The rich history of Santa Monica’s Pico neighborhood is sometimes forgotten in the busy bustle of day-to-day life, but the stories, cultures and residents it houses have helped make Santa Monica the city it is today.
With the area possessing so many unique customs, traditions and life stories, 18th Street Arts Center began the Culture Mapping 90404 project, which was described by Sue Yank, the center’s communications director, as a community-produced map that seeks to highlight the “cultural assets” of the Pico neighborhood.
“It’s an oral history project that aims to map the culture of the Pico neighborhood, but it has since expanded to include all of Santa Monica,” Yank said, discussing how the project seeks to highlight the stories of cultural anchors like the woman who organizes neighborhood parties or the couple who owns the corner store. “We realized there were a lot of ‘cultural anchors’ going into it, but we learned there was more packed into the area than we ever could’ve thought.”
Yank added, “Once we finished mapping the 100 assets — people, places, things, events surrounding Santa Monica — we wanted to figure out how could the work we did be useful and how can we get young folks, specifically, to participate.”
Enter Amy Bouse and her Advanced Placement Art students at Samohi, who have been creating art projects for a first-of-its-kind exhibition that will kickoff with an opening reception from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Dec. 6 at 18th Street Arts Center’s Airport Campus.
Participating students have spent weeks delving into the local community and historical archives to find the information and subject matter that will inform their final art pieces, and since the scholars were allowed to choose the subject matter themselves, some pieces focus on a specific individual in the city while others take a step back to offer a perspective on a group activity.
“What you’ll see at the exhibit are personal views of Santa Monica — both those of people from here and from places further away,” said senior Tara Barrett.
Having moved from Saint Paul, Minnesota, Barrett said she’s always been impressed with the city’s transportation system.
“So my piece is from the perspective of somebody sitting at the back of the bus, and it’s showing the everyday story of the people who are there,” Barrett said. “I think it’s a good subject because we all have that space as part of our lives and there are all different kinds of people on it that usually wouldn’t come together in other parts of the day,” which is symbolic of Santa Monica and the diverse communities who call it home.
Similar to the passengers in Barrett’s piece, Claire Freedman commutes from Westchester every day and often spots a lady who sells flowers to the commuters stuck in traffic.
“When she’s not there, I’m always like: ‘Where is she? Is she OK? What happened?’” Freedman said, describing the stranger’s captivating expression and her own never-ending desire to learn more about the lady’s history.
“I think she’s a landmark more so than anything else I attach to Santa Monica, and she was really happy to take a picture so I think I’m going to invite her to the show,” Freedman said.
“Every single day I walk around Santa Monica and see new things about the city I live in that I didn’t otherwise think of before this project,” said sophomore Nadiya Sayson. “I think that many associate the past as that was then and we’re in the now, but that’s a very black and white view and it’s not as simple as that. The stories of our past transform and evolve into our own stories of today …. and it’s important for the public to see who we are and where we came from.”
“This exhibition is a window into how these young artists see their city, and their own role in its multivalent, complicated history,” Yank added, before discussing how the local exhibition is part of a broader initiative to create curriculum around 18th Street’s oral history map.
The curriculum partnership was supported by the Institute of Museum and Library Services and will be published online at the conclusion of the project so other schools can enjoy the opportunity to modify or develop a similar program in their own area, Yank said, mentioning future collaborations with Samohi’s History and African-American Studies departments are in the works for 2020.
Interested residents are invited to learn more about the program and upcoming exhibition by visiting bit.ly/PicoMap.