Showbiz Exec's Immersive L.A. Art Show 'Bright' Mixes Media, Performance and Cocktails

Romain Yurkeivich
Cocovan and "The World Letter"

Nat Geo Wild executive producer Max Benator, who makes his first foray into the art world with tonight's downtown L.A. opening, finds a respite from a city of creative compromise.

It’s not a pop-up, Max Benator assures anyone who asks about his new installation, Bright, at 584 San Mateo St. in L.A.’s downtown arts district, July 18 through Aug. 3. Instead, it is a site-specific art show happening on the other side of a door marked "employees only" in the back of shoemaker COMUNITYMade’s storefront. For art lovers, it's an immersive multimedia experience. For Benator, it's his first foray into the art world after a successful career as a film and TV executive.

"You make a lot of creative compromises at times, and all of that is good. I'm very happy for the career I've been fortunate enough to build for myself. But is there a way to focus on creativity for creativity’s sake?" asks Benator, who is best known as executive producer of Nat Geo Wild's Howie Mandel’s Animals Doing Things

"Can we put the business compromises out of it for a second and do something that makes the little kid who wanted to move out to L.A. giddy, versus going through hoops, like in my own personal journey with networks, studios, buyers, partners, agents and managers?" Benator continues. "That was the inspiration for Bright."

On the guest list for opening night are Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker star Matt Smith, Marvel Rising talent Milana Vayntrub, Victoria Asher from the band Cobra Starship, TV host Traci Stumpf, Anna Akana, Trent Culkin, Erin Darling, Anna Smith, designer Benjamin Shine, singer Casey Baer and internet personalities MatPat, Ry Doon and Rachel Levin. 

Once viewers are through the storefront, they will find pathways in Bright where there are no rules other than "do no harm." An immersive experience, it features a mix of traditional painting and photo works by people like Dutch photographer ("dreamweaver") Marcel Van Luit, Echo Park muralist Mambo, Belgian photographer and director Olivier H. Dressen, sculptor Mimi Haddon, designer Sallie Falls, digital artist Cedric Ih, self-described bad animator Danny Casale and YouTube star and fashion guru Alex Costa.

Also on hand will be Cocovan with The World Letter, the world's longest love letter at a length of over 1,500 feet, with messages from over 20,000 people from all corners of the globe — including, according to Benator, Mark Ruffalo. "Meet Coco, sign the letter and, for the first time ever, prints of the letter are available for purchase," he exclaims, ever the impresario.

Bright also offers a full bar and food trucks in the lot in back, with actors and dancers interspersed. "You can be looking at one piece of art or interacting with one particular installation and the lights will change and the music will change and something will happen," says Benator. "And that's what makes this really different than some of the pop-ups that have emerged."

Benator began his career in 2004 at UTA, working in international television packaging. Today, he serves as CEO of Mirus Content Works, an incubator for new entertainment businesses. In 2014 he founded Supergravity, a production company focusing on streaming content, which he sold in 2017 to Otter Media's Gunpowder & Sky (acquired by AT&T in 2018, Otter Media is now a subsidiary of WarnerMedia). In addition to holding a stake in Fine Brothers Entertainment (FBE), a multi-platform studio, Benator executive produced the indie film Rock Steady Row, which won the audience award and grand jury prize for best narrative feature at 2018's Slamdance Festival.

"I have found that with the restiveness of traditional development, sales and production, it's hard for me to find the kind of joy that I found when I was in my 20s," says the 38-year-old. Since focusing on episodic and streaming formats, he has noticed a striking resemblance between the new digital titans and the old studio moguls. 

"You still have these amazing communities on YouTube and Instagram, but the business model for those is very, very low-cost content and lots and lots of it," he explains. "If you want access to meaningful budgets, you have to look back toward traditional Hollywood, which Netflix is at this point, and Amazon, Hulu, very traditional gatekeepers, traditional distribution." 

Tickets for Bright start at $12 with a percentage of proceeds going to Film2Future, which offers low-income and diverse L.A. youth the skills and opportunities needed to enter the entertainment industry. Also benefiting is MusEffect, which uses dance as a catalyst for dialogue surrounding social issues. Bright is produced by Charlotte Voyer in partnership with Art Mafia, best known for the installation "Scoops Ahoy" in the third season of Stranger Things.