This post is in support of Departures, KCET's oral history and interactive documentary project about Los Angeles neighborhoods. The series comments on cultural history and urban issues through the lens of community profiles, such as Venice and the Arts District.
In the former warehouse district of Downtown Los Angeles, there are still a few resident artists remaining from the 1980s, those brave days when painters, sculptors, and others, with no official city code on the books, began working and living in abandoned industrial buildings.
Since then, the neighborhood has continued advocating for its own artistic ethos, and considered a community that uses warehouses--once for manufacturing goods--as studios that manufacture art. A few rallied to get make the neighborhood legal for living, and for a time, before the current renaissance, it was the center of an artistic groundswell in Downtown.
Now the Arts District has a lower profile than other art communities such as The Brewery, or Downtown's Gallery Row where the monthly art walk is centered. Still, the last decade has attracted loft developers and retail because of the area's image of creative grit. In April, architecture school SCI-Arc finalized the purchase of the century-old rail freight depot that has been home since 2001. Now, the Arts District is earmarked as one of the centerpieces for Los Angeles CleanTech Corridor.
Each of them, and others, angle their presence as the gateway that will civilize the underdeveloped region of Downtown's badlands east of the Alameda curtain.
That is one reason why the artists-in-residence are supportive of the ongoing curated street art. It raises the artistic profile of the Arts District.
The recent motion by city council seeking a way for murals to be permitted citywide will be ongoing. Early talk, when the motion was being drafted, included creating "mural" districts. Venice was considered a potential project area, but if it was picked solely, the Arts District would have made some noise to be included. After all, they have the walls to prove it, even if all are not quite legal.
Sometimes I find myself on a conceptual fence with street art defining itself as public art. They do not always reflect the neighborhood they are installed in, such as the work seen from L.A. Freewalls.
They are the work of an artist's style, a continued application of previous work that would not change much if installed, painted, or wheat-pasted anywhere in the city, or the world.
There is no sense that this art understands the experience of the neighborhood that it is being displayed.
But many of the residents favor the current crop of work for raising the neighborhood's artistic profile, no matter what it takes. The images of the large scale wheatpaste may have nothing to do with the those living in the community, but the process of making a former warehouse a home, without permits, mirrors the backstory of how the Arts District made a name for itself.
More street art commentary from Departures:
- Street Art, Graffiti, Tagging -- Same or Different? MOCA Show Blurs Debate
- The Politics of Murals Has L.A.'s Legacy Fading
- Graffiti: NY Subways Brought 'Art to the People,' LA Trains Bring 'People to the Art'