Mural Buffings Confirm Fears of Runaway Development in DTLA’s Arts District

E. 3rd St. Mural by Dabs & Myla and How & Nosm.  Photo c/o:  Mural Conservancy of L.A.

Early on in my career I was given a small piece of advice that dictated how I presented myself professionally:

“Dress for the job you want.”

In the intersecting space between gentrification and street art, developers have applied that age old career advice to the neighborhoods they invest in.  When it comes to street art, they’re dressing buildings for the returns they seek;  in other words, they want to maximize their investment. Good street art is an indicator of investment’s appreciation potential. This not so subtle distinction is an important one when you think about the historic role murals and street art have played in the cultural growth of Los Angeles.

3rd st mural revised.jpg
Photos c/o:  KCET, Downtown Muse (via Instagram)


On April 16th a popular mural on a building in DTLA’s Arts District was whitewashed for its new tenants.  The mural was originally created in 2011 by 4 artists (Dabs & Myla on the left panel and How & Nosm on the right) and was located in the parking lot on the east side of the Neptune building.  For residents and frequent visitors to the Arts District, the mural’s buffing was another stark reminder of the negative impact of rapid change taking place there in the last 5 years. The small neighborhood, flanked by Little Tokyo and Skid Row, contains historic vacant warehouses and manufacturing facilities.  In the late 80’s and early 90’s these abandoned buildings were popular among artists, musicians and creatives who converted many of these spaces into un-permitted live/work lofts.  It was far from an artistic utopia; the deserted area was riddled with crime, drugs and homelessness that spilled over from Skid Row’s 1970’s “containment strategy”.

As street art gained cultural cachet in the late ’00s, the neighborhood encouraged murals and building owners quickly commissioned wheatpastes, stencils and other graffiti art by popular street artists.  The popularity reached its peak with Jeffrey Deitch’s “Art in the Streets” show at MOCA in 2011.  The show and the resulting murals that were imported into area brought the Arts District and other L.A. neighborhoods into focus eventually bringing attention to the residents of this small, connected artistic community.

When the Dabs/Myla and How/Nosm mural was buffed last week, it created an uproar among the current residents and patrons of the Arts District who were not only angered by the lack of notice of the mural’s demise but also by the seemingly clandestine decision making that led to its destruction.  In the court of public opinion (social media) it appears as though few discussions took place among community/arts advocacy groups, the building owner and its new tenants (the Los Angeles Fire and Police Pensions).  This mural was viewed as a symbol of the dynamic creativity that transformed the Arts District into a thriving, desirable neighborhood.  While the mural was a favorite of many who considered it representative of the present day Arts District, it was not immediately embraced by everyone living there when it was originally painted.

In April 2011 the 4 artists who created the mural were commissioned by the LA Freewalls project to paint the Neptune Building’s east wall.  The mural was a gift to the community that at the time was accepted with some trepidation.  L.A. has a history of mural creation that spans decades including works that represented the cultural richness and diversity of the communities where the murals reside.  When it was painted some questioned if the mural accurately represented the community and the residents within the Arts District at that time.  Even more problematic, leaders within the LA Freewalls project were viewed as polarizing figures in the street art community. They were characterized in the press as cultural opportunists who profited from brokering deals between street artists and building owners to create the murals that pepper the neighborhood.

Flash forward 5 years. The neighborhood is “on trend”.  In addition to the legendary murals, the neighborhood is now peppered with coffee shops, artisanal toast, blue chip galleries and haute (yet eco-friendly) designs.  The beloved 3rd Street mural now accurately represents the history of the community yet in an ironically cruel twist of fate that brief history was erased; perhaps to make room for bigger pockets and newer, “trendier” artists…

In an attempt at some damage control, the LAFPP claimed that they legitimately pursued due diligence in notifying the artists and the community prior to buffing the mural (those claims are still being challenged by arts activist groups).  They also maintain that plans are underway to create a new mural on the blank white wall that sits on the property today.  Sadly, street artists have been forced into an odd game of musical chairs where the winner gets to dress the new building… undoubtedly for the job the owner wants– to maximize their investment.

Artist a Day Challenge 2016-28: Shinique Smith

Shinique Smith, “Higher Ground”, 2013.  Photo Credit:  Shinique Smith

When I started Culture Shock Art in 2010, my goal was to explore street art and graffiti in Los Angeles, after I stumbled upon street artist JR’s work completely by accident.  The process of discovery through investigating the origins of one of his murals led me to his 2010 TED talk after which I purchased one of his lithographs.  That similar sense of curiosity in “finding the wonder in the every day” led me to Shinique Smith.  In January when I prepared a list of artists to feature during the February 2016 Artist a Day Challenge, I added Smith to my list after learning that Hauser Wirth & Schimmel will feature her work during their inaugural show “Revolution in the Making” opening in March.

I recently discovered an artists talk that Smith presented on her creative process which fuses graffiti, Japanese calligraphy, text, abstract expressionism and assemblage.  Her artistic influences are diverse and include dance, poetry, eastern religions, fashion and music, but what struck me most about Smith is her intention and how it guides her work and her process.

As children we have an innate curiosity and sense of wonder that lead us to magical, serendipitous discoveries.  When I think of “pure joy” I think of a laughing child taking delight in exploring the world around them.  Over time the light that leads to this delight fades and becomes harder to find, but is never lost.  The art of curiosity, of finding joy through learning and exploration allows us tap into that sense of wonder.  In Shinique Smith’s art, she transforms distinctly different art forms to create her work- her goal is to create a postive exchange that propels us forward.  Smith does not look toward the past, nor does she attempt to right the wrongs of the daily struggles of life in her work.  Rather, her art is a form of catharsis that is both transformative and carries universal appeal.  During an October, 2015 artist’s perspective talk Smith comments:

“I want to have a more positive ‘moving forward’, transformative exchange and that’s not easy to come by and I think that comes out of an empathy.  As much as I am horrified by us and sometimes disheartened and dissillusioned and angry, at the end of the day there is a beatuty in us as a human in the world.  Seeing life that way helps me move through it.”

This gave me a stronger appreciation for her work and I cannot think of a better artist to close out the 2016 Artist a Day Challenge.

The artists that I featured this month were varied.  Some express themselves through pain, joy, their experience, by observation, remembrance and others through the lens of the injustice they encounter.  By exploring black artists across the diaspora from diverse geographic backgrounds, different points in history and different points of view I am reminded that there is so much creativity to experience and explore; it is important to always be curious, ask questions and understand that like a butterfly, beauty comes from challenge.

As I wrap the 2016 installment of an Artist a Day challenge I want to thank everyone who have faithfully joined me in exploring these amazing artists.  I welcome you join me over on TONDI (a Culture Shock Art project hosted on Squarespace) in March as I debut my second Virtual Exhibition that explores the history of Disco and House music.  Yes, Disco!  Researching this exhibition has been an absolute blast and it opened my eyes to a side of Disco that is rarely discussed and is relatively unknown (by commercial standards).  The exhibition launches in March, and I will be sure to provide links to the virtual show right here on Culture Shock Art.  Until then, be curious, create joy and take delight in exploration!

The “Artist a Day Challenge” celebrates Black History Month by highlighting Black artists and diverse forms of cultural expression across the African diaspora.  

Artist a Day Challenge 2016-12: Lakwena


Lakwena Maciver, “The Best is Yet to Come”, 2014.  Acrylic with laser cut wood block letters. Photo Credit:  Papillion

The Friday before a long weekend holds so much promise.  I’m counting down the minutes until 5:00, so until then I am living for the work of Lakwena Maciver.  Her work combines the bold, geometric lines found in Sol LeWitt’s wall drawings with the colorful graphics of 8 bit video games. Lakwena’s energetic paintings are punctuated with woodblock style typography with messages that just make you feel alive.  Simply put, her work speaks for itself.


The “Artist a Day Challenge” celebrates Black History Month by highlighting Black artists and diverse forms of cultural expression across the African diaspora.  

Artist a Day Challenge 2016-9: Brandan Odums & Noirlinians Usher in New Wave of Art in NOLA

Photo, Maxwell Rasche.  Photo Credit:  Brandan Odums

Laissez le bon temps rouler!

I’ve got New Orleans on my mind, so I thought I’d use today’s post to shine a light on the art that’s being made in the Crescent City today. Steeped in tradition, plagued by disaster and portrayed as a crown jewel of urban renewal, New Orleans is a multifaceted and deeply complex city. The artists highlighted here challenge us to look at NOLA in new ways.

Brandan Odums

Brandan Odums

As a social activist, artist and video director Brandan Odums does not see roadblocks as challenges, he views them as opportunities.  He turned an abandoned Ninth Ward Housing Project into an art installation transforming the building into a space for artistic and social commentary.  While doing so he exposed a legacy of Katrina that’s ignored in a city struggling to redefine itself as a triumphant example of urban revival.  Over 100,000 African-Americans were displaced from New Orleans after Katrina, and New Orleans East has been one of the slowest areas to recover.  Many of the economic, educational, social and political challenges plaguing the city still remain.

Photo by Amy K. Nelson.  Photo Credit, Buzzfeed News

In November 2014, ExhibitBE became a cultural hub for 30+ artists and thousands of visitors to experience a unique space in time where art and activism honored the past while preparing itself for the future.  The exhibition site officially closed in early 2015, however this month Odums will unveil new warehouse exhibition space located in Bywater called StudioBE.  The space will showcase new murals and large scale canvas paintings.


Denisio Truitt & Mwende Katwiwa, Noirlinians.  Photo by Patrick Melon.

Noirlinians is an AfroFashion blog that explores the connections between identity, cultural expression, voice and style.  The site was created by clothing designer Denisio Truitt and spoken word artist Mwende Katwiwa who harmonize their creative talents within this deeply personal blog.  I particularly love that their posts are accompanied by a soundtrack that sets the lyrical stage for the content.

The blog also cultivates a creative collective of photographers whose work is featured in Denisio and Mwende’s posts.  Many of these photographers are currently being shown in a group exhibition at the McKenna Museum in partnership with PhotoNOLA.  The show runs through February 27th, 2016.

The “Artist a Day Challenge” celebrates Black History Month by highlighting Black artists and diverse forms of cultural expression across the African diaspora.  



New Site! TONDI


My new site is officially up!  I’m excited about trying something new and I invite you all to continue to follow my journey into contemporary art on TONDI.  I truly value all of my followers on WordPress and have learned so much from this first blog.  Cheers to a new beginning!

Artist a Day Challenge No.5: Retna

One day, I will crack the code to Retna’s personalized alphabet that is a skillful fusion of Old English, Hebrew, Asian and Arabic calligraphy.  In the meantime, I enjoy his work in abstraction.  I love the symmetry and repetition in his murals. This particular one was painted for Jeffrey Deitch when he was at MOCA circa 2013.


Keith Haring & The Political Line: Timeless Observations on Politics and Power


I was in San Francisco during the holidays and was able to experience The Political Line at the De Young Museum.  This retrospective of Keith Haring took a curatorial deep dive into the artist’s creative psyche.  The show highlights his portfolio of work that addresses race, power, sex, political conflict, the environment and technology. This is a refreshing departure from his whimsical persona epitomized by the Pop Shop or his brave mission to humanize the ravages of AIDS in the 80’s.  The Political Line shows Haring as an artist who emerged from the shadows of Warhol to deftly straddle the line between commerce and his disdain for money and the corruption of power it causes.

In the weeks following my visit to the show I have been reflecting on how art has played a prominent role in crystallizing the emotions circling our current tragedies. Whether it is the distrust and unrest around the U.S. militarized police complex in Ferguson, Mo, the horrific assassinations in Paris, or the tragic, massive bloodshed taking place in Nigeria, artists have played a cathartic role in articulating emotions that are often too difficult to put into words.  In this way, Haring’s artistic eye acted as a mirror into the cultural zeitgeist of the time.  I was most struck by the elaborate totems and large-scale installations depicting wealth, power and control.  One standout piece was “the Great White Way, 1888”.

It is a fantastical piece depicting a vicious cycle of power, corruption, money, false idolatry, enslavement, and brutality. I am not linking to the piece here, as it is simply something that should be experienced in person, nevertheless a simple Google search (NSFW/adult content) will give you a sense of scale.

Here are just a few of my favorite pieces from the show juxtaposed with quotes from Keith Haring’s Journals.  I was particularly interested in Haring’s prescient fear of media/technology, which was a prominent theme in the show.



An artist is a spokesman for a society at any given point in history. His language is determined by his perception of the world we all live in.  He is a medium between ‘what is” and ‘what could be’.”

IMG_9259IMG_9623“All of the officers who killed Michael Stewart were again dismissed of charges. Continually dismissed, but in their minds they will never forget. They know they killed him. They will never forget his screams, his face, his blood. they must live with that forever.”  ~ on Michael Stewart, March 28, 1987



IMG_9619“Business is only another name for control. Control of mind, body and spirit.”

IMG_9296“The image maker may be more important now than at any other time in the history of man because he possesses qualities that are uniquely human. The human imagination cannot be programmed by a computer. Our imagination is our greatest hope for survival.”


Keith Haring: The Political Line is on view at the De Young Museum in San Francisco now through February 26, 2015 (the 25th anniversary of Haring’s death).  

For more info: