Sunday, May 11, 2014

Cypress Park's Underground Art Scene

Welcome to the Cypress Village Tunnel!
Los Angeles' subway tunnels have become known for their public art -- but there's another kind of tunnel in town that's known for its artistic installations as well.

The City of Los Angeles has some 100 pedestrian tunnels, which were initially built in the 1920s near elementary schools, as a way for schoolchildren to safely cross the street and avoid the dangers of automobiles and streetcars (sort of like the 20th century version of Safe Routes To School). Since the 1960s, though, these tunnels have become magnets for crime, tagging, public urination, garbage dumping, drug deals, and any other thing parents wouldn't want their kids to get near, so many of them got locked up for good, only to become oversized trash pits and general urban blight. Some were filled in and removed altogether.

In the Northeast Los Angeles community of Cypress Park, local Yancey Quinones, owner of nearby Antigua Coffee House on the corner,  worked with then-councilman Ed Reyes and the City's Public Works department to convert one of these abandoned pedestrian underpasses, located on the corner of north Figueroa and Loreto streets, into a public art gallery, known as the Cypress Village Tunnel Art Walk. The tunnel is the focus of monthly Art Walk events, which take place on the 2nd Saturday of each month.

A block party on Saturday to celebrate the tunnel's 1st birthday as an art space.
This past Saturday, Loreto Street was closed down for a mini-street fair to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the opening of the tunnel. There was music, poetry, an arts and crafts fair, and an overall Eastside-centric good time.

The Militant also got to go into the tunnel for the first time, and was fascinated by not just the temporary art on exhibit by local artists, but by the permanent art painted on its walls (the western end even has an homage to the Los Angeles River culvert cats!). The cubbyholes where the light fixtures go into are also part of the exhibit, used to not only hold lighting, but other art pieces.

But the most impressive thing about the tunnel is (aside from the noticeable absence of urine or any other offending odors) the comforting quiet, despite the cars, trucks and buses speeding along Figueroa Street just a few feet above you. That, and being with others who are not just enjoying the art but the odd serenity of the tunnel space. Something certainly never felt in such a utilitarian structure before.

The tunnel has also inspired other pedestrian tunnels in the city to be converted into art spaces, such as one in El Sereno. Man, the Eastside has got it goin' on!

Volunteers continue to decorate the tunnel
If you want to experience the Cypress Village Tunnel yourself, check out the next art walk event on Saturday, June 14 (the second Saturday of the month), from 6 to 10 p.m. The tunnel floods during rainstorms, so art walk events are usually cancelled in the event of rain (We're in a drought right now, so we wouldn't have to worry about that for a while, heh...).

The Militant just loves these kinds of transformative projects, done by the community and for the community. Does your neighborhood have a tunnel that can serve this kind of purpose?