Friends practice their yoga poses while sipping on some beers at 18th Street Arts Center's BAM (Beer, Art, Music) Festival last year. This year's event takes place Oct. 6. (Photo courtesy 18th Street Arts Center.)

Seven years ago, before craft beer events were commonplace in Southern California, organizers at 18th Street Arts Center were brainstorming ways to bring people from around the region to Santa Monica for a fundraiser.

The nonprofit strongly prefered a casual community event to a high-priced gala, and Nicole Gordillo came up with the concept of a festival featuring beer, art and music.

“There was a nice Venn diagram of people interested in craft beer and artisanal foods and people who are interested in the arts,” said Sue Bell Yank, director of communications for the arts center. “It was this idea of bringing these creative people in the city together who had similar interests as a benefit fundraiser for 18th Street.”

Gordillo, a former bartender at Library Alehouse who organized the event in her role as development director at the arts center, now spearheads the festival through her own event production company, Tap and Cheer.

And the gathering has grown substantially since its inception. This year’s Beer Art and Music Fest, which will be held Saturday, Sept. 24, from 1 to 5 p.m., will welcome 40-plus breweries, including locally based Santa Monica Brew Works and other area beer makers like Angel City Brewery, Ladyface Ale Companie and Three Weavers Brewing Co.

BAM Fest attendance is expected to top 1,200, according to Bell Yank.

It’s the biggest fundraiser of the year for the 18th Street Arts Center, and the money generated will support a variety of the organization’s initiatives. It sponsors visiting artists, who create work in and around Los Angeles without having to worry about being burdened financially.

“We’re really supporting artists at a key time in their career, when they’re starting out or emerging,” Bell Yank said. “This gives them a huge boost to be able to create more work.”

The arts center has a competitive application process for visiting artists and an artistic director who books them, often a few years in advance. The organization sponsors musicians and performing artists as well as visual creators.

“People value the time they spend here,” Bell Yank said. “We have several longtime resident artists who live in L.A., and they have studio workspace on the Westside, which is usually unaffordable. We’re able to make that space affordable to them.”

Money raised through BAM Fest also supports free public events that the arts center hosts throughout the year, including exhibitions, performances and open studios. This year’s festival will include artist-inspired photo booths, open art galleries and music by area punk bands Alice Bags and The Sex Stains.

Bell Yank said the 18th Street Arts Center plays an important role in the sustainability of art in and around Santa Monica.

“It’s such a creative community with all the artists and people who consider themselves artists,” she said. “It’s fitting because it’s about supporting living working artists. It’s really about the artists themselves, not the objects they make. It’s important to have people who live as professional artists, asking questions and imagining futures. In this day and age, it feels more important than ever. It’s about making sure artists can live sustainably and make their work without being worried. That fits in with the ethos of Santa Monica as a creative community.”

Tickets for BAM Fest cost $40 before Sept. 10, $45 thereafter and $50 at the door. The 18th Street Arts Center is located at 1639 18th St., in Santa Monica. For more information, visit http://18thstreet.org/bam.

jeff@www.smdp.com