Ashley Napier, Special to the Daily Press
At their recent event, The 18th Street Arts Center asked, “What is a Landmark?’ in the context of the Pico Neighborhood, with an open panel discussion featuring Danish multidisciplinary artist Maj Hasager and a look at the inequalities of land designation in Santa Monica.
The 18th Street Arts Center hosted the zoom panel last weekend in connection with Hasager’s latest work, “Three Structures Touching.” The panel of five discussed the inequities embedded in the landmark designation process, how society dedicates ‘significance’ or ‘meaning’ to landmarks and how we can shift our mindset to analyze how and why we assign historical and cultural significance to landmarks, in the context of the Pico Neighborhood. The panel included writer and researcher Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, landmarks expert Ruthann Lehrer of the Santa Monica Conservancy, and the director of the Quinn Research Center, Carolyne Edwards.
Moderator and Deputy Director of the 18th Street Arts Center, Sue Bell Yank asked panelists to define a landmark.
While Lehrer gave a textbook description of a landmark as “a place of significance to a broad community,” Dr. Jackson gave a passionate response, saying that “landmarks are those places that hold meaning.”
This opened the floor for Carolyne Edwards, Director of the Quinn Research Center to announce her disdain for the lack of preservation of the Pico Neighborhood.
“These stories of each of these buildings that are demolished, they hold some type of cultural or historic value,” she said. “And these stories have to be written down, otherwise the stories and the culture and the feelings of people who inhabited them are gone forever.”
Edwards’ description of loss in the district is what inspired Hasager’s work “Three Structures Touching,” — a series meant to call out the “archaic requirements necessary for historic district designation in the US,” according Yank. Hasager’s series highlights the significance of the Pico Neighborhood, kept alive by the Quinn Research Center, in a series of short films, interactive sound-scapes and wooden sculptures.
The Quinn Research Center is an archive of the small, but influential Black community in the Santa Monica Bay area from the early 20th century forward. The Center was founded by Edwards, the niece of Dr. Alfred T. Quinn, a prominent Black educator, community leader and icon of the Santa Monica Bay Area. She runs the center with her husband, Bill Edwards out of her childhood home in Santa Monica.
Hasager is known for her work, dealing with memory, architecture, and the construction of history and was inspired to create this series to “create a wider audience” that is aware of the inequalities facing landmark designation in minority communities, calling the US landmark designation process “a disaster.”
Hasager said that US culture needs to expand its notion of what a landmark is, beyond the scope of architecture by looking at how society assigns meaning to specific places, questioning how easily history is forgotten and how difficult it is to preserve.
According to the city of Santa Monica, landmarks “are considered to have the highest level of individual historical or architectural significance. Therefore, along with contributing buildings located within historic districts, landmarks are offered the highest protection with respect to alterations and demolitions.”
The panel discussed solutions to landmark designation and the assignment of meaning, by asking, “How do we have a living dialogue around preservation and how do we systemize it?”
Lehrer proposed that although a public art component is one way, that the solution is teaching people how to find meaning in their communities.
She said that education is the best way to fight the fleetingness of memory assigned to landmarks by teaching children the meaning in school, or by offering tours and field trips to community members.
Edwards emphasizes this by stating that we need to foster “the same values, and the sense of wanting to preserve not only a particular building, but preserve the history, and the culture.”
For more information, visit Hasager’s “Three Structures Touching” exhibition at the 18th Street Arts Center Gallery Airport campus by making an appointment on their website (https://18thstreet.org/event/three-structures-touching-maj-hasager/).