Sometimes people listen closer when you whisper than when you yell. That’s the case with Downtown Los Angeles’ six new utility boxes-turned art pieces. They may be ‘micro’ compared to surrounding murals, but they’re just as macro in their ability to draw attention. In ways, they’re more engaging than massive wall pieces. They catch you by surprise. They’re unusual and of mysterious origin. They’re body-sized and feel personal. They beckon you to circle around. People of all ages and walks of life are doing just that- taking a second look, reading the text, snapping a photo or two. One piece even invites interaction. It transforms a receptive audience into active artists! These tactics are clever and effective.
Los Angeles City Councilmember and arts advocate Jose Huizar recently announced nine such installations along the 1st Street Corridor of Boyle Heights. Huizar, with Planning Director for council district 14, Tanner Blackman, was instrumental in passing the city’s new mural ordinance. Mix in the vision and direction of 118 Winston founder/curator Stephen Zeigler, and six more works have sprung up Downtown like wildflowers through the pavement. These are the brainchildren of the artists known collectively as the Winston Death Squad. The name is humorous and ironic, given the artists’ mission to spread positive messages and breathe new life into the streets. WDS is Free Humanity, Bandit, Gabette, Wild Life, Teachr, and Skechy. The freshly painted boxes encircle 118 Winston’s location, and extend the organization’s ever more prominent voice. Planted between Los Angeles, Main, 4th and 5th Streets, the building served as the United American Indian Involvement’s headquarters between the 1970’s and 1990’s and the area is known locally as Indian Alley. Current resident and community developer Stephen Zeigler utilizes the spirit of creative collaboration to spread awareness of both the history and presence of the Native people based here.
Free Humanity, one of the first artists to contribute to the space, observed:
“It’s very beautiful to see it flourish. Like a pebble dropped in a pond in Indian Alley, the ripples expand outward.
The influence of such work is manifold. The creators are impacted as much the environment and viewers. These particular artists are used to risking themselves, making public art without legal consent. Zeigler points out it is validating and meaningful:
for them to be entrusted with the project and not have to worry about looking over their shoulders for the police while they work. Also, carrying out such a project builds personal relationships. While each box was an individual artist’s work,it was really a group effort by a crew of friends, who all hold the same belief in the POWER of public art.
The bonds at the heart of this work come through to set an example for the larger community.
The Utility Box project reflects the City of Los Angeles’ ongoing, active support of public art and its vital role. Tanner Blackman explains that not only is it
a good way to talk about local artists and history…if you put a mural on a wall it immediately transforms the surrounding space. It’s very powerful.
The project’s potential is far-reaching, and there are plenty more utility boxes available throughout the city. Blackman says:
Council District 14 would love to see submittals. If you have an idea, feel free to contact the field office of Councilman Huizar. As for 118 Winston, many more projects are in the works there, too.
Smiles Free Humanity:
But those are top secret for now.
Tope image: Skechy
From L to R: Bandit, Wild Life, Free Humanity, Teachr, Skechy, Gabette