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Destination Crenshaw pays tribute to Black creativity and history in Los Angeles

UCLA faculty and alumni contributed ideas, expertise and artworks to the $100 million revitalization project
Overhead view of Destination Crenshaw’s Sankofa Park featuring designs for works by Maren Hassinger, Kehinde Wiley and Charles Dickson.

Overhead view of Destination Crenshaw’s Sankofa Park featuring designs for works by Maren Hassinger, Kehinde Wiley and Charles Dickson. Image credit: Rendering by Perkins&Will, courtesy of Destination Crenshaw

 


By Avishay Artsy | 

A cultural and economic corridor that celebrates the contributions of Southern California’s Black community is coming to South Los Angeles. Destination Crenshaw is a $100 million revitalization project that will bring public art, pocket parks and small business investment to 1.3 miles of Crenshaw Boulevard.

Helping bring this project to life? UCLA faculty and alumni.

Crenshaw is a neighborhood in transition. Construction of a light rail line connecting Crenshaw and LAX airport and the opening of SoFi Stadium in nearby Inglewood have boosted home values and brought in new businesses, while accelerating gentrification and displacement. Destination Crenshaw was incorporated as a non-profit in November 2017 to draw attention to the area’s Black history and culture.

“It was a way to kind of lay an anchor and say that this is a Black community, and we want to show that through our cultural heritage,” said Darnell Hunt, dean of social sciences in the UCLA College, and a member of the Chancellor’s Council on the Arts. Since 2017, Hunt has served as an advisor to the project at the invitation of city councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson, who is spearheading the initiative.

Members of Harris-Dawson’s staff had read “Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities,” a book that Hunt had co-edited with Ana-Christina Ramón at the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA and published in 2010.



In his role as advisor, Hunt recommended key moments and figures in Black L.A. history to include. Marcus Hunter, a professor of sociology and the inaugural chair of the department of African American studies at UCLA, also became an advisor.

“UCLA was kind of the scholarly anchor,” Hunt said. “We were the place that was trying to make sure that they were staying true to the history.”

The community partners working on Destination Crenshaw include artist Judith Baca, distinguished professor emeritus in the departments of Chicana and Chicano and Central American studies and world arts and cultures/dance, and a long list of UCLA alumni: arts educator and independent filmmaker Ben Caldwell, educator Mandla Kayise, curator Naima Keith, community organizers Karen Mack and Alberto Retana, and art advisor Joy Simmons.

Image of Kehinde Wiley’s “Rumors of War” figure in the location of his planned Destination Crenshaw sculpture, which will be a bookend to “Rumors of War” and feature a female figure.

Kehinde Wiley’s “Rumors of War” figure in the location of his planned Destination Crenshaw sculpture, which will be a bookend to “Rumors of War” and feature a female figure. Image credit: Rendering by Perkins&Will, courtesy of Destination Crenshaw


Turning insult into opportunity

Destination Crenshaw took shape after the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced plans to build the portion of the Crenshaw/LAX line between Hyde Park and Leimert Park at-grade, rather than underground. Area residents fumed at how building the line at-grade would bisect Crenshaw Boulevard in two, making it less walkable and thereby reducing the foot traffic vital to small businesses and a connected community.

Locals vowed to turn an insult into an opportunity, launching an ambitious project to upgrade infrastructure, build community gathering places and parks, add more than 800 trees, invest in small businesses on the boulevard, and install public artworks by local Black artists.

In meeting with Harris-Dawson’s office, Hunter, a Leimert Park resident, heard city council staff members talk about Crenshaw/LAX rail passengers “passing through” the area.

“Then it became a discussion about like, what does it mean to pass through?” Hunter said. “You want to invite people to get off, but also you want people to have some kind of experience or awareness of what they’re passing through on their way to downtown or wherever they’re going on the train.”

Image of Artis Lane’s sculpture “Emerging First Man” in Sankofa Park.

Artis Lane’s sculpture “Emerging First Man” in Sankofa Park. Image credit: Rendering by Perkins&Will, courtesy of Destination Crenshaw


Creating a showcase space for public art

Destination Crenshaw, which spans Crenshaw Boulevard from 48th to 60th streets, will include a new “Afrocentric streetscape” design and six new pocket parks. More than 100 public artworks and exhibits, including monuments, statues, murals and augmented reality storytelling, are set to be included.

In October 2021, the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Commission approved plans for seven permanent outdoor sculptures along the route. Destination Crenshaw commissioned work from seven prominent Black artists with local ties, including Kehinde Wiley and Alison Saar. Artists Maren Hassinger and Brenna Youngblood, both UCLA alumna, have also been commissioned to create work.

Image of Sankofa Park featuring design for Maren Hassinger’s sculpture “An Object of Curiosity, Radiating Love.”

Sankofa Park featuring design for Maren Hassinger’s sculpture “An Object of Curiosity, Radiating Love.” Image credit: Rendering by Perkins&Will, courtesy of Destination Crenshaw


Hassinger, who was born in Los Angeles in 1947, recalls childhood visits to the May Company department store at the corner of Crenshaw and Santa Barbara (now Martin Luther King Jr.) boulevards. She graduated from Bennington College in Vermont with a bachelor’s in sculpture in 1969, and from UCLA with an M.F.A. in 1973. Her work often incorporates unconventional materials such as plastic bags, leaves and branches, wire, rope and found trash.

For the Destination Crenshaw project, “I knew right away that I wanted to do something that I hadn’t done before,” Hassinger said, “but I somehow wanted it to reflect on an L.A. experience. When I think of L.A., I think of bright and sunny and shiny and warm and loud and busy, and for some reason, I started seeing this pink sphere in my head.”

Hassinger’s sculpture will be installed on a grassy area at the center of Sankofa Park, an elevated outdoor plaza that Destination Crenshaw is building at 46th Street. “An Object of Curiosity, Radiating Love” is a large fiberglass orb, hot pink and six feet in diameter.

As people approach the orb, sensors will trigger it to light up and emit a soft pink glow. This sensation of a dialogue with passers-by is meant to evoke the community-minded spirit of a neighborhood in the midst of a dramatic and unsettling transition.

“So, it’s as if this warm hot pink thing said hello, or winked, or nodded. I want you to know, as a person walking by, that you’re noticed. You exist,” Hassinger said.

Image of I AM Park featuring design for Brenna Youngblood’s work “I AM.”

I AM Park featuring design for Brenna Youngblood’s work “I AM.” Image credit: Rendering by Perkins&Will, courtesy of Destination Crenshaw


Youngblood grew up in Riverside but visited South L.A. as a child, attending church with her family in Compton and South Gate. She now has a home and studio in the Crenshaw district.

“I’ve been here about six years. Not that long, but long enough to see some changes,” she said.

Youngblood received her bachelor’s of fine arts from Cal State Long Beach in 2002 and her M.F.A. from UCLA in 2006. In 2012, she participated in the Hammer Museum’s inaugural “Made in L.A.” biennial exhibition.

Her piece “I AM” will be installed toward the southern end of the route, near Slauson Avenue, in Welcome Park and I AM Park. The letters I AM evoke the posters carried by Civil Rights demonstrators that read “I AM A MAN.” The 8-foot-tall bronze sculpture resembles stacked toy blocks with letters along the sides spelling out I AM. The blocks also look like a jungle gym, which speaks to the formative role of language in shaping identity. The sculpture is a reimagining of one of Youngblood’s earlier works, “MIA,” (2011).

“I think that people will enjoy it because it’s a sculpture that you can touch, that you can crawl up on,” she said.

A tribute to history based on meticulous research

Harris-Dawson’s Council office asked Hunter and his UCLA students to add historical context to Destination Crenshaw. Hunter and 10 graduate students pored through the archives of the African American newspapers California Eagle and the Los Angeles Sentinel to revisit L.A. history from 1850 to 2015. The students presented their research to the design team of Perkins&Will, the architect-of-record for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., which they worked on alongside design architect Adjaye Associates.

What became clear, Hunter said, was that any conversation about Black L.A. history has to start with Bridget “Biddy” Mason. Born a slave, Mason became one of the first prominent citizens and landowners in Los Angeles in the 1850s and 1860s. Working as a midwife and nurse, she used her money to purchase land in what is now the heart of downtown. The investment made her the wealthiest Black woman in the city. She donated to charities, fed and sheltered the poor, visited prisoners and founded the First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles in 1872.

“[Mason] is the godmother of Black LA. You cannot talk about Black Los Angeles without talking about her,” Hunter said. People passing through this area “need to see her or experience something about her.”

Other historical markers will track Crenshaw’s role in shaping the nation’s cultural imagination. Crenshaw has been home to many prominent Black entertainers, such as stand-up comedian Redd Foxx, rapper Ice-T, and singers Ray Charles, Ike and Tina Turner and Nancy Wilson. It was also home to the hit TV show “Soul Train,” which host Don Cornelius started in Chicago in 1970 but brought to L.A. the following year. Local high school students packed Soul Train’s stage to show off fashion styles and new dance moves that were then copied by teens across the country.

Image of Welcome Park at 50th Street featuring design for Alison Saar’s work “Bearing Witness.”

Welcome Park at 50th Street featuring design for Alison Saar’s work “Bearing Witness.” Image credit: Rendering by Perkins&Will, courtesy of Destination Crenshaw


Mapping the movement of Black L.A.

Using census data, the UCLA student researchers also mapped the migration of the Black population across time.

“Black populations have shifted. They’ve moved throughout the decades and centuries in pretty interesting ways,” Hunt said.

Because of redlining and racist housing policies, the neighborhood’s early residents were almost exclusively middle-class and upper-middle-class white families. Former L.A. Mayor (and UCLA alumnus) Tom Bradley and his wife needed a white intermediary to buy their first house in Leimert Park in 1950, while he was serving as a Los Angeles police officer and prior to his entry into politics. After the U.S. Supreme Court struck down racially restrictive housing covenants, Japanese American families began to move in, and the center of the city’s Black population shifted west from its longtime home along Central Avenue.

However, Hunt continues, “after the ’92 Uprising, a lot of Blacks moved into the Inland Empire for cheaper housing and schools. And for the first time the Black population actually declined during that decade.” Despite this migration to the Inland Empire, Crenshaw’s population remains above 60% Black, while other former Black strongholds like Watts are now predominantly Latino.

“Crenshaw and the surrounding areas, Baldwin Hills, View Park, is still a heavy Black concentrated population, and parts of it are middle class and upper middle class, which is kind of unique,” Hunt said, describing the Crenshaw neighborhood as the “center of gravity” for the community. “It’s where a lot of the action is concentrated, even though it’s not inclusive of the entirety of Black L.A.”

Destination Crenshaw moves ahead

Construction on Destination Crenshaw slowed during the height of the pandemic, but work is now moving apace, and organizers expect the project to be completed by spring of 2023, and to debut the seven permanent artworks before next fall. Fundraising now stands at about $72 million, and the Getty Foundation has provided $3 million to commission and fabricate the first seven sculptures, as well as plan for their conservation. The project, which aims to include more than 100 works of art by Black artists, will continue to commission new works in order to create what’s billed as “the nation’s largest art and cultural celebration of African American contribution to world culture.”

“The intention is to enshrine in a proper, meaningful way what Black people have contributed and that they were here, even if you’re not seeing them now, that they were here and they contributed,” Hunter said.

And while the new streetscaping, pocket parks and large-scale sculptures may lure passengers off the train, the project is largely aimed at boosting local businesses and catering to those who live in the district, not just pass through it.

“It’s definitely for the Black community. It’s about staking claim to our history, our culture, and making sure that those stories are remembered,” Hunt said. But, he added, Destination Crenshaw can also raise awareness that “this is a signature Black community that has a history and is connected to a broader history in L.A.”

This article originally appeared in the UCLA NewsroomFor more news and updates from the UCLA College, visit college.ucla.edu.
UCLA 100 Years Skyline

UCLA to mark 100th birthday with year of celebration

UCLA 100 Years Skyline

UCLA 100 Years Skyline

A yearlong series of programs and events will celebrate UCLA’s 100th birthday while illuminating the campus’s growth, commitment to diversity and inclusion, and impact as a leading public research university.

UCLA 100 festivities kick off on Saturday, May 18, with Alumni Day, featuring special speakers, campus tours and programs that mark UCLA’s first 100 years. On the same day, in the campus’s iconic Royce Hall, an all-star lineup of UCLA and guest speakers will ruminate on the subject of time for a special installment of the annual TedxUCLA. Immediately following the talks, the exterior of Royce Hall will become the backdrop for a dynamic light-and-sound show highlighting the people, breakthroughs and moments that defined UCLA’s first century. The display will be free and open to the public.

“UCLA has accomplished so much in its first century, fueled by a spirit of innovation and inclusion,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “This institution has proudly challenged, contributed and connected in ways that serve the world and particularly greater Los Angeles, the diverse and vibrant region that has helped define who we are. Yet our successes have not been the product of natural inevitability. They are the result of hard work, risk and vision. Our centennial, therefore, is a time for us not only to look back and celebrate, but also to look around and ahead to determine what still needs to be done to improve lives across our community and around the world, and how we can best achieve that.”

The seeds of today’s UCLA were planted in the 1881 creation of the downtown Los Angeles State Normal School, which later moved to Vermont Avenue. In 1919, the University of California Southern Branch opened on the Vermont Avenue campus. The University of California at Los Angeles name was officially adopted in 1927, and in 1929, instruction began on the present-day Westwood campus. From those beginnings, UCLA has, in just a century, become consistently ranked as one of the top public universities in the world, and the nation’s most applied-to university. UCLA faculty and researchers are routinely recognized for their leadership and breakthroughs in a stunning array of fields, ranging from health and technology to social sciences and the arts.

In a nod to the campus’s downtown roots, the centennial festivities will continue May 22 in front of Los Angeles City Hall, when the Los Angeles City Council will proclaim “UCLA Day,” on the eve of the anniversary of the university’s official 1919 founding. Free and open to the public, a celebration in Grand Park will follow, featuring food trucks, performances by the UCLA Marching Band and KCRW DJ Jason Bentley, and culminating in the lighting of City Hall in UCLA’s signature blue and gold colors. Other structures on campus and throughout the city — including the Grand Park fountains, Staples Center and the Los Angeles International Airport pylons — will also be illuminated in blue and gold.

Throughout the year, UCLA will celebrate its connection to the city at a dozen major Los Angeles events. Among them are the LA Pride Parade on June 9, and the CicLAvia open streets event on October 6, where UCLA faculty, staff and students will host art-making activities, mobile health clinics, performances, research demonstrations and more.

On August 31, in partnership with Levitt Pavilion, UCLA will present a free public concert in MacArthur Park by internationally renowned cumbia group La Sonora Dinamita. September 29 brings “UCLA Community Classroom: Exploring Today’s Big Ideas” at the Row complex in downtown Los Angeles. The day will include discussions on art, science, technology and more, alongside thought-provoking art exhibitions, live art creation and an interactive community mural.

Special centennial-themed moments will continue through the end of the 2019–20 academic year, including at the June 2019 and June 2020 commencement ceremonies, and at intercollegiate athletic events; at many of the events, a series of commemorative limited-edition centennial lapel pins will be available. And to tap into the campus’s rich history of achievement in sports, UCLA Athletics is asking fans to share their favorite Bruins memories on the Centennial Moments website.

Throughout the year, UCLA also will embark on four initiatives exclusive to the centennial year that are designed to expand public access to UCLA’s scholarly resources and build upon UCLA’s longstanding commitment of service to the community. Each will be a collaboration among multiple departments, centers, institutes and community groups.

“UCLA’s objective has always been to lead the way in advancing education, medicine, technology, the arts, public service and so much more,” said Carole Goldberg, chair of the centennial celebration steering committee and a UCLA distinguished research professor of law. “But of critical importance is the role we play, and will continue to play, in cultivating opportunity, inclusion and access for the communities we serve.” The four initiatives are:

  • Open UCLA, fall 2019. To erase barriers to the materials and scholarship that reside at UCLA Library, the campus will digitize more than 5,000 library resources and expand the library’s open collection. The initiative also will involve partnerships among UCLA, the Los Angeles Public Library and the Los Angeles County Public Library.
  • UCLA: Our Stories, Our Impact, fall 2019. A traveling multimedia exhibit will showcase the role of UCLA in advancing social justice and equality in the U.S.
  • UCLA Data for Democracy in L.A., fall 2019. UCLA will partner with K-12 teachers and local civic groups to examine data on inequality and opportunity, develop new curricula and improve civic discourse. The project will culminate in an on-campus Centennial Youth Summit that will bring together students and teachers from more than 100 classrooms across Los Angeles.
  • UCLA Collects: 100 Years of Sharing Knowledge, April 2020. The UCLA Fowler Museum, Hammer Museum at UCLA and other campus units will unveil an exhibition and series of activities and lectures drawn from the nearly 14 million art objects, texts, crafts and antiquities under UCLA’s care, with the goal of expanding access to UCLA’s diverse collections. Curators and faculty members will share stories related to the collections and tackle controversial topics on the issue of collecting itself.

As part of the celebration, the Los Angeles community will be invited to join students on campus for the second edition of the popular “10 Questions” lecture series. From October 1 through December 3, 2019, UCLA will host a series of 10 lectures that are free and open to the public — and that are a for-credit course for UCLA first-year students. The course’s centennial edition is based on a program begun in 2018 by the UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture. The program will bring together leading scholars from across campus for panel discussions of thought-provoking questions such as “What is justice?” or “What is creativity?”

A full list of confirmed events follows. More programs and events will be added throughout the 2019–20 academic year.

UCLA 100 is sponsored by University Credit Union.

UCLA 100 calendar at a glance

2019

May 18: Launch events

  • Alumni Day, including special speakers, centennial-themed programs and tours
  • TEDxUCLA at Royce Hall
  • “Lighting the Way” sound and visual show outside Royce Hall

May 20: UCLA leadership will visit Sacramento to receive a proclamation from the California State Legislature and State Senate

May 22: UCLA 100th Birthday Celebration at Grand Park with KCRW (details for media)

June 9: UCLA at LA Pride Parade

Summer: UCLA 100 international alumni celebrations

August 31:  Free concert by La Sonora Dinamita at Levitt Pavilion in MacArthur Park

Sept. 28: UCLA Volunteer Day. For the centennial edition of the annual event, first-year UCLA students and other Bruins will provide community service at 100 locations throughout the city and around the world

Sept. 29: “UCLA Community Classroom: Exploring Today’s Big Ideas” at Row, downtown Los Angeles

Oct. 1–Dec. 3: 10 Questions: Centennial Edition lecture series

Oct. 6: CicLAvia: Heart of L.A., Celebrating 100 Years of UCLA

Oct. 29: “Internet50” conference, commemorating UCLA’s role as the birthplace of the internet. Scheduled to speak are UCLA distinguished professor Leonard Kleinrock; Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google and Alphabet Inc.; Judy Estrin, CEO of JLabs; and Kara Swisher, founder of Recode.

Nov. 3: “Exploring Your Universe” interactive science festival with hands-on demonstrations, free and open to the public

2020

Jan. 1: UCLA will be hosted on the Wescom Credit Union float at the Rose Parade

March 27–29: “LA Hacks x UCLA 100.” In partnership with LA Hacks, UCLA will invite students and tech-savvy members of the community to participate in a coding event in Pauley Pavilion with the goal of creating apps that serve the public good.

Researcher in UCLA Lab

UCLA’s impact on California economy is $11.06 billion

Researcher in UCLA Lab

Among UCLA’s contributions to the state are research and technologies that have been the basis for numerous startup companies.

 

UCLA is an economic powerhouse for Los Angeles, Southern California and California overall. A study by the Beacon Economics consultancy found that UCLA generated a total of $11.06 billion in economic activity and supported more than 72,700 full-time jobs throughout the state during the 2016–17 fiscal year.

The report also found that UCLA is the fourth largest employer in Los Angeles County, behind the county itself, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the City of Los Angeles, and ahead such companies as Kaiser Permanente, Northrop Grumman and Target Corp.

“UCLA’s contributions to our state’s economic vitality are significant and widespread, from discovering life-changing technologies to employing tens of thousands of Californians,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “Measuring this economic impact allows us to demonstrate how every dollar invested in UCLA pays substantial dividends back to people throughout our state.”

The UCLA Economic Impact Report also demonstrates that UCLA’s spending activity has a total impact far beyond that of its direct spending. For example, technology companies that license UCLA-developed technology and research are often valued in the hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars.

“UCLA is a source of pride for Angelenos everywhere,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. “The university’s impact can be felt all around us — in the workers it employs, the jobs it creates across our city and state, the startups it develops on campus, and the discoveries made in its labs and classrooms. Our economy and our communities benefit from UCLA’s presence and performance every day.”

Among the study’s highlights:

  • During the 2016–17 fiscal year, UCLA had a total impact of $11.06 billion on the California economy.
  • UCLA’s spending activity supported more than 72,700 full-time jobs throughout the state.
  • More than $4.15 billion in labor income (earnings) was generated by UCLA through direct, indirect and induced spending activity.
  • UCLA generated $5.86 billion in direct spending throughout California, including $2.61 billion in the City of Los Angeles alone.
  • UCLA helped generate $706.1 million in tax revenue throughout California through direct spending and secondary spending impacts.
  • UCLA had an economic impact of $2.42 billion in indirect (business-to-business) spending, including $2.31 billion in Southern California and $765.1 million in the City of Los Angeles.
  • UCLA had an economic impact of $2.79 billion in induced (household) spending, including $2.52 billion in Southern California and $718.9 million in the City of Los Angeles.
  • UCLA Health Sciences alone had a total impact of $6.49 billion on the California economy, including $6.13 billion in Southern California and $2.39 billion in the City of Los Angeles.
  • During the 2016–17 fiscal year, 24 startups launched using UCLA-developed technology.
  • For the same period, 251 U.S. patents were issued to UCLA.

With more than 45,000 students and 43,000 employees, UCLA is renowned around the world for the quality of its students and faculty, and its dedication to its mission of research, teaching and service. UCLA is consistently ranked each year as one of the best universities in the United States, including as the No. 1 public university in the nation by U.S. News & World Report and as No.1 among best-value universities by Forbes.