolla-based nonprofit organization aimed at helping struggling artists turn their creativity into full-time work.

Liv Johnson and Kalli Legakes, founders of the Fully Expressed Foundation, hope their Holiday Art Market on Saturday, Dec. 12, in La Jolla will accelerate the effort.

Johnson said “there’s an issue here with the youngest generation of artists” in La Jolla, many of whom work in jobs outside their artistic fields that barely cover their living expenses.

“They are struggling to survive,” she said. “They can’t break survival mode to focus on full expression” of their art and are “constantly stuck in this circle of trying to pay the bills. It’s hard to devote yourself to your craft and your passion in that situation.”

“Our foundation,” Johnson added, “is committed to paying people to do their craft. If we can cover survival mode — and that can be rent, transportation … we can allow for self-actualization in their passion. We will help build a business out, delineate exactly what they need to be successful.”

Fully Expressed works with local artists on building a business structure, Legakes said. For a lot of artists, “if we just hand them a check, we’re not confident they would get their work done,” she said.

She and Johnson “decided to create the structure and the foundation for them,” Legakes said. “We receive funds either from private donors or grant money and we create miniature grant programs for these creatives. At the end of the day, we’re not just giving money. You’re going to take this creative energy that you have, this gift that you were given, and you’re going to make it your full-time job. And we’re going to show you how to do that.

“We’re trying to retrain people to see their craft and their passion as a business. We want them to have a different mind-set for it.”

The Holiday Art Market from noon to 6 p.m. Dec. 12 at 1298 Prospect St. will feature a Christmas tree lighting, a visit from Santa Claus and food provided by Eddie V’s. At least 17 local artists will be selling and promoting their work, Johnson said.

The artists whom Fully Expressed is currently working with range from musicians to photographers to painters.

“Our life’s work has led to this,” La Jolla native Johnson said of the foundation, which officially launched Dec. 3.

“I’ve been an entrepreneur my whole life,” said Johnson, who started the bikini company Almost Nakey in 2013 while attending The Bishop’s School and transitioned from selling at the La Jolla Open Aire Market to a storefront on Prospect Street.

Johnson spent a few years working at GoFundMe as a member of the trust and safety team, “mitigating fraud and terrorism and content moderation, managing $200 million a month in campaign volume. So I’m familiar with the nonprofit space,” she said.

Legakes, who hails from the Imperial Valley but has lived in San Diego for 10 years, also is familiar with the nonprofit sector, starting a consulting business about five years ago “to find government funding for small nonprofits, cities, organizations, people that are looking for grant-based funding.”

Legakes said she also started nonprofits such as Tree San Diego and Imperial Valley Urban Forest. “I am more of the development and funding side; I’m a grant writer by trade,” she said. “My heart is in starting nonprofits and creating a new community of people in different areas of industry.”

Johnson said Fully Expressed wants to focus on La Jolla-based artists as a way to bolster the community’s population of creatives.

“La Jolla was at one point an artist village,” she said. “We don’t see La Jolla as a village as much as it used to be.”

Legakes said “we want to help create a community of artists that can uplift La Jolla. If we don’t do something to change how we’re approaching our artistic avenues, then we’re not going to be the next generation that actually makes things happen.”

The foundation builds conditions into its program, such as requiring a musician to teach music lessons at a local school.

“We want to create the structure where we train our artists and creatives to understand [they] can use [their] gift to make money and to give back to the community,” Legakes said. “That’s how we’re going to keep our generations creative moving forward — by giving back.”

For more information, visit fullyexpressedfoundation.com.