A recent mayoral announcement officially launched the Department of Cultural Affairs’ new Current:LA initiative, an issues-driven public art biennial whose inaugural edition happens at non-traditional locations scattered across the city in July and August. The first edition, Current:LA Water, addresses the multivalent topic of water’s usage, history, and role in the city’s physical and social infrastructure. This includes the L.A. River, but as the organizers are quick to point out, it is about so much more than just the river. There's water infrastructure throughout the city from the Port of L.A. (San Pedro) to the L.A. wetlands of Ballona Creek, to Hansen Dam in the north), and of course, the coast.
The DCA’s Public Art Division is using $1 million received through a grant program of the Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Public Art Challenge, plus matching funds from the city’s Arts Development Fee (ADF) program, more commonly known as the percent-for-art program that taps developers and other kinds of businesses for sustaining funds for what is usually permanent works of public art. But forget that abstract-sculpture-in-a-plaza model of public art; the Bloomberg grant specifically called for temporary public art projects and public programs at outdoor locations, and the DCA has embraced this paradigm shift with an enthusiast, open-minded can-do spirit taking full advantage of what DCA general manager Danielle Brazell calls “L.A.’s inspired moment.”
Besides reframing the conversation on what public art can be, Current:LA is also reconfiguring assumptions about what a biennial looks like.
- Shana Nys Dambrot