The best neighborhood in all of Los Angeles is in Mid City—a cluster of communities along Pico Boulevard between Fairfax and La Brea. Others may disagree, but I just want to lay that card on the table right now.
A native Angelino who had been away for ages, I moved back to live in the Mid City neighborhood for eight years. That’s barely a wink compared with the 35 to 50 years some of my neighbors could claim. Their presence and hard work made the mostly African American neighborhood a community, from everyday aggravations and dashed hopes to determination, commitment, and creativity.
During the time I lived there, the community was awarded the 2016 Build Grant from the mayor’s Great Street Initiative, which put us at the front of the line for city resources (though massive volunteer legwork, such as outreach and data collection, were required in order to qualify). I was happily involved in planning meetings and neighborhood outreach events, and donated the design of our community’s visual identity program.
Amazing things happened, not the least of which was that it exposed the abundance of talent and skill concentrated there. It was hard to recognize during heated, late-night neighborhood meetings, but when the city offered us the services of planners, architects and other designers, for the most part our response (a little bit to our own amazement) was, “Thanks. We got this.” We knew the city would bring the neglected area up to standard. We knew we had what it took to do more.
The results are hard to miss now, with improvements like tree wells, community activated street art, and safer street crossings. I moved away for work opportunities in NorCal, but I continue to contribute time and design services to my Mid City colleagues whenever I can.
Last year, I was contacted by Nancy Hanover, a (some would say the) founding member of the Great Street board (now called Destination Pico) and a champion of many arts initiatives, and Rosanne Kleinerman, a talented artist whose work I admire. We were given the opportunity to create art for the neighborhood’s bus shelters.
Sponsored by Outfront/Decaux “in Public-Private Partnership” with the City of Los Angeles, the idea was to honor longtime Pico residents as we distilled our own experience and love of the community into a synergy of our visual styles. Rosanne, who has lived in Mid City for decades, photographed six remarkable Pico women who have helped shape the character of the neighborhood. I put together a set of patterns that reflected the Pico vibe I’d been immersed in at community meetings, as well as on hundreds of walks to favorite shops with my camera and sketchbook.
Those experiences had inspired a visual diary of people, places, and many, many little details that coalesced into a kind of visual dialect—an intimate reflection of a place made lively and vivid by the humans who live and work there.
The resulting pattern set was uploaded to Spoonflower.com, and was printed to 8″ x 8″ cotton swatches. Those were sent to Rosanne, who reprinted them to 12″ x 12″ photo prints and used them as the base for full size (8’ x 4’) panels—collages she created of patterns, photos and the residents’ quotes—that were installed at three LA city bus shelters along Pico Boulevard.
As a way to add more tactile dimension to the project, I used Spoonflower’s service again, this time to print two of the mural patterns to their Celosia Velvet fabric. A weekend before the unveiling event I used it to sew two scarves, gifting one to Rosanne and the other (because he asked so nicely) to my son.
To see some process photos (sewing machine noob!), check out my Instagram Stories, under Projects.
The unveiling on a Saturday morning in January was attended by neighbors, the city councilman’s office, and representatives from Outfront/Decaux. Nancy Hanover provided the juice and snacks, Outfront/Decaux supplied the coffee.
I love to do locally focused projects like this, and already have plans in place to do more in 2020.
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