Lucy Blake-Elahi is an artist engaged in both public art commissions and painting. She spent three summers as Artist-in-Residence in Yellowstone National Park and has long been involved with local community art and environmental concerns.
When she returned to Culver City, she made her way to the only nearby place she could find with flowing water, Ballona Creek, where she would sit and draw. “Then I found out there’s a community of people interested in saving the Ballona Creek,” she told me, “making it not just a trash dump, because it’s all concrete lined and people just throw stuff in it.”
The Ballona Watershed encompasses all of Culver City and many parts of Los Angeles. A watershed is an area of land that contains a common set of streams and rivers that all drain into a single larger body of water, in this case, the Pacific Ocean. The Ballona Creek is formed by springs in the mountain areas west of and around Griffith Park and their seasonal streams flow into the salty marsh that is now Marina del Rey.
I spoke with Lucy while she was on site at West Los Angeles College, where she teaches art; her work is on view alongside a group of other artists at the college’s Art Gallery as part of “Up the Creek: A Watershed Event,” to celebrate the Centennial of Culver City.
Curated by Molly Barnes (a long time mover and shaker in the L.A. art world and far beyond) with help from Lucy and Amy Rosenstein, the exhibition features artists whose work has been protective of and promotes awareness of the Ballona Creek area. A “watershed moment” is a point in time that marks an important, often historical change, and these artists are trying to bring about that change.
Among the featured artists are Santa Monica’s Bruria Finkel, sculptor Guy Dill, painters Pat Warner, Christophe Cassidy, Danielle Eubank and cinematographer Blake Hottle, to name just a few.
Lucy is a founding member of Ballona Creek Renaissance (BCR), a non-profit organization created to bring positive attention to this “flood control channel.”
She was one of several artists commissioned a few years ago by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority to create gateways that attract attention to the bike path and Ballona Creek. “Eventually there are plans for the bike path to extend from Griffith Park all the way to the ocean,” she said.
If you enter the bike path at Sepulveda Boulevard between Culver and Jefferson Boulevards, you may have passed through the gate that she designed for that entrance to the path (scale model pictured above, on view at this exhibition).
The centerpiece of the exhibition is a 4 foot by 4 foot “flyover” map of the entire Los Angeles watershed, culled from Google Earth images and designed by Jeannette Vosburg, that gives viewers a sense of its enormity. Lucy says it extends “from Griffith Park to west of the Santa Monica Mountains, east to Kenneth Hahn Park and South L.A. and all the way through Centinela Creek, just east of Ladera Heights.”
West Los Angeles College happens to be located in the Ballona Creek watershed, and that’s why the college is calling attention to it. Lucy explained that, “All the water that comes from the east side of the Santa Monica Mountains drains into Ballona Creek; a lot of springs along the top of the mountains used to flow free, but now they’re trapped in pipes.”
While the flyover map gives an overview of the wider watershed, the artists help localize the view. Christophe Cassidy presents three oil paintings of what the creek looks like now. Danielle Eubank offers five paintings that show reflections on the water. And Pat Warner is represented by three sets of paintings featuring the kinds of reeds, plants and leaves that exist in the Ballona.
Bruria Finkel’s photos capture 4 p.m. shadows on the bike path pavement along with nine other photos of the creek and its surrounding area; while Blake Hottle has created a video loop of the birds that still occupy the creek and watershed, including gulls, herons and egrets.
On view through April 6, “Up the Creek” is located at West Los Angeles College Art Gallery, Monday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Thursday, March 23 from 6 to 8 p.m. a panel discussion will cover the history and politics of Ballona Creek with Culver City Council member Thomas Small; Marina Tidwell, photographer and author of “Beyond the Beach Blanket: A Field Guide to Southern California Wildlife;” and several of the artists.
The exhibition is a project of Ballona Creek Renaissance, dedicated to facilitating the long-term renewal of Ballona Creek and its watershed. In partnership with public agencies, non-profit organizations, schools, businesses and community members, BCR promotes environmental, artistic, recreational and educational projects while respecting the creek’s essential role in regional flood protection. Find out more: http://ballonacreek.org/
West Los Angeles College is located at 9000 Overland Ave., Culver City.
Sarah A. Spitz is an award-winning public radio producer, now retired from KCRW, where she also produced arts stories for NPR. She writes features and reviews for various print and online publications. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.