By Stash Maleski
The Venice Art Walls are scheduled to be closed to painting starting July 1, when the last of the city of Los Angeles funding for the current program runs out. People painting on the walls without a permit will be subject to tickets and arrest.
In an effort to raise funds to keep the walls open for painting, ICU Art is presenting the The Venice Art Walls Benefit Art Auction. The auction takes place 6-9PM, Tuesday, June 3 at the G2 Gallery, 1503 Abbot Kinney Blvd. More than 40 artists are donating work for the exhibition. Many of the artists are well-known graffiti artists that also do work on canvas. Others are Venice-based artists that have a connection to the Walls or just want to support the cause. Some have become up-and-coming “art stars” featured in exhibitions around the world.
ICU Art is a Venice-based arts organization that has been curating the Venice Art Walls as a service to the artists of Los Angeles and the residents of Venice. ICU Art helped to save the Walls from removal in 1999 and has been curating the walls since 2000 when it first became legal to paint graffiti in the area. In the past year, ICU Art has successfully implemented a free permit program that allows artists to paint on the Walls on weekends and City of L.A. holidays. (This permit system is not related to the permit system for Boardwalk vendors.)
Although the city of Los Angeles considers the current program a success, due to the extreme nature of the city’s budget crisis, all funds are being cut to the program. ICU Art will attempt to keep the program running using funds donated by private donors and area businesses. Hopefully, city funding of some sort can be found for the program.
All of the funds generated from the Auction will go to pay the on-site supervisors that issue the free permits to artists when the walls are open. These supervisors are generally young artists that direct traffic on the walls, inform people about the permit program and work to keep the area clean.
Prior to the current permit system in 2006-07, traffic at the Walls was so heavy that as soon as one artist finished their work, another artist was waiting to go over it with another piece. People painted on the Walls 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The sheer volume of creative output was impressive and the freeform, artistic expression was refreshing in a way. However, there were problems and the area was out of control. Eventually artists were less willing to put a great deal of effort or time into a piece knowing it would be painted over so quickly. Most of the pieces were basic and simple. Many of the established graffiti artists feel there was an overall decline in the quality of the artwork during this period.
Some of the residents and businesses in the area complained of rampant illegal vandalism, and they attributed it to the people painting in the Art Walls area. There was a movement by these residents to shut down the Walls and to have them removed. In an effort to mitigate any negative impacts that the Walls might have, ICU Art proposed the current permit system.
With the new system, the area is only open for painting on weekends and holidays when the supervisors are present to issue the free permits. Because the Walls are closed to painting on weekdays, the last pieces painted on Sunday stay up for the whole week.
In 2007, Councilmember Bill Rosendahl secured city funds to cover half the cost of implementing the permit program. ICU Art contributed an equal amount of funds and all administrative services for the Walls under the new system. The program included a comprehensive effort by residents, businesses and city departments to remove illegal vandalism quickly, have more police patrol the area and to inform the artists using the area that illegal vandalism would not be tolerated and was endangering the Walls.
Since the permit system has been in effect, illegal vandalism in the area has gone down. Most people including Bill Rosendahl’s office feel that the program is a great success. The quality of the artwork has steadily increased, as more established artists return to the walls to invest more time and effort into elaborate pieces rather than just quick tags. The area remains a major cultural draw and is used often as a location for filming and events.
The time has come for Venetians to let their government know that funding for the Venice Art Walls program should be found. Contact Arturo Piña in Bill Rosendahl’s office, Jon Mukri at the Department of Recreation and Parks or Olga Garay at the Department of Cultural Affairs to encourage them to find funding for this program. People can contribute directly to the program by attending the Art Auction on June 3, volunteering time or spreading the word through www.VeniceArtWalls.com.
The Venice Art Walls are a symbol of the artistic spirit of Venice and an outlet for free expression. The area is a cultural historic landmark that should be preserved and cared for. Without the proper support for the program that curates the walls, the walls are in jeopardy of being removed.
Please attend our benefit art auction! See announcement to the left.
Stash Maleski is Curator of the Venice Art Walls.