The Miami-based Art to Save Lives Contemporary gallery has an ambitious and inspirational dual mission: to promote art and support animal rescue. Helmed by Luba Kladienko-Ramirez, the gallery’s principal artist is JuanCarlos rLora, whose work Kladienko-Ramirez has been managing since she started.
With their shared passions for art and animals, the two have worked together to expand the gallery’s audience and connect with the local community with the aim to do as much good as possible. The gallery has undergone numerous evolutions and iterations, but always maintained a vision of creating “a global brand for good where culture and saving lives go hand in hand.”
We caught up with Kladienko-Ramirez to learn more about how this unique endeavor started, and what the next step is for Art to Save Lives Contemporary.
Can you tell us about your journey leading up to founding your gallery? How did you first become interested in the arts?
Once upon a time, there was a little girl who dreamed of being a gallerist… I’m kidding! That wasn’t the plan, everything just sort of fell into place.
My mother used to collect ceramics in Ukraine, so that was a big factor, as I would accompany her to visit galleries as a child. At that point I never imagined I’d wind up working in the field. It wasn’t until college when I encountered JuanCarlos rLora’s work that I found myself planning my next steps in terms of a career. After discovering JuanCarlos’ unique form of artistic expression, I found myself managing his work.
My plan was to call a few galleries and get the work in, but as happens to most people starting out, I kept getting “no.” I began to doubt myself, but then I found an opportunity to hang his work at an art fair in New York—and to our surprise the work sold better than expected!
Ultimately, I had a eureka moment: I looked at my bank account, did the math, and realized I had enough revenue from sales to secure my own space. I opened my first gallery at the end of 2006, and Art to Save Lives Contemporary came later with the rebrand we did eight years ago, where we paired our two passions: art and saving animals.
The gallery’s mission is centered on providing funding for your animal rescue. What inspired this, and has it changed or evolved since the gallery opened?
Although I’ve always had a passion for animals, having an actual rescue was never a plan. JuanCarlos was trained and mentored throughout his life by elder artists, so he didn’t attend art school— when we met, he was attending college for science and zoology.
The gallery was in a residential setting then, and JuanCarlos was volunteering as a surgical tech at a local shelter. As a gallery warming present he brought our first rescue kitten, Zoey. Then came Luna, our first canine rescue. Later, we found an abandoned puppy at a nearby dog park. We took her in and named her Nova (they all recently celebrated their 16th birthday!). Not long after, more litters of puppies and kitties found their way to our door—and even some birds and rodents too.
This is how we became the first gallery in the world that funds its own animal rescue! Recently, we’ve begun to collaborate with a local animal shelter and host adoptable animals at our exhibition openings. We debuted this new vision as “Puppy Basel” during Art Basel Miami Beach 2022.
Since you started, what are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned as a gallerist? Do you have any advice for those just starting out?
Everyone’s journey is unique and different, but I would say the number one lesson is celebrate and be proud of the good things that happen—but also take responsibility and learn from the mistakes. Try your best, keep getting back up, trust yourself and the path of your life will show itself.
JuanCarlos rLora is the gallery’s primary artist. Can you talk about his work?
JuanCarlos’ work begins with a story, and then the imagery and the series follow. This process takes him a long time, but he frequently produces exhibitions that are strung up by the underlying narrative, sometimes even weaving parallel stories together.
Right now, he’s exploring a new series from “Audrey’s Journey” (a little girl from a different dimension whose creativity allows her to build entire universes in our dimension and beyond).
“Audrey” was first created in 2003. JuanCarlos sketched her in his agenda to revisit later, once he completed all nine series from the previous “Flor del Sol” story, which took him 15 years to explore. The new work called “Audrey’s Mist” is looking amazing, the pieces feel as if a planet’s atmosphere is just being born or developed. I’m really excited about it.
Although I only represent one artist, and I do so because the work is so varied that—aside from the occasional “Easter eggs” he leaves as clues for the spectator to find—it’s almost impossible to recognize the “artist” from one series to the next.
Additionally, JuanCarlos’ work has almost entirely funded my animal rescue and all my gallery projects for the past 16 years, which has recently allowed me to open my doors and work with so many other talented people.
What’s next for the gallery?
Our goal has always been to have a sanctuary where we can house our animals and at the same time have our art space, so everyone who loves art can enjoy the animals and everyone who loves animals can be exposed to contemporary art.
The first step now is to hit the road and expand our brand awareness, meet new people, work on new projects, and enjoy the journey, which will in turn bring us to our sanctuary’s destination.
What do you think the role of art in society is today?
Art is reactive and frequently portrays society’s issues and ideals, so it is imperative we remain in some way immersed in it, whether you’re a spectator, creator, or exhibitor. I also believe art and culture as a whole should continue to be more accessible to the general public, and should continue to inspire creatives to push through the conventional parameters of people’s expectations as to what the art world is.
If you were not a gallerist, what would you be doing?
I’d probably have an animal rescue… oh wait, I already do! But in all seriousness, since I have an education in the arts, I’d like to think that I would still be in this field somehow.