Noah J Nelson on Tuesday, Sep. 18th
Lo! The dread times are coming! Carmaggedon returns to the scourge the land of automobiles!
Alright, so maybe last year’s closure of the 405 freeway in Los Angeles wasn’t all that bad. After weeks of hype preparing south-landers for gridlock, to the point where the closure made national news, what LA residents got was a pretty nice weekend where everyone stayed out of their cars.
Which meant instead of gridlock there was pretty much no better day to go driving. Of course, Angelenos now need to be on high alert because CalTrans is closing the freeway one more time–on September 29th and 30th– to complete the project. With everyone having “learned” the lesson that it’s safe to drive with the 405 closed LA is– ironically– more likely to have an actual Carmaggedon this time around.
If only there were some way to distract the populace from their cars and keep them in their neighborhoods.
“We keep saying that we’re throwing a two-day city-wide art party,” Diana Wyenn, co-founder of ARTmaggedon told me. ARTmaggedon seeks to give Angelenos an alternative to the cross-town treks they usually make on weekends in search of a little culture. Wyenn, is the marketing manager for LA’s famed REDCAT theatre and an independent theatre artist in her own right.
After the first Carmaggedon proved to anti-climatic, Wyenn and her friend Ezra LeBank realized that an LA without cars could be a real opportunity for artists to help each other connect with new patrons and audiences.
“This is the kind of thing where during Carmaggedon weekend, people aren’t necessarily going to drive across town to your venue, but the people on your email list are all over your city,” said Wyenn. “We would celebrate what was already going on that weekend, all over Los Angeles, not just along the 405, to walk bike and Metro to art in their neighborhood.”
Wyenn and a gathering of volunteer artists are assembling a guide to what’s happening at ArtmaggedonLA.com, the centerpiece of which is a Google Map to participating art studios and event spaces.
“It’s great to see all these people joining the party. Some people are even activating their spaces, because they didn’t necessarily have anything planned for the 29th and 30th, and now they’re throwing together readings or opening up their studios.”
The existence of ARTmaggedon as a solution to a looming traffic crises is a microcosm of the sea change underway in Los Angeles: the rise of LA as a 21st century city with a redefined relationship to mass transit. [Earlier this week Slate’s Matthew Yglesias had an excellent essay on this very topic.] Cars have defined LA culture as a sprawl of neighborhoods with multiple urban cores. One that presents artists operating at the grass roots level with a challenge while trying to find an audience.
“The thing that’s so interesting about artists here,” said Wyenn, “they’re always saying ‘How do I get people to my show?’ I’m guilty of it as well. Have we ever actually reached out to our neighbors? When I used to run a non profit theatre in the middle of Hollywood I did invite the business to come in and see our shows for free, because I knew they would talk about us around the corner. But I didn’t actually go create a bigger circle around us and invite the people who lived around there.”
The project is a complete labor of love according to Wyenn. Thirteen volunteers make up the whole of the project team, which has zero budget. The hope, however, is that ARTmaggedon can be the humble beginning of something big. Even without major financing, Wyenn and her team have pulled together support from multiple arts organizations to get the word out.
“We’ll plant the seed of this idea of walk, bike and Metro to art in your neighborhood and who knows if people will go that weekend, but I think they’ll think twice when they go home and they cross paths with the gallery that they always drive past. They may not go this weekend but who knows, within the next six months they might actually walk through those doors.”
The closure of the 405 at the end of the month is then the keystone of two major infrastructure projects in LA. One that seeks to keep the cars flowing, and another that hopes to change the way Angelenos look at their ever-changing city.