Cartwheel Art Takes American Planning Association L.A. on Art District Mural Tour

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Ashley Atkinson, is Programs Co-Director, APA LA. She shares her experiences on the Cartwheel Art Tour of the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District which was designed for the group, and open to the public.

What do street artists and urban planners have in common?

No, it’s not a cheap joke–it’s a question explored by a March 22 tour of the Arts District hosted by the Los Angeles section of the American Planning Association (APA LA) and produced by Cartwheel Art.

And what do they have in common? An appreciation for the ways our built environment creates community and a sense of the possibilities in a blank wall.

In the fall of 2013, the City of Los Angeles legalized murals on private property after having banned them for a decade as part of a dispute over First Amendment rights with the outdoor advertising industry. Meanwhile, murals continued to appear, but with the risk of citations for building owners who allowed them. The City’s new Mural Ordinance permits murals (but not ads) in commercial and industrial areas, ushering in a new era for the city that was once called the Mural Capital of the World.

For this tour, Tanner Blackman, Planning Director for Council District 14 and one of the primary architects of the Mural Ordinance in his former position with the Department of City Planning, and Cartwheel Art’s Cindy Schwarzstein served as our guides to the past, present, and future of street art in the Arts District.

With the neighborhood’s murals lining our path, a group of planners, designers, students, aficionados and the simply curious set out to explore the Arts District and what the new ordinance means for LA’s urban environment and its role as a major art city. After two hours that only suggested the depth of the area’s treasures (which include pieces by RISK, Shepard Fairey, Vyal, Dabs & Myla, and Ron English, among other acclaimed artists), we ended with a stop for drinks and discussion at Angel City Brewery, housed in the historic 1913 Roebling & Sons building that itself serves as a canvas. At least one passerby became intrigued enough to spontaneously join our tour – and stuck around for a beer!

The tour started in the heart of the Arts District at Bloom Square, so named for Joel Bloom, a community activist who helped shape the neighborhood over two decades. After a welcome from APA LA leadership, Tanner and Cindy introduced our group to the area and the Mural Ordinance. Circling the art-covered District Mills building, and strolling past Kim West’s captivating wolf mural outside Wurstkuche restaurant, we explored the enclosed parking lot behind American Hotel building, with 365 degrees of murals in a variety of styles. There we encountered a quinceañera photo session using a mural as a backdrop, the piece’s vivid colors highlighting the turquoise dress of the quinceañera herself. Although she shyly declined a photo with us, we followed her lead and paused for a group portrait in front of an UTI Crew piece. With two dogs, a couple of strollers, and nearly 50 people, we made for a festive group!

As we walked, guests consulted souvenir maps provided by Cartwheel Art that listed the murals, along with points of interest and businesses in the area. Cindy provided context for the pieces and the perspective of an Arts District resident, while Tanner discussed recent and upcoming development projects and ways in which developers are being encouraged to preserve the spirit of the neighborhood – like including communal working spaces for artists in new apartment and condo buildings.

Along the way we encountered a few unexpected surprises, like garden gnomes dressed for St. Patrick’s Day, the Parachute Market design fair, and a film shoot replete with a flattened car under the 6th Street Bridge. As popular as the area’s murals are for filming, the entertainment industry can pose a threat, since productions have to pay royalties to the artists in order to use them. Nearby, we witnessed the former site of a RETNA mural that had fallen victim to this system. Because the cost of filming the mural was prohibitively high, the building owner had painted it over with simple color blocks – but not before RETNA vandalized the mural himself.

Headed back to our starting point at 3rd Street and Traction Avenue, the tired but happy group picked up the pace as we approached Angel City Brewery. Many stayed on to talk art and planning while refreshing with an Angeleno IPA or Gold Line Pilsner, all under the watchful eyes of the JR mural on the façade.

APA LA, with more than 1,300 local members, helps local urban planners create a better Los Angeles through professional, educational, and social programs. For more information and upcoming events, visit our Facebook page.

Cartwheel Art Tours can organize a tour for your group, and also offers public tours. To reserve a spot on an upcoming tour, or to design a tour for your group, contact


The tours starting point  in Joel Bloom Square where participants began viewing of the murals by How & Nosm with Dabs & Myla to the left, Lucy McLaughlin, in the center and JR to the right with a peek of Kid Zoom below JR’s.


Another view of the tour’s starting point in Joel Bloom Square where participants could see the  Shepard Fairey’s mural above the Poketo shop to the left and Damon Martin’s geisha mural next to District Gallery. The painted imagery on the ground was left from an Airbnb pop-up that occurred last summer.


Cindy Schwarzstein, Cartwheel Art Founder and Producer/co-host of the tour began with an introduction to welcome the participants to the Arts District and distributed souvenir maps created by Cartwheel Art for the tours. Tanner Blackman, co-host and Planning Director for District 14 and the primary architect of the Los Angeles Mural Ordinance also gave a presentation.



Lucy McLaughlin’s new mural on the Angel City Brewery Warehouse, commissioned by ACB.


The tour group spent time viewing older murals to the Arts District: Dcypher, MSK Members, CBS/UTI/LOD Crew, Keve OF, Eise/ICR, Spiro & ICR, and a mural by Kim West on the District Mills Building. All are close to Novel Cafe and Eat Drink Americano Restaurant.


Here the tour group took in the collaborative mural work of many older Los Angeles graffiti crews including Vyal, Dcypher, MSK members, CBS/UTI/LOD, Keve and OFA while also discussing the Mega Toys residential project, under development across the street from the murals.




Mister Cartoon seen here as the tour group continues through the Arts District.


JR’s mural  from his series Wrinkles of the City, one of two in the Arts District. These were painted during MOCA’s historic “Art in the Streets” exhibition.


After passing the Pie Hole and the Arts District General Store, the group arrived in front of the consistently ever-changing wall of graffiti, wheat pastes and more that occurs on the American Hotel. Shepard Fairy’s Peace Goddess is in the background to the top right, with a peek of  Kim West’s wolves mural to the right, next to the Wurstkuche sausage kitchen.1173650_294902760660791_1181588553_n

This mural seen in the American Hotel’s parking lot is part of a collaborative wall by UTI Crew including Nuke. It’s always a favorite with tours.


The group in front of UTI Crew piece at American Hotel.


A more recent mural on the American Hotel that was painted by Los Angeles’s UTI Crew, Nuke, Petal, Black Light King, and French artist Mateo.



Near the  Art Share LA building. The group viewed the Earth Crew mural, painted in the 1980’s when Los Angeles had a program that funded for murals in the city.


 Christina Angelina and Fin Dac.



How and Nosm mural on the wall of Willow Gallery.  Snapped walking past Handsome Coffee while the APA LA discussed other businesses in the area that are planned to open.


While outside of  Willow Gallery, Tanner discussed  about the filming/mural component that exists in the Arts District where RETNA’s mural had just been painted over before heading towards Sixth Street bridge to learn more about filming in the Arts District.


 This isn’t graffiti art!. It isn’t tagging either. This car is part of location shoot in Downtown Los Angeles!



At this location, the tour split up, with some taking a better look at the One Santa Fe mixed-use development, while others checked out SCI-Arc. Here one group views the How and Nosm mural on a live/work loft space building in the Arts District.


Before heading over to Angel City Brewery for a selection of artisan beers and a continued conversation about that tour, there were two last murals viewed, COPE to the right and DAZE to the left.

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