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THE BUZZ: Open Spaces: Public Art for Community Transformation

Lincoln Park

Open Spaces: Public Art for Community Transformation

Article by Sherehe Hollins

Imagine communities where displays of public art become a metaphor, which empowers residents to reimagine and transform their environment from one that is plagued by poverty, under development, and violence, into symbols of hope, change and community pride. This type of metamorphosis is exactly what has occurred in areas of Lincoln Park, Lemon Grove, Logan Heights and National City, thanks to a public art project called Open Spaces, lead by the San Diego Museum of Art in Balboa Park and supported by the James Irvine Foundation’s Exploring Engagement Fund.

The purpose of the project was to build a partnership between the San Diego Museum of Art and local neighborhoods which oftentimes fall outside of the reach of the museum’s mainstream audience. Through the project, a team of artists-in-residencies, community artists, and community residents, collaborated to select a theme and artistic vision that would artistically embody the heart and soul of their community in a public space.

Each community was granted $30,000 to create a public work of art that would hopefully lend itself to the creation of future cultural and artistic initiatives that enrich the lives of residents. The project was unique in that the collaboration allowed for all parties involved to decide upon their creative process. This customized and tailor-made approach made for very distinct artistic outcomes, which mirror the unique characteristics that are found throughout the four communities.

In Lincoln Park the community chose to transform the infamous intersection at Market and Euclid, notoriously dubbed, “The Four Corners of Death”, into a symbol of life, by selecting positive messages and words displayed on reflective street sign material. More than 30 words can be seen on businesses and private property, including the phrase “Live Love Laugh Learn”. The multilingual statements are written in English, Spanish, and Lao, representing the shared sentiment of hope within a community that is rich in cultural and linguistic diversity.

In Lemon Grove the community decided to bring a sense of safety to an unpleasant underpass on Buena Vista Avenue, near the 94 Freeway, by erecting a mural with images that carry historic symbolism, such as the lemon blossom and flora and fauna that is native to the region. The 15 variations of plant life and vegetation represented within the mural reflect a sense of community resilience and growth for Lemon Grove residents.

In National City the community decided upon an installation of vivid large-scale butterfly sculptures made of aluminum and customized with unique textures, patterns and vinyl shapes that are reflective and visible during the day and night. The unique pieces, some of which stand seven feet tall, come together to create a “Butterfly Path” throughout the city. The sculptures were erected in the arts districts of Kimball Park, Las Palmas Park, Butterfly Park and Olivewood Garden.

In Logan Heights the community decided to create a bilingual art, culture and education focused radio station called, “Radio Pulso del Barrio”, which translates into “Radio: Neighborhood Heartbeat.” The radio station, which is broadcasted in the Bread & Salt Gallery in Logan Heights, airs online at A volunteer committee curates the shows’ content. The committee is in the process of establishing a board that will help build a long-term vision to ensure the station’s longevity. The mission of “Radio Pulso del Barrio” is, “to connect and empower its neighborhoods by giving residents a voice to create and maintain a dialogue about issues that matter to them most.” One of the reasons Open Spaces is such an important project is because it gives voice to communities that oftentimes feel they fall outside of the mainstream creative and public discourse.

Open Spaces, serves as an example of how impactful art can be when communities feel a sense of inclusion, ownership and connection to the work. The San Diego Museum of Art hopes to continue to build bridges with underserved communities in order to connect residents to the growing opportunities for art and community engagement through SDMA, its surrounding cultural institutions in Balboa Park and throughout San Diego County. The collaboration symbolizes a new approach that many museums and cultural institutions are beginning to take, which affirms that art is a universal language of cultural exchange and expression that is designed for and inclusive of all of San Diego’s diverse residents.

Vanguard Culture

Vanguard Culture is an online media entity designed for culturally savvy, socially conscious individuals. We provide original interviews and reviews of the people, places, and events that make up San Diego’s thriving arts and culture community, as well as curated snapshots of the week’s best, most inspiring and unique cultural and culinary events. We believe in making a difference in the world, supporting San Diego’s vibrant visual and performing arts community and bringing awareness to important social and community causes.

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