More than any other neighborhood in Los Angeles, Highland Park's cyclical history can be seen as a microcosm of the evolution of our city as a whole, each era creating the context from the next generation emerges.
Beginning with the land boom of the 1880s, new arrivals to Highland Park turned the riverbanks and hills of the Arroyo Seco into a nature-mined escape from the bustling, industrial downtown of Los Angeles. In the process they created the city's first art colony (replete with museums, art studios and colleges) which in turn gave birth to the Arts and Crafts Movement.
During the 1950s, Mexican immigrants and their descendants would begin buying and renting in Highland Park, generally claiming the area as their own against the backdrop of years of gradual economic decline. These new arrivals began changing the face of Highland Park at the same moment that the Civil Rights era was dawning, protests, new responses to school segregation, and new community organizations taking root on the East Side and articulating a vocabulary of resistance and pride within the Latino and Mexican communities of L.A.
It's no surprise then, that in the 1970s Highland Park became home to the influential Chicana/o artists collectives Mechicano and Concilio de Arte Popular, which included among their members some of the most important Chicana/o artists of their time. In marked contrast to the upscale gallery scene of West Los Angeles or the concerns of artists in Venice such as the Ferus group, Highland Park was birthing art that emphasized the themes of community, cultural pride, and economic struggle. The work of these collectives on the eastside housing projects of Ramona Gardens and Estrada Courts, and in numerous public spaces and institutions across the city ignited an explosion of Chicana/o muralism in the 1970s, turning L.A. into the mural capital of the country.
As a way of celebrating and reconsidering Highland Park's vast and critically important artistic heritage - from the Arts and Crafts movement to Chicano Muralism - Departures wants to understand and record the new cultural cycle that the neighborhood is currently experiencing. With that in mind, we've partnered with Outpost for Contemporary Art, artist-in-residence X. Andrade, and a team of Occidental College media art students to examine, re-interpret and reconsider the tradition of public art in Highland Park. All of us will be joined by five groups of sign painters, contemporary visual artists and business owners in a revitalization effort to generate artwork for a number of storefronts on York Boulevard.
This project underscores the underlying paradigms, ideas and directions that guide Departures overall as a public media series. Our goal is not just to record, report and broadcast the stories of our neighborhoods, but to create mechanisms - be it partnerships or online tools - through which a community itself can take action and make their neighborhood a better place. We're just at the beginning of this particular journey, and we invite you not just to take the trip with us, but to work with us as well.
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