Earlier this month, anyone walking past the corner of Olive and Seventh in the downtown Historic Core may have noticed a new mural along the lengthy storefront façades of the building anchored by the Los Angeles Athletic Club. In striking red and black, with a chic mix of fonts, and across walls, windows, flags and awnings, the words of the modern classic poem “I Am Alive in Los Angeles” unfurl and engage with the city’s architecture and its residents.
The I Am Alive in Los Angeles! mural, painted by renowned artist Phil America, cites the poem of the same name, written by L.A. native, professor, historian and poet Mike Sonksen. Like much of Sonksen’s work — and in fact, like America’s art as well — this poem combines a boss upbeat rhythm with a love of the city’s breadth of location and lore.
“For me it really functions as a series of paintings,” America tells L.A. Weekly. “The entire project was sparked and inspired by the L.A. Athletic Club, especially through the use of different typefaces I saw all around the club itself. And I chose phrases that could hold the space they occupy and be as powerful alone as they are all together,” he says. “Once you see all the paintings, you start to get the larger picture of the poem itself.”
That’s actually a pretty good analogy for what’s going on *inside* those storefronts, too. DTLA//IRL is a pop-up venture that encompasses an eclectic gallery and retail store, a multipurpose lounge and a special-event space.
DTLA//IRL is the brainchild of Abby Allen and her creative studio, Neon Butterfly, and hosted by the Downtown Center Business Improvement District. Allen describes the visions as, "An elaborate pop-up venture that’s part installation, part information center, part retail store—the activation is designed as a holiday hub for the vibrant and growing DTLA business and retail district with a focus on promoting, celebrating and supporting downtown retailers."
On any given afternoon (at least from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. plus special events) and some evenings, you’ll find fashion, designs, affordable art, elevated crafts, as well as maybe massage therapy and local bakeries. Sometimes, there’s music and poetry.
For example, this week the official wrap-up holiday party takes place on Wednesday, Dec. 19 from 5 to 8 p.m. There will be food, beverages, music, giveaways — and the choice of either a 20 percent discount, or the donation of that 20 percent to local charitable organization PATH. This is more than a civic-minded gesture for the season; for artist America and project producer Tre Borden, it’s about walking the walk when it comes to community engagement and support. It goes hand in hand with their focus on local artists, creatives and cultural entrepreneurs.
The mural itself is, of course, a huge part of that. Having it brighten the architectural interior, it sends art out into the street, reflecting what the organizers call “an intention to heighten accessibility to art in the community, facing out toward the city rather than inside a private, restricted space.” This is exactly the kind of work Borden loves to do — combining art and place-making with independent commercial opportunities.
For his part, Phil America often uses text, installation, painting, fashion, architectural activation and performance in his global works of art, so the idea of a holistic approach to community marketplace and a chance to work with such a historic location were already in his happy place. “My studio is downtown,” America says, “so when the opportunity came to do something downtown, it was really important for me to create something facing outward to people of all social standings and have everyone be able to engage with the work.”
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Cruise by and see for yourself in the next couple of days before the holidays are truly upon us, and especially at Wednesday’s very merry evening hours.