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It’s Not Just a Bus Line. Streetsblog Explores the Orange Line Extension’s 25 Art Pieces

Last week, I was given the opportunity to take a guided tour of the Orange Line Extension's bike path and public art installation.  For both the Expo Line and the Orange Line Extension, Metro commissioned a team of L.A. County artists to personalize the stations by creating public art projects to reflect the community.  Los Angeles Times architecture critic Chris Hawthorne mocked the stations as "aggressively banal," but Streetsblog South L.A.'s Sahra Sulaiman writes about how community groups are working to make the art even more accesible to those passing through.

With Sahra's article fresh in my mind, I was wondering how the art could improve a station.  After all, there's even less customization one can do with a bus stop, even a full Bus Rapid Transit stop and station, than you can with Expo Line stations.

Metro commissioned twenty five pieces of art at four new stations and the new platform at Canoga Station.  Each station had it's own artist who created two pieces of elliptical art on the pavement and either three or four art panels that were in place of wind screens.  The exception is Chatsworth Station which only has two panels and one ellipse . The number of panels varied based on whether or not the panels faced the public.  In some cases, the back of the panel faces a wall.

Over one hundred and fifty artists submitted proposals based in part on community profile create by a local art advisory panel and other community leaders.  The profile described the local culture, heritage and in some cases artistic styles of the area surrounding the station.  For Metro, the community involvement in creating the guide was critical so each station provides not just some eye-pleasing art but some context on what kind of community one is entering as they step off the bus.  Because the street adjacent to the Orange Line Extension is commercial, with freight yards, strip malls and even a strip club facing the stations; it's the art that provides the real introduction to the Station area.

In an effort to use this program to advance artists' careers, Metro did not require that the artists have experience with either panel art or the glass mosaics that were on the station.  Artists were allowed to work in their preferred medium and specialists helped fit the original art into the mediums at the station.

Our review of each station is after the jump.  But even if you don't ride the Orange Line on bus or bike, you can still visit the art.  You can arrange a tour for a group of 15 or more through the all-volunteer Metro Art Docent Council by calling 213-922-2738.  Don't have 14 friends interested in a tour?  Metro is co-organizing with Valley College an exhibition about the Orange Line art.  Titled, Translations: Artists of the Metro Orange Line, it will run from early October to early December. The exhibition will take place at Valley College's Art Gallery.  We will have more details as they become available.  But for now, on to the art!

The template:

You start with this....When Metro decided to have a public art component to the Orange Line Extension, they decided to have the art fit inside the footprints in the original Orange Line Stations.

Canoga Station: Western Imaginary by Ken Gonzalez-Day

"Western Imaginary" by Ken Gonzalez-Day, 2012

I met with Zipporah Yamamoto and Heidi Zeller, two members of Metro's art team, at Canoga Station.   The two explained how the art program worked, how residents and community leaders provided input that guided the artists, and how Metro was more interested in artists vision than in someone familar with creating stone and glass mosaics or porcelain enamel steel art panels.

Yamamoto explained that from the moment Gonzalez-Day first visited the site of Canoga Station, he wanted to bring some of the local agriculture to the station through his art. "He felt like the station was surrounded by asphalt and concrete and wanted to give the rider something beautiful to look at."

I found Gonzalez-Day's work interesting.  It certainly embraced what the landscape of the area looked like before development.  I also enjoyed how the art panel and ellipses complimented each other even though the mediums were different: a photograph and a stone and glass mosaic.

As a bonus to Streetsblogger visiting the site, the first person who can tell me where the photo for the art panels will win a Streetsblog t-shirt.  Some hints: it's local and the artist removed any modern markings, such as powerlines, from the picture.

Sherman Way: Owensmouth/Canoga Park by Margaret Lazzari

The L.A. River as it existed in the Owensmouth Basin in 1910.
40 years later, there was quite a bit more development and the area was renamed "Canoga Park."
One art panel (not pictured) shows the native plants native to the river banks. The other shows the fruit trees imported to the region when the San Fernando Valley was a world-famous orchard.

Many people don't know this, but the L.A. River branch into the San Fernando Valley actually starts in the back of Canoga High School, making the River a key part to the Valley's eco-system.  Artist Margaret Lazzari wanted to highlight the river's importance to the Valley's growth, not just as an agent for development but also as the lifeblood for native plants and orchards that provide much of The Valley's plant life.

"One of the things that emerged in the process of developing art for this extension was that the artists felt the area was very industrial and they wanted to bring back a little of the feeling of the natural environment," Zeller explained as we stood next to the above art panel.  "All of the stations, except for one feature foliage, fruits and animals that are familiar to the area."

Roscoe Station: Liquid Light by Sam Erenberg

Erenberg used a camera to capture light as he drove down an unidentified Valley street. Tying the feel of rapid travel to a Bus Rapid Transit route seems a natural fit.
While it's not an exact match, the mosaic gives the imprssion of a blurry mirror image of the art panels.

I have to admit, having lived for a couple of years with an incredibly talented documentary photographer and not getting to work with Sahra Sulaiman everyday, I have trouble being really impressed with art photography.  I've been spoiled by being surrounded by it for much of my life.

So it's not the photgraphy that really impressed me here, but the effort to use the glass mosaic to be the opposite of the art panel.  It creates an interesting image and feel.

This picture also shows how the art is "just part of the station" to some of the riders.  Taking advantage of the shade, this man waits for the bus while the other rests his feet.  The glass has been treated to resist scratches and wear so it should last a long time.

Nordhoff Station: Strati by Anne Marie Karlsen

Karlsen strove to create the feeling of an "outdoor living room" by replicating designs popular in area rugs and wallpaper patterns.
Again, we see very similar designs in the mosaic and art panels.

If you look closely at the patterns, you do see the birds, flowers, trees and mountains that ressemble the physical landscape of the San Fernando Valley.  The natural images that appear in the panel and mosaic are taken directly from the state historical society or from the community profile put together by the art advisory panel.

At this station, we had a long talk about how the art is so different than the art at the Expo Station, as each strives to capture the flavor and history of the local communities. Looking at the two sets of art, one really gets an idea how large and diverse Los Angeles County really is.

Chatsworth Station: A Glimpse of Stoney Point by Lisa Adams

Personally, I prefer a horse to images taken from a car to demonstrate the idea of rapid transit. And of course, long-time Streetsblog readers are very aware of the powerful equestrian community in the area.
This was my favorite of the art panels. While the imagery is hand-painted, it's so clear that it appears almost as though it were a picture when one is taking a picture of all the installments.

Yammamoto discussed how, even more than the other installments, you can see the impact of the community profile created by the art advisory panel before artists were selected.  The profile highlighted Stony Pointe, which you can see in the background.

Nobody's going to confuse the Orange Line stations with an art museum, but the stations themselves have a better feel than those on the original Orange Line.  That Metro found a way to leverage the program to help advance the career of local artists, many of the artists were displaying public art for the first or second time, is a happy bonus.

An original version of this post said that the first Orange Line Stations were "art-free."  Metro has pointed out that this statement is incorrect: " The original Orange Line stations DO have art, but we use different materials (rustic terrazzo mosaic on the original instead of glass and stone on the new).  And the original stations have smaller wind screens whereas the new stations have 20 foot long art panels (same material:  porcelain enamel steel)."

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