Who We Are
@WeAreDTLA is a marketing collective led by Melissa Richardson Banks and Edgar Varela. The duo specializes in projects, events, and campaigns aimed at those who work, live, and play in Downtown Los Angeles.
Melissa Richardson Banks has lived in Downtown Los Angeles since 1993, and is known for her long-time advocacy of DTLA and boosterism of people and places in the now-popular urban center. Through her firm CauseConnect, which she founded as a full-time business in 2001 after 9/11, she has produced successful corporate-nonprofit partnerships tied to cause marketing, raised over $45 million (since 1989), and provided professional services to numerous companies, charities and celebrities, including City National Bank, L.A. LIVE, Toyota Financial Services, Target Corporation, Cheech Marin, Melrose Trading Post, Los Angeles Education Partnership, Plaza de la Raza Cultural Center for the Arts & Education, and many more.
Previously, she worked for the Library Foundation of Los Angeles where she successfully started an inaugural corporate partnership program in support of the Los Angeles Public Library. She also spearheaded a new exhibitions program at Central Library, resulting in almost 30 museum-quality gallery shows featuring art, history, and photography for which she managed project teams, raised funding, and provided professional services such as sponsorship, marketing, community outreach, special events, volunteer engagement, contract negotiation, and budget management. She formerly worked at the Autry National Center where she launched an integrated marketing/sponsorship program to support over 30 exhibitions and associated educational programs plus other cultural events such as concerts and art fairs; and at Texas A&M University where she managed an international executive education program as well as administered and funded programs affiliated with statewide business-school partnerships. Prior to the nonprofit arena, she worked in corporate sales, marketing, and Hispanic market research. She holds a B.A. in journalism and communication studies from Texas State University and a master’s degree (and Ph.D. coursework) in educational administration with an emphasis on business and finance from Texas A&M University.
Edgar Varela is an independent cultural producer specializing in art, music, and cultural happenings with an emphasis on brand-driven events and event production. Art events produced by Varela include several with Art Weekend LA, which connected local art galleries with national art fairs; The Analog Salon art series sponsored by Epson in Culver City; and Phantom Galleries, which revitalizes and energizes communities and pedestrian thoroughfares by transforming unoccupied properties into art venues. Music events produced by Varela include the Homage concert series featuring artists such as Roy Ayers, Peter Rock, Robert Glasper Experiment, Quantic, Thundercat, Alice Russell, and Hypnotic Brass Ensemble; World Music Series featuring acts such as Jeremy Sole and his Musaics, Very Be Careful, La Santa Cecilia, Las Cafeteras, Buyepongo, Mr. Vallenato, Maleco Collective, and Mucho Musica. As a music consultant, he has programmed the stages and managed production for numerous large-scale events such as BloomfestLA (2009-2012) Target Feria de la Familia (2012-2013), and Downtown Dark Nights at L.A. LIVE (August 2014 to present). From 2006-2013, he owned and operated EVFA, a fine art gallery specializing in contemporary American art based in Downtown Los Angeles. Prior to working in the arts, he was a commercial real estate analyst for seven years. He has worked with Melissa on various projects since 2011.