Heather Culp, Founder, Mercado Sagrado
We chatted with the healing arts festival creator on finding your truth, building community, and the power of creativity
Heather Culp, the founder of Mercado Sagrado, has a warm, welcoming demeanor. She’s the type of person who can chat about brand partnerships and entrepreneurship as easily as she can intuitive healers, social engineering, aliens, and personal growth. Get her talking about any of these subjects and you’ll likely end up questioning your entire worldview (in the best way) and walk away with a list of topics to investigate for yourself.
Mercado Sagrado, the creative and healing arts festival she founded, now in its fifth year, is the physical manifestation of her lifelong journey of inner and outer exploration. At the annual event, you can start the day with a sound bath, browse the selection of turmeric-dyed hemp jumpsuits, get an aura photo, drop in for a group healing workshop, then grab a plate of artisanal nut-cheese just in time for a talk by a seasoned Bigfoot tracker and enthusiast.
We caught up with Heather and her dog Avalanche at her home in Topanga Canyon that sits atop a small clearing with jaw-dropping views of the Pacific Ocean to discuss her path to living a fulfilled, creative life.
Your journey off the beaten path started young, driven by your innate curiosity and inclination to look for a deeper truth. What were you like as a child?
I’ve always been fascinated by the mysteries of life and even as a young child remember coming across books about things like ‘the 7 wonders of the world’ feeling so curious and drawn to things such as sacred sites. I’ve known I was adopted from an early age but the information I was given was limited and convoluted and so I think that was one aspect of my life which guided me to always search for the truth. In addition, my parents are professors (of theology/philosophy and history) and I’ve been told by multiple intuitives that my inclination to always look deeper and not take things at face value really comes from my biological family — specifically my grandfather. I guess we’re all the composites of so many varied elements and I started early on my path by researching religion which led to esoteric science, then to nutrition and vibrational medicine and on and on.
You’re someone who truly lives by their guides and truth. What is your process for tapping into your intuition and/or honing that connection?
It’s always been there but I’ve ignored it at times. I’ve found the more clear I am, meaning the more purified or uncluttered my energies are by spending time in nature, in meditation, eating well, etc..., the more I become aware of the subtleties of the information. It then becomes more useful in life rather than simply an emergency alert system — which is probably how I first became aware of it. When I was 14, I believe I avoided harm by knowing not to get on a friend’s motorcycle one day. At the time it seemed odd not to for various reasons, I just all of a sudden didn’t want to, and I didn’t overthink it. That day the friend crashed on his bike. He was OK but that experience has always been comforting for me to return to because it’s one of a few that instilled a level of trust that I somehow knew on some level where I need to be. That knowing is deep and comes from somewhere outside the intellect.
How did you start working with photography as your artistic outlet? What has the creative journey been like for you?
I’ve had so many creative outlets but photography was what I became most passionate about. First using film, the process was alchemical, magical. There was an excitement about not knowing what you had actually captured. I remember saving up to purchase my first camera when I was really young, maybe 6 or 7 years old. Then as a teenager, I got lost for a while without any creative role models around me — it didn’t occur to me that I could focus on the arts. A good friend who was a musician really opened up my world in this way and I started taking photography and art classes in my late teens. After graduating from the Art Center, I worked primarily as a professional photographer. It will always be a part of my practice but in a way, everything I do now has become my art. I’ve realized that this new path of curating and crafting experiences has a similar alchemy to my early photography practice. You’re really in the moment, throwing all this stuff into the mix without knowing what the outcome will be.
You’ve been hosting local, curated events since your time in Brooklyn. Tell us how that experience shaped your perspective today with Mercado Sagrado.
My friends have this great little wine and cheese bar with a beautiful garden in Greenpoint called Troost. I lived down the block and hung out there all the time since I had no outdoor space at my apartment. I started hosting these little film screenings there. It was just a few, super casual events but it was a little aha moment – realizing I could show some of my more fringe film interests and get my friends to come hang out and talk about it. I think the first was Jay Weidner’s film, Kubrick’s Odyssey.
How did Mercado come to be and what inspired you to bring it to life?
It was a combination of living in seclusion in the mountains of Taos and then moving to Topanga Canyon and really craving more community. Also, I have these different passions and wanted to find a way to incorporate them all into one project. At that time, so many people in our community only knew each other from social media and hadn’t met in person so we wanted to get everyone together.
What’s new this year at Mercado Sagrado? What should first-timers know ahead of time?
Mercado Sagrado has grown so much —I really can’t believe this is our fifth year. Recently, we’ve focused on expanding our experiential programming. Now in addition to all the wonderful artists, there are many unique offerings including live music throughout the weekend. We’d love for people to come and hang out all day—or all weekend. We’re really excited about the music line up that the LA music venue Zebulon has curated for us this year. I’m looking forward to the workshops like Shapeshifting & Magical Flight by Eliza Swann, the talk on Scalar Wave Technology by Dr. Christine Surrago, and the presentation by our 2018 non-profit partner Kathleen Harrison of Botanical Dimensions on The Roots of Plant Ritual: Respectfully Weaving the Personal, Archetypal and Cultural.
What’s next for you and Mercado Sagrado?
I’ve been working on the event for the past few years with Mel Nahas, the founder of Conscious City Guide. We work so well together and have been discussing a number of new directions — like a Mercado Sagrado version of a retreat. I’m hesitant to say much until certain aspects are confirmed but we are heading to Big Sur after Mercado Sagrado to scout a location for an event we’re planning to hold there in late Spring —so stay tuned!
What do you hope your legacy will be?
I just want to live a joyful life, surrounded by people I love. I have many dreams and wishes but try to stay in the moment and follow inspiration. Right now, I love creating these experiences, working with artists and teachers, and building community.