After the 1992 civil uprising in L.A., artist Tricia Ward was given an opportunity to initiate a community arts workshop in Highland Park. The program was designed to engage local youth in the development and on-going implementation of community programs. Ward, along with ARTSCorp LA, identified a derelict lot on Ave. 57 and began conducting outreach to recruit volunteers. In a series of neighborhood meetings organized by Ward, community members described a sense of disenfranchisement and frustration with the lack of resources available for young people in their neighborhood. The population of Highland Park had grown significantly over the preceding 20 years, with multi-unit housing sometimes bringing in several families onto a location that had previously only housed one or two homes. Needless to say, youth and community services had not kept pace with this boom.
Ward, along with community partners and volunteers, first imagined, then worked into reality a park where young people could have a creative space and be free to explore all forms of artistic expression. The first group of young volunteers took ownership of the art park when they named it La Tierra de la Culebra after the sculpture they were constructing: a 500-foot serpent made from stone, rubble, and piqué tiles. The sculpture symbolizes the central goals of the art park - community strength and regeneration. The head of the serpent greets visitors as they enter the front gate.
The piece winds through the ground's three levels to connect open spaces, terraced patios furnished with mosaic benches, a large mural garden, and numerous landscaped beds of indigenous plants and flowers. The park hosts art and music workshops and shows as well opportunities for youth to learn about the indigenous history of the area and that of the Chicano/a community in Highland Park.
The effect of the art park was immediate and powerful, it drew teenagers like a magnet and cultivated a sense of public space by and for the participating youth. Together they transformed the vacant lot from a symptom of blight and neglect into a community space that nurtures both the arts and the artist, while also promoting cultural and civic activity. The impact on the neighborhood remains, 19 years after its groundbreaking.
Above, founder of Tierra de la Culebra park Tricia Ward addresses the lack of public space in Los Angeles, how the park informally addresses that need, and the community's response to the park and its programs. Slideshow follows the development of the park from inception to use.