LEIMERT PARK — In the upcoming months, Leimert Park will have one less visual reminder of its historic roots.
“Visions,” the vibrant 30-foot-by-80-foot painting of some of Leimert Park’s most well-known performers, has been a defining landmark on the rear wall of the historic Vision Theatre for a dozen years. The mural was commissioned by the city of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs in 2005 and installed at the Vision Theatre in 2006.
“Visions” is set to be demolished as part of the city’s multi-million dollar renovation of the historic theatre.
To commemorate and document its existence, the Department of Cultural Affairs assembled artist Michael Massenburg, along with various people depicted in the mural or their family members for a final photograph.
“The significance of this mural is in its quality,” said James Burks, director of special projects for the Department of Cultural Affairs. “All the faces on the mural have, in some way or fashion, had a lot to do with Leimert Park as we know it today.”
Massenburg, who grew up in Los Angeles, said the mural’s imagery was inspired by performance poet and World Stage co-founder Kamoau Daaood’s poem “Leimert Park.” The artist selected the poem because “I thought it was the best thing written about the whole community. It just says everything.”
Some of the actual words from the poem are inscribed within the mural while other parts of the mural visually portray the poem’s content.
“I wanted to create a visual written history artistically through his poem and my imagery,” said the Cal State Long Beach graduate. The mural has the appearance of a peeling page, with the images of artists that have played a leading role in establishing Leimert Park as the epicenter of African-American culture in Los Angeles breaking through.
World Stage co-founder and master jazz drummer Billy Higgins, former Vision Theatre owner actress Marla Gibbs, 5th Street Dick owner Richard Fulton and Brockman Gallery owners Dale and Alonzo Davis are just a few of the images reflected in the mural. The artist also included names like Ben Caldwell of Kaos, the Kimbro Family and business owner Sika Dwimfo.
He says all his murals in some way tell a story. In an area that has the cultural significance of Leimert Park and is experiencing rapid change, Massenburg said that he wanted “Visions” to pay homage and provide context.
“It depicts what was happening around here. In fact, that’s the only thing we have that showcased the people that built this community,” said Dwimfo, owner of Sika, a store that has been in Leimert Park for several decades.
Massenburg hopes that with “Visions” disappearance, its message will somehow remain for the next generation of Leimert Park residents.
“Sometimes newcomers to the community only think about the moment they’re there,” Massenburg said. “But they have to know that there were people standing there way before they got there.”
Due to its size and the associated costs, currently there are no plans to restore or move “Visions” to another location.
Massenburg’s list of public artwork clients includes Verizon, MTA, ESPN, the American Jazz Museum and the Forum in Inglewood. He is currently at work on his next project, another commission from the Department of Cultural Affairs, two murals for a public pool in Van Ness Park.
By Cynthia Gibson