2012-10-02

Co.Exist

In L.A., A Freeway’s Closure Prompts A Celebration Of Neighborhood Culture

Can art fight traffic? In response to L.A.'s second highway-less "Carmageddon," artists around the city created "ARTmaggedon" to get people excited about the cultural happenings right in their own neighborhoods.

Only in Los Angeles would a weekend-long freeway closure last summer earn the cinematic name “Carmageddon.” Hollywood loves a sequel, and last weekend, the much-hyped (but never fully realized) traffic disaster repeated itself with "Carmageddon II": the two-and-a-half-day closing of 10 miles of I-405, the nation’s busiest freeway, as part of a $1 billion widening project.

Just like last year, the city’s transit agency Metro warned residents to stay off the roads, “plan ahead, avoid the area, or eat, shop and play locally.” But despite concerns of traffic chaos, local performer and director Diana Wyenn wasn’t all that worried. In fact, she was kind of excited.

“Last time people stayed off the roads, and a kind of party atmosphere arose,” she said. This time, Wyenn and a group of collaborators channeled that stranded-but-carefree, neighborhood-centric vibe into what she called a “city-wide art party.” The name? ARTmageddon.

Wyenn and her partner Ezra LeBank teamed up with city agencies, galleries, arts nonprofits, and museums including LACMA and the Hammer Museum, to curate and promote a list of hundreds of the city’s art happenings on a searchable map. “We wanted to take this as an opportunity to take some of the hype around Carmageddon and put an artistic spin on it,” she says, “and push some of that focus onto celebrating, supporting, and experiencing local art.”

On a weekend when people were less likely to drive far from their neighborhood, the ARTmageddon project encouraged residents to bike, walk, or take public transportation to art events that might usually slip under the radar. Wyenn estimates that thousands of people, including hundreds of artists, participated, and in their own small way, helped decrease congestion on the freeways by opting out of cross-town car trips.

In L.A.’s Westlake neighborhood on Saturday, 10 miles away from the closures, Bari Hochwald, artistic director of The Global Theatre Project, called it “a happy coincidence” that a performance she organized fell during ARTmaggedon. Her project Rapping on the Tempest, a public art piece mashing-up spoken word with text from The Tempest, got neighborhood kids thinking about Shakespeare, as they hauled a massive blue puppet up a historic block of Wilshire Boulevard in a street performance.

Students were asked to decorate the puppet’s hair with pieces of paper representing their fears, like “prejudice” and “crime.” Fittingly, “traffic” wasn’t one of them.

Just like last year, Angelenos heeded the warnings and stayed off the roads. Reports of unusual congestion were nonexistent: a rare traffic success story in L.A., and one that’s perhaps indebted to people taking “the opportunity--really, the excuse--to stay local,” says Wyenn.

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