While a wave of large-scale works is helping the city to regain its reputation for murals, baby steps are also being made by having artists paint utilities boxes in downtown Los Angeles.
By being a prompt for cultural advocacy in the immediate neighborhood, the project gains meaning for its totemism of grassroots public art. The utility boxes are located near the grounds made sacred by the history of Native Americans living in a grittier downtown, and the artists for each work utilize the painting rituals that comes from mural reverence. Some of the works even become real urban totems.
The micro-public art project, utilizing LADOT traffic signal cabinets, began along the First Street Corridor in Boyle Heights, and is led by Councilmember José Huizar, who helped weave the mural ordinance through City Hall. The project now travels into downtown and centers around "Indian Alley," so named by 118 Winston's Stephen Zeigler when he discovered his building was the headquarters of United American Indian Involvement, Inc. from the 1970s through the 1990s.
"This latest mural utility box project gives us another opportunity to bring art to the public right-of-way and celebrate local artists and history," said Councilmember Huizar in a statement.
By extending his Boyle Heights art program westward, Huizar makes a statement that underscores his advocacy for the new mural ordinance, and shows inter-department cooperation with LADOT, who own the utility boxes that work as traffic control signal cabinets. LADOT and Huizar have streamlined an approval process for art installations on the metal boxes, found near street corners.
Zeigler has curated projects to honor the Native Americans who lived downtown, including an Indian-themed mural by Shepard Fairey, protest art, and installations by the almost secretive artist Wild Life. The latest piece in Indian Alley is "Portrait of Crow Chief Plenty Coups," by VOTAN.
The art has made the area a cultural site, said Zeigler.
The new utility box installations include "Native American Piece" on 5th and Los Angeles by BANDIT, and the interactive "Dear (blank), I love you" on Main at Winston by GABETTE. Artist TEACHR has "Nelson Mandela" on Fifth and Main streets, and Toulouse-Lautrec on Los Angeles between Fourth Street and Winston Place. Wild Life's "Bricks" sits on Los Angeles at Winston, and "Hands are for . . . " by SKECHY extends a welcome on Fourth at Los Angeles streets.
The painting began Sunday, and they will be introduced to the public this week.
"I met (local) Native Americans who didn't know about this history," said Zeigler. "They are stoked to see all this happen."
Photographs by Stephen Zeigler