The 18th Street Arts Center is advancing their mission to provoke dialogue through contemporary art by inviting longstanding and new residents and commuters in the local community to engage with one another through temporary art projects in public spaces.
These commissioned artworks draw on the extensive research 18th Street has been doing to create CultureMapping90404, an interactive online database of historic and current cultural assets in the surrounding Pico Neighborhood.
In the face of advanced gentrification and displacement in the Pico Neighborhood, 18th Street Arts Center strives to make the unseen seen through an in-depth oral history collection and community-sourced Cultural Asset Mapping project, set to launch in April 2017. Through related participatory artist projects in public space and community-focused artist residencies, 18th Street Arts Center facilitates the exploration of converging forces of transit, development, and displacement that are shifting the neighborhood dramatically.
The Pico Neighborhood, where 18th Street Arts Center was founded, remains largely ignored by history keepers and undervalued for its cultural assets, especially in light of the mainstream depictions of Santa Monica focused on beach life and consumerism.
Bisected by the 10 Freeway in the 1960s, this working class light industrial and residential
neighborhood has been host to a mix of trades, including Black, Latino, and Japanese-owned family businesses, artist studios, Santa Monica Community College, and two world-class hospitals.
Publicly assisted housing is concentrated there, with 39% of residents living on $30,000 or less (according to the 2010 census). Due to restrictive housing covenants in the mid-20th century, known as redlining, this neighborhood was originally home to mostly African-American and Latino families. More recent waves of Latino immigrants have settled in the area, creating a demographic shift in the neighborhood.
Officials said 18th Street Arts Center is invested in the Pico Neighborhood for the long haul, due to the fact that they own their four warehouse buildings, from which they cannot be displaced despite the attrition of arts and culture in the Pico Neighborhood stemming from the loss of the Santa Monica Museum of Art and the diminishing of Bergamot Station as a gallery complex.
The urgency of this project is increased by the recent arrival of the Metro Expo Line station at 17th/SMC that opened in 2016, adjacent to their campus.
In 2015, 18th Street Arts Center began developing Culture Mapping 90404 with local residents through trainings in oral history interviewing techniques organized in collaboration with the Alliance of California Traditional Artists (ACTA). This project was undertaken in response to a dramatic flip in 90404 demographics from 2000 to 2010, showing white households leaped from 36% to 65%, whereas the presence of African-Americans declined precipitously, and the Latino community lost ground as well as a number of important local gathering points. Rapid increases in property values, fueled by speculative development, have caused a second wave of displacement of these original communities, which had previously lost ground with the construction of the 10 Freeway in the 1960s. Core residents and groups who remain are gravely concerned about continued displacement.
In the mapping process, 18th Street Arts Center staff felt it necessary to create a category of “Ghost” assets, in recognition of the resident mappers’ recollections of what has already been lost.
One of the ways 18th Street Arts Center aims to explore the converging forces of transit, development, and displacement that are shifting the neighborhood is by enhancing its signature Artist Lab Residency, in which a Los Angeles-based mid-career artist is given a three-month funded residency to support them in creating a new body of work, with a new initiative, the Mobile Lab, inviting local and national contemporary artists to make forays into public space in partnership with community based organizations.
In 2017, artists Brendan Fernandes, Nina Waisman, and Sherin Guirguis will utilize Culture Mapping 90404 to identify partners in the communities of the Pico Neighborhood and to create participatory artworks that respond to and act within the landscape of the city.
In the last two weeks of March, Brendan Fernandes’ dance-based practice explores intersections of dance and visual arts through language, architecture, and the body.
I’M DOWN, a series of participatory public actions realized at and around 18th Street Arts Center, uses performance and language to illustrate narratives of absence and loss around displacement through migration, gentrification, and social violence.
Through this project Fernandes and dancers will develop a gestural vocabulary based on research into the movements of residents and commuters around the Pico Neighborhood that surrounds 18th Street Arts Center, and the community’s cultural histories. Performers will workshop this gestural vocabulary on three scheduled occasions: Saturday, March 18; Tuesday, March 21; and Friday, March 24, all from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m. Meeting locations in Santa Monica will be announced via text message, 24 hours prior to each action. Participants can text “IMDOWN” to 555888 to be informed of meeting locations and receive text-based artworks to their phone.
Another component of the work will be a large-scale wall mural installed on the 160-foot-long wall at the back of 18th Street Arts Center’s campus, which abuts the Expo Line Metro bike path near the 17th/SMC station. Language culled from oral history interviews with Pico Neighborhood culture leaders runs through the work, represented in some of the many languages spoken by our community. Presented as part of 18th Street Arts Center’s Residents and Riders Program supported by the James Irvine Foundation’s Exploring Engagement Initiative.
Following her artist residency at the SETI Institute, the NASA-affiliated research laboratory that attempts to make radio contact with extraterrestrial life forms, dance based artist Nina Waisman started the Laboratory for Embodied Intelligences (LEI) in Los Angeles with founding member and movement expert Flora Wiegmann. In spring 2017, LEI will be offering site-specific performances, along with workshops that offer perspective-shifting meditations and embodiment exercises to the public. Both activities aim to make physically palpable LEI’s ongoing discoveries around the following questions: How can humans “try on” non-human behaviors in order to perceive alternate realities viscerally, gaining hidden, unseen, or previously unavailable knowledge? Many of these non-human behaviors and movements are
inspired by the successful communication methods of microbes and their ancestors – cultures exponentially more long-lived and adapted than we are. Waisman and her collaborators will explore the hidden cultures and assets of the 90404 during her residency at 18th Street Arts Center with a lens towards health, cultures of organisms, and pushing the boundaries of unseen human behaviors. Presented as part of 18th Street Arts Center’s Residents and Riders Program supported by the James Irvine Foundation’s Exploring Engagement Initiative.
Visit http://18thstreet.org/culturemapping90404 for more information.