Art as a Positive Bridge-building Force

Mural at La Estrella Tacos, Highland Park

Outpost is part of a burgeoning art scene of galleries and artist-run spaces popping up throughout Northeast Los Angeles. It's as though decades of creative activity going on behind the closed doors of artists' studios and homes has burst wide open, providing a diversity of public outlets for art and creativity.

Of course none of this happened over night. Artist-run organizations like the Arroyo Arts Collective, for instance, formed in 1989 and has simultaneously brought attention to the area's creative vitality while connecting this vitality to the area's artistic heritage. The Collective's "Discovery Tour," for example, has been opening the homes and studios of local artists every year since 1993.

Mirroring this creative activity is the changing look and feel of the neighborhood, and nowhere is this more visible than on York Blvd, our project's area of focus. Gentrification has been a changing force in the neighborhood since the mid-80's but the process has been slow and not highly visible. Today, new businesses are opening to catch up with demographic shifts, finding demand among a new more affluent population that has moved into the neighborhood over the last decade. As a result, many of the hand-painted signs that give the Blvd its character are disappearing as the new businesses opt for a more streamlined contemporary look.

When Outpost relocated to its current location in August 2009, it moved into the center of a debate sparked by a controversial article in the Travel section of the New York Times titled, "Highland Park: A New Culture District in Los Angeles" (July 12, 2009). The article and the community outrage that ensued pinpoints a serious community problem. After a short introduction, the article begins with "What was once a sleepy strip of garish 99-cent stores and auto parts shops is turning into a thriving neighborhood of cool restaurants and boutiques ...", offending longtime residents (and anyone sensitive to the divisive language) with the implication that they are part of the "sleepy" "garish" past that is being improved by "trendsetters" with taste. See LA Eastside for a good response.

As a non-profit arts organization focused on promoting cross-cultural exchange, we see this moment in Highland Park's history as an opportunity to use the arts as a positive bridge-creating force that will contribute to the sense of collective pride that continues to give rise to a remarkable nexus of community activity. Two recent examples of this activity include Milagro Allegro Community Garden and the Glenmary Archway Mural.

"The Full Dollar Collection of Contemporary Art" will create a parallel context between two strong traditions found in Northeast Los Angeles--the fine art tradition and the rich graphic tradition of hand-painted signs. The emerging works will blend contemporary and vernacular motifs, and will become thought-provoking fixtures in the community.

About the Author

Outpost for Contemporary Art seeks to engage and enrich Los Angeles communities through cross-cultural exchanges and interdisciplinary projects that blur the boundaries between art, social practice, and public life. Programs suppo...
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