LINCOLN BLVD — Lincoln Boulevard south of Interstate 10 makes an impression on those that traverse it, just not a positive one.
“It’s a street you don’t want to get stuck on in traffic,” said Amelia Drake, an artist with a 40-hour-a-week day job that forces her to get stuck there, often.
“I tolerate it because it’s the industrial part of the Westside,” said Rita Lichtwardt, another artist who spends her professional life doing mockups on Photoshop. Her boyfriend is less charitable, calling the street “gross” and “an eyesore.”
Evan Meyer thinks Lincoln just needs a little love, and is working with Drake, Lichtwardt and a small but growing army of other volunteers to see that it gets it.
Meyer is the man behind Beautify Lincoln, a project to take over privately-owned walls on Lincoln between Ocean Park and Pico boulevards and create colorful murals to bring life and beauty to the street.
Meyer and his volunteers approach businesses along the stretch of road and make them a rather unique offer — to take aging, sometimes ugly, walls and transform them into works of art, all for free.
The “free” part really trips up a lot of people who can’t wrap their heads around why someone would choose to spend their time and money on a project that ostensibly doesn’t benefit them.
Meyer’s motivations are simple.
“I’m doing it because it creates something awesome,” Meyer said.
Meyer, who’s also a member of the Ocean Park Association board, has lived in Santa Monica near Lincoln Boulevard for almost a decade and watched the street languish as the industrial corridor of a city that no longer sees itself as a place of industry.
He wants to turn the area into a mural row by saturating the walls with art, which he thinks will improve the reputation of the street and entice people to live, work and play in the area, ultimately transforming it into a beautiful, walkable place.
Waiting for the change to happen through official channels, however, was frustrating for the jack of all trades who deals with bureaucracy regularly in his day job at RideAmigos Corp., a software development company he started to provide travel solutions to cities to encourage people to use bicycles and public transportation.
Rather than mess with public process, Meyer decided to go straight to private businesses and ask if they would let him and some friends repaint one of their walls.
It’s a triple-win: The business owner gets a freshly-painted wall, Lincoln Boulevard gets some much-needed attention and the artists get massive exposure for their work.
“It’s the best gallery in the world,” Meyer said.
Meyer skirts problems by sticking to a handful of simple rules. The murals cannot include anything controversial including religious symbols or edgy art. Completed projects like the wall of the Novel Café or Ameci Pizza mainly stick to nature themes and landscapes, genres that generally please the eye without offending the sensibilities.
To stay on the right side of the law, the murals also can’t imply the nature of the business that owns them, meaning steaming cups of coffee or a big slice of pizza are to be avoided lest they fall under one of Santa Monica’s many rules about signs.
Slowly but surely word about the project is beginning to spread down the street, and more businesses are asking to get involved.
Eli Carmeli of Ameci Pizza signed on when he saw Meyer and Lichtwardt working on the massive wall at the Novel Café, a project that they completed over the course of several weekends. He had a long stretch of wall in his parking lot that had seen better days, and he hoped the crew might be able to do something about it.
Meyer and Drake came in shortly thereafter with some sketches and created a vibrant landscape on the wall.
“You cannot compare. There was nothing on the wall. It was just a wall, a 30-year-old wall,” Carmeli said. “We woke up one morning and see everything was different. We get a lot of compliments from customers.”
For Drake, it was a chance to stretch her muscles in ways that she hasn’t since she left school over a decade ago, both figuratively and literally. Her degree is in sculpture, although painting is a “go to” art form for her. She also has a shop on Etsy.com called Amelia Drake Fine Art and Magjik [sic] where she sells paintings and other works. Murals, however, are new and she appreciates the challenge.
“This is a completely different gear to switch into,” Drake said. “I haven’t had the facilities to be big since I was in school, which was 13 years ago. It’s really refreshing to work big.”
The project has already done more than put a fresh coat of paint on the wall — it has connected disparate groups of people that might never have met, creating a sense of community on the street that did not exist before.
Drake likens it to a “funny little reality television show” in which she and a cast of other characters interact every time she’s out with a paintbrush.
“We’re building more human interaction where Lincoln has been predominately cars and gray and cars and gray,” she said.
It’s also a treat for the artists to see their ideas blown up for all the world to see.
Lichtwardt drives the opposite way down Lincoln to go to her job at a toy company, but now she has a reason to go north on Lincoln.
“I don’t get to pass it all the time, but when I do pass it to go uptown to the (Interstate) 10 it’s fun. I honk at it,” she said.
So far, Meyer is financing the murals himself with a bit of help from Naylor Paint, a locally-owned shop that sells him the materials at cost.
Larry Naylor, the owner, also donated paint to help out David Legaspi, a muralist who did work with local schools before his death this year. He believes in Meyer’s cause and generally likes murals; democratized art that everyone is allowed to see.
Also, Lincoln just needs a makeover, he said.
“I think it’s in the running for the world’s ugliest street and he may be ruining its chance of winning,” Naylor said.
Meyer hopes that his project will inspire others to take an active role in their community and bring a little more beauty to Santa Monica.
“I’m just stirring the pot,” he said.
The team has already completed seven murals on Lincoln with more in the offing. For those who would like to learn more about the project, support it or simply lend a hand in painting one weekend, check out http://www.beautifylincoln.com.