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The Full Dollar Collection of Contemporary Art: A Year Later...

In late 2011, around the time of the Full Dollar Project's last blog post on KCET Departures, the artist- and neighborhood-centered organization Outpost for Contemporary Art was at a critical financial and administrative juncture. Rather than see the organization close, the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena invited Outpost into its fold with the aim of maintaining Outpost's programmatic vitality, while augmenting Armory's spirit and capacity to invent.

Soon after this merger, the organization was hit with news of the sudden death of former Outpost director, Ronald Lopez. Lopez had, along with founding director Julie Deamer, become intimate with The Full Dollar Project on every level, from selecting the artists to working with the sign painters, businesses, and community stakeholders. All this said, these unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances threatened the viability of The Full Dollar Collection of Contemporary Art on York Boulevard.

In the summer of 2012, Armory's Exhibitions team picked up the torch on this valued yet fraught project. Like Outpost the year prior, the Armory was faced with the continual challenge of acquiring a Visa for Ecuadorian artist X. Andrade to travel to the United States. Just when they thought their efforts were in vain, they received reassuring news that X.'s visa had come though by way of New York University, which awarded a Fulbright Scholarship to Andrade's wife to pursue a doctorate degree in anthropology.

Before & After: Awesome Playground

With not much time to spare, the Armory hired local resident and former Outpost volunteer Maryam Hosseinzadeh to assist in picking up the project where it had left off a year prior. Hosseinzadeh is a long-time Highland Park community member and became acquainted with the project during Julie Deamer's transition. She was heavily invested throughout Lopez's short-lived tenure, and provided the institutional memory needed to tackle the task of putting the project back together. It was also at that time that Outpost @ Armory contacted KCET Departures (another early stakeholder), to better understand their relationship to the project and discuss how to move it forward.

Through persistent efforts, former participants were contacted and over the course of several months, four teams emerged:

  • Sign painter Rodolfo Cardona ("Kardona"), visual artist Ruby Osorio, The Awesome Playground, an indoor/outdoor children's play area
  • Sign painter Anna Ialeggio ("Cube"), visual artist Martin Durazo, and Digicolor, a digital image lab
  • Sign painter Kimberly "The Window Goddess" Edwards, visual artist Shizu Saldamando, and Mi Vida, a lifestyle boutique
  • And once again painter Rodolfo Cardona ("Kardona"), artist Sandow Birk, The Nogueira Building, a leading proprietor in the community since the 1960s.

    Before & After: Digicolor

    The result of this unique collaborative exchange was four hand-painted signs painted on York Avenue storefronts between Avenues 50 and 52, flanking one of Highland Park's main commercial corridors.

    During these ongoing negotiations, X. Andrade finally landed in Los Angeles, and what seemed at one point like an insurmountable feat finally became a reality. From November 7-20, 2012, he resided in the Highland Park neighborhood and became personally acquainted with many of the project participants for the first time. While in residence, X. explored North East Los Angeles by bike, foot, and public transportation, documenting various hand painted signs and murals throughout the region. He witnessed facades being primed, participated in dialogues emerging between the sign painters and business owners, and was able to shed light on questions and concerns that arose between all parties. While Agbey Hommey was prepping The Awesome Playground, Kimberley "The Window Goddess" Edwards began creating her stencils for Mi Vida, and a visual trace of the project began to appear on York Boulevard.


    In addition to direct participation in the project, X. was given the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion as part of SOCAL SOCIAL: Art + People, a series of dialogues around Los Angeles about socially engaged art, instigated by Anne Bray of Freewaves. This conversation, entitled "How Can Artists and the Eastside Generate Change Together?," hosted by Self Help Graphics, and moderated by artist, activist, and curator, Dont Rhine, included Evonne Gallardo (Self Help Graphics), Sandra de la Loza (artist), Alfred Fraijo Jr. (LURN: Leadership for Urban Renewal Now), Elizabeth Blaney, Leon Mostovoy, and Leonardo Vilchis (member of Ultra-red). X.'s unique contribution to this community-based discussion was a global-anthropological perspective on the occurrence of gentrification -- a hotly debated issue in the East Los Angeles neighborhood of Boyle Heights and an apparent parallel to the social trajectory in Highland Park .

    Before & After: Mi Vida

    X.'s visit was not only an opportunity to work on the constructive aspects of the project, but an occasion to see first hand the complications that had threatened the project's completion. Although removed geographically over the past two years, X. was not immune to persistent problems that had come up along the way.

    For a variety of personal and professional reasons, Full Dollar was faced with the departure of key players, including: Jesse's Upholstery, Brad Dutsch, Agbey Hommey, and Art Tapia. As opposed to dwelling on these setbacks, it was necessary to make nimble and practical decisions to keep the momentum, including hiring a new sign painter, Anna Ialeggio, who swiftly and skillfully interpreted Martin Duzazo's abstracted landscape on Digicolor, as well as entrusting Rodolfo Cardona to interpret Sandow Birk's image, in addition to that of Ruby Osorio's.

    By December 2012 two of four projects had been completed -- Mi Vida and the Awesome Playground -- and Digicolor was underway. But a final challenge was to find a key location for the fourth and final sign. This was resolved when former Outpost president Tom Mackenzie approached Yolanda Nogueira, a long-time proprietor of the Nogueira Building at the corner of Avenue 50 and York, about participating in the project -- to which she happily agreed.

    Before & After: Nogueira Building

    Nogueira's participation in the project offered further scope as it allowed the project to flank the business corridor. More importantly, it brought the story full circle as her building once housed Outpost for Contemporary Art. This unique facet not only offered a sense of completion to the project, but also an opportunity to honor the organization's foundation and those who had made it possible.

    In a final push in early March 2013, the project was fully actualized when the final mural by Rodolfo Cardona went up on the Nogueira Building. A reception at Pop Hop Books and Print during NELA ArtWalk on March 9 served as a platform to provide context to the Full Dollar Collection of Contemporary Art on York to the surrounding community.

    From the newest collaborators, Anna Ieleggio and the Nogueira Building, to those who remained from the very beginning -- Mi Vida, The Awesome Playground, and Digicolor, sign painters Rodolfo Cardona and Kimberley Edwards, and artists Martin Durazo, Ruby Osorio, and Shizu Saldamando -- each and every individual played a critical role in its success.

    During the unique process of this two year project, we were able to reveal and celebrate the inherent challenges of translation that occur within collaborative undertakings, as well as invite an opportunity for artistic discourse on unlikely public spaces.


    Click below to follow the development of the Full Dollar Project from beginning to end:

  • About the Author

    Exhibitions Manager/ Assistant Curator at Armory Center for the Arts.
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