Arts for LA presents a series of first-person explorations of projects, places, and principles that demonstrate the ways arts and culture are building the future of Los Angeles. Each installment in this series showcases ways in which arts, culture, and arts education can be employed as tools to address issues facing Angelenos in all aspects of our lives and ultimately contribute to a higher quality of life for all residents.
By Tony Brown
During this past spring and summer, Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA) Visual Arts students participated in "We Are Talking Pyramids," a public art project focused in and around MacArthur Park. During the six-month project, the students, ranging in age from 7-19, explored different mediums of contemporary art, including sculpture, performance art, sound art and video installations. The students were engaged in every step of the creative process, from research and idea generation to the production of the actual art works. The culmination of the project was celebrated with a live theatrical performance by the students and members of performance based artist collaboratives on the stage of the Levitt Pavilion and in the Park. Among the noted artists were Eamon Ore-Giron, Jade Gordon of My Barbarian, Eve Fowler, Mariah Garnett and Sarah Rara and Luke Fishbeck (a.k.a. Lucky Dragons) of Sumi Ink Club.
Inspiration for "We are Talking Pyramids" was drawn from the public sculptures and murals in MacArthur Park, including Judy Simonian's "Talking Pyramids" and Dagoberto Reyes' "Why We Immigrate." MacArthur Park is host to a variety of long standing public art and is located just a few blocks southeast of HOLA's campus. However, for nearly two and one-half years, there has not been any new art introduced into MacArthur Park. HOLA's public art project sought to reverse this trend by introducing new work in an effort to revitalize a true monument of Los Angeles culture.
"We Are Talking Pyramids" gave the young artists the opportunity to work with leaders in many contemporary art fields, opening up their worlds to art forms they had never before encountered. They experimented and explored with the support of local artists who inspired them to reach out of their comfort zones and create beyond their wildest imaginations. "We Are Talking Pyramids" also gave these students the opportunity to explore the community and foster conversations that were aimed to involve, activate and inspire the local MacArthur Park community. In a time where arts funding in the schools and local communities is being cut drastically, this free program has made art accessible to the youth, their families and the community at large. for the students and those that they pull behind them.
"We Are Talking Pyramids" is the first of a series of public art projects that will be undertaken by HOLA over the next three years. The goal of the projects is to utilize public art to revamp and revitalize the community surrounding HOLA, the Rampart District of Los Angeles. The projects will be collaborations with leading Los Angeles artists and collectives to engage youth in planning, creating and installing permanent and semi-permanent installations. Funding for the projects is being provided by the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation through their Artistic Innovation and Collaboration Grant (AIC) program. The AIC grant program supports fearless and innovative collaborations in the spirit of Robert Rauschenberg and is the first national competitive grant program for the Foundation. HOLA was one of nine recipients of the first round of AIC Grants. This unique public/private partnership is an innovative approach to countering shrinking government funding in the arts and education.
The incorporation of public art into the fabric of a community has far reaching benefits. Public art helps create a community identity by creating visual markers that become associated with that place, often become symbols of entire neighborhoods and cities. Places throughout Los Angeles County are recognizable based on their art and architecture, from the architectural majesty of Walt Disney Concert Hall on Grand Avenue to the broad narrative splendor of "The Great Wall" mural along Coldwater Canyon Boulevard.
By bringing people from all walks of life together in a single space, public art also provides a tool for economic revitalization. The more the art draws in people from the surrounding neighborhoods, the more businesses will be attracted to engaging the visitors and public officials are given a viable alternative to projects that require large capital investments.
The impact of HOLA's first public art project on the students and the community has been profound and the benefit of bringing the two together in an area that is culturally rich but economically struggling has been invaluable. Projects like this one provide a vehicle to help artists (young and old) reclaim their neighborhoods, start conversations and make our communities safer and culturally richer. As Darren Walker, vice president of the Rockefeller Foundation and vice chair of the Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies said, "It is impossible to have a society that is civil and educated without public art. It lifts up humanity and challenges the individual who encounters it to think differently about the world."
Top Image: "We Are Talking Pyramids" | Photo: Courtesy of HOLA.
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