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Inside WeHo Arts: City as Cultural Curator

In Los Angeles, plenty of openings, public art projects and performances pop up from weekend to weekend, ensuring that culture vultures never go hungry for too long. But the City of West Hollywood is particularly ambitious in organizing cultural projects for Angelenos to enjoy. WeHo Arts involves the combined efforts of the City’s Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission and Arts Division, featuring events related to film, music, arts, theater and more. The Arts and Cultural Affairs Commission dates back to 1987, with the mission to “promote and nurture the arts and cultural life of the City of West Hollywood.”

Today, its programming includes an extensive list of pieces. For instance, two site-specific digital billboards by Alison O’Daniel and Basma Alsahrif (at 9039 Sunset Blvd. and 8410 Sunset Blvd, respectively) were on display until the end of 2016. At the West Hollywood library, visitors can learn more about the Sunset Strip riots in an exhibition entitled, There’s Something Happening Here… On the Sunset Strip 1966 (a riff on Stephen Stills’ song For What It’s Worth) on view until May 3. In his trademark origami style, sculptor HACER created The Chase, a series of four pieces which were on view through December 2016, starting at Santa Monica Boulevard and Doheny Drive. The list goes on.

 

“Writers such as Scott Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker had called West Hollywood home, as have countless actors, filmmakers, musicians, artists who either lived in West Hollywood or played here,” said Andrew Campbell, Arts Manager of the City of West Hollywood. “It was something of a bohemian enclave that abutted working class housing and bumped up against Beverly Hills to the west and the Hollywood Hills to the north. There has historically been a great creative energy in this 1.9 square mile area.”

Efforts like WeHo Arts, Campbell explains, were created in order to preserve this cultural legacy and encourage further experimentation. To that end, WeHo Arts includes a wide range of art expression, from public art installations to performances. Earlier this year, Brazilian artist Manuel Lima lived inside a “cube on the Sunset Strip for 10 days and over that period composed a new work which was influenced by the sounds of the location as well as random radio excerpts that inspired his piano improvisations.” It’s not every day that city employees encourage someone to live in its streets for the sake of art. But Campbell emphasizes that the programming is meant to encourage all sorts of artistic output, even while maintaining a “small town atmosphere with music, art and theater.”

Yet Los Angeles as a whole definitely isn’t a small town and WeHo Arts does include some large pieces. Art duo YoMeryl (Bronwyn Lundberg and Sarah Zucker) created a 32-panel mural called, The Kicks of Route 66 measuring seven by 684 feet. The mural, which runs along Santa Monica Boulevard, features local landmarks such as Barney’s Beanery, and is a nod to the Chuck Berry song, Route 66.

“We were thinking about Route 66 as this unifying icon of classic Americana,” said Zucker. “The song Get your Kicks (on Route 66) came to mind, and we thought of using shoes, or “kicks” as a means of both referencing the song and conveying people from every walk of life who’ve traveled on the ‘Mother Road.’”

Both artists hope that viewers will follow the mural for the whole distance. “We’d love for people to walk the entire perimeter of the fence to get the full story, as it starts in Chicago on Crescent Heights, stretches from the California desert to the Santa Monica Pier on Santa Monica Boulevard, and then continues on a rainbow road over the ocean on Hayvenhurst,” said Zucker. “There are lots of fantastic Easter eggs and homages to Route 66 landmarks, and at seven-feet-tall, the mural works well as a backdrop for photos!”

And the projects just keep coming. While some events are set in stone, ideas still come to the group “on an almost daily basis.” WeHo has its pick of a range of Los Angeles artists and collectives. Some have already participated, and the door remains open for other artists to present their work. “Currently, we have a pretty open proposal process for artists or organizations interested in presenting projects, as well as a grant program that supports the work of nonprofit arts organizations that would like to present or perform in the City,” said Campbell. “While it is challenging to assess all these ideas, it has also provided us with the opportunity to work with so many wonderful artists, curators and organizations.”

 

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EVA RECINOS is a freelance writer and social media producer based in Los Angeles. Her writing has been featured LA Weekly, The Creators Project, PSFK and others. She is less than five feet tall. 

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