Public art has the capacity to transform a community. It tells the history of a city better than any textbook. It reveals personal truth and spurs people to action.
The freedom of expression acknowledges human suffering and offers those who have suffered the opportunity to tell their truth to the world.
Whether it’s the mural on your drive to work or the song lyric coming through your headphones, art has touched and changed all of us. It has comforted us by helping us realize that we aren’t alone: someone else has felt the same sadness and joy. Art reminds us of our common humanity.
I was reminded of this when I recently saw Manifest Justice, a pop-up art exhibit in South L.A.
If you saw the art show, you’ll understand its power and I’m sure you left that building feeling shaken. The work displayed was powerful. It forced viewers to confront the anger and power of the racial divides in our country.
The exhibit was designed to educate and agitate — that’s what happens when you confront injustice.
It was peppered with statistics: California spends $62,300 each year to keep one inmate in prison, and just $9,100 per year per public student.
Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, came to tell Los Angeles how her son’s death pushed her to social activism; an artistic rendering of her son stood close by, with a halo hovering above his hoodie.
As I moved through the gallery, I spotted a police car from Ferguson, Missouri, with its windows blown out and its doors bashed in. Through its roof grew cacti and palm leaves, pushing through the car ceiling.
From the dust and wreckage and violence of a city torn apart by fear and racism, new life grew.
I left the exhibit reminded of L.A.’s own history of riots and heartened by our city’s commitment to smart, humane, relationship-based policing, while never forgetting the lives we lost and businesses we burned.
Los Angeles has a long history of producing art that changes the world. After all, Ella Fitzgerald and Ray Charles once called Leimert Park home.
Earlier this year, I met Mark Bradford, an artist who grew up in Leimert Park, painting signs for his mother’s beauty parlor that read “PRESS AND CURL $25.”
Today, Bradford has taken over that same salon, transforming it into his art studio.
His latest project is Art + Practice, an arts and education campus that takes up half a dozen buildings in Leimert Park that will soon be occupied by artist studios, exhibition spaces and book stores.
Art + Practice will also include offices of The RightWay Foundation, an organization that delivers mental health services and job readiness training to young people who have been aged out of the foster care system.
Too many of our young people turn 18 and suddenly find themselves without a family, without survival skills, without the foster system, and, often, without an income.
So, they start living on the street. Our homeless count suggests that there are over 2,000 homeless youth in Los Angeles. That is unacceptable.
As a father and Angeleno, and as your mayor, I am committed to more and better housing, services and access for kids who are find their way out of foster care.
But empowering young people requires more than housing and a job. Empowerment comes from critical thought. It comes from finding your voice.
That’s where Art + Practice comes in. I am so proud to be mayor of a city that recognizes the power of art as a tool for social and political change.
A+P will give young people the chance to express their frustration, their sadness and their power.
A+P will help Leimert Park continue it’s creative legacy. More importantly, it will support the creation of art that changes minds, hearts, and ignorance.
I love being your Mayor and I love hearing from you. So please, if you have any feedback (or a drawing, or an invitation to your next show!), feel free to reach out.
If art teaches us anything, it is that one-way conversations don’t get us anywhere. Please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and Twitter.
No one understands the needs of a community better than the folks who live there.
As always, I am excited to connect with you through the pages of The Wave. This newspaper continues to challenge and inform our community.
Mayor Eric Garcetti’s “Community Report” column runs on the first Thursday of each month in The Wave.