By Gwynedd Stuart
In the not-too-distant future, the Metro Crenshaw Line will carry passengers from Westchester to West Adams, where it will link up with the Expo Line. Along the way, the rail line will run at grade through 1.1 miles of historically black L.A., from 60th Street to 48th Street along the Crenshaw Boulevard corridor. What might’ve been disastrous for those neighborhoods—particularly before Metro voted to approve a Leimert Park station in 2013—has become a chance to create something stunning.
District 8 City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson’s office, a crack team of local creatives, and several nationally renowned architects have set out to turn that 1.1 mile stretch of the Crenshaw Line into an outdoor museum that showcases the ways L.A.’s black community has shaped the the city and the world. Not to be confused with Metro’s planned Crenshaw Line station art, privately funded Destination Crenshaw will incorporate permanent and rotating public art, neighborhood history (recorded and newly unearthed), and existing businesses along the corridor to create what involved parties hope will be both a hub for locals and an essential stop for visitors heading to and from LAX. Says Joanne Kim, Harris-Dawson’s senior advisor, “The whole street is the canvas.”
Following a meeting earlier in September at which artists local to South L.A. were invited to learn more about how they might participate in the project, the Destination Crenshaw team has put out an official call for artists on its website to reach South L.A. locals they hadn’t previously reached. The call for artists stipulates that applicants should be residents of Los Angeles County for a minimum of five years, be educated in or have worked in Los Angeles County for three years, and “have a strong cultural connection to the Black arts community in Los Angeles.” It adds that artists from or located in South L.A. are “strongly encouraged” to apply. The deadline for submissions is October 4; the project’s planned launch is fall 2019.
Gallerist, curator, historian, and Leimert Park resident Larry Earl, one of the community partners who’s signed on to Destination Crenshaw, stresses that it’s more than just an art project. Really, he says, “it’s a transformative, place-making project.” He envisions something that can affect change socially and culturally, and in terms of economic development, public housing, and environmental justice. “All of that,” he says, “is wrapped up in this idea of telling the history and visually narrating that through art. That’s pretty special.”
Besides Earl, community partners include California African American Museum lead curator Naima Keith, rapper Nipsey Hussle, “Gangsta Gardener” Ron Finley, and muralist Judith Baca, among others.
A team of architects from Perkins + Will—including Zena Howard, who was senior project manager for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in D.C. and several other notable projects—has envisioned a concept that centers around four nodes with individual themes relevant to South L.A.’s past and present. At Slauson, “improvisation” represents “resourcefulness as the positive outcome of struggle.” At 54th Street, “firsts” honors both first-person stories and historical firsts in the black community. At 50th Street, “dreams” celebrates “aspirations free of constraints.” And at Leimert Park, “togetherness” celebrates bonds both ancestral and those that form out of necessity in the black community.
Togetherness is particularly important, given that locals had long expressed trepidation that the rail line would physically divide the community, not unlike the interstate highway system did during the middle of the last century. Kim, Harris-Dawson’s senior advisor, says, “This is the way to do, historically, what the black community has always done. Our council member talks about it—take something like this and turn it into an opportunity.”
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