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As a tribute to Black culture, Destination Crenshaw coming to LA with UCLA support

A rendering of Destination Crenshaw is pictured. The nation’s largest art demonstration honoring Black history has been advised by Darnell Hunt, UCLA’s executive vice chancellor and provost. (Courtesy of Destination Crenshaw)

By Tabitha Hiyane

March 12, 2023 2:52 p.m.

This post was updated April at 11:30 p.m.

The nation’s largest public art project dedicated to Black history will be unveiled in Los Angeles this fall.

The Destination Crenshaw website defines it as a $100 million, 1.3 mile-long public art project located on Crenshaw Boulevard dedicated to the preservation of Black voices and history.

The Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw neighborhood is a majority Black community, with Black residents making up 71.3% of the population. According to thewebsite, Destination Crenshaw is a reparative Black art and economic revival project that aims to give back to its community, building a communal space filled with Black-owned businesses. Along with murals and outdoor sculptures on public display, there will be pocket parks, street furniture and other artistic pieces that will encourage community and social engagement.

Destination Crenshaw aims to revitalize culture after recent years of construction on the LA Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX K Line. With the disruption of transit expansion in southern LA and the accompanying skyrocketing of real estate prices in the area, many longtime residents have been displaced, said Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Darnell Hunt, who is advisor to the project.

“There’s this fear that … a community that had become a signature Black community, where the center of gravity of Black cultural life and everything else was in LA, (is) suddenly becoming something different and losing that flavor, losing history and (is) no longer being visible as an important historical contribution to the city of LA,” Hunt said.

UCLA’s involvement in the project’s development began in 2017, when District 8 City Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson asked Marcus Hunter, who was then-chair of the African American studies department, and a group of student researchers to provide historical context of Black LA in order to better inform the construction of Destination Crenshaw.

“I felt obligated to ensure that the project really did acknowledge, recognize, memorialize and celebrate the accomplishments and achievements of Black people in the area,” Hunter said.

Hunter assigned students from the African American studies graduate program and the sociology doctoral program specific decades, starting from 1900, to look through UCLA’s library archives and seek to understand the historical, cultural and political states of the Black community during that time period.

Anthony James Williams, then a doctoral student and now a sociology doctoral candidate, said they were intrigued by the project because of how it reflected their ancestry, as both of their parents descended from enslaved African people.

“It was cool to learn about what Black folks in California and LA have done, especially because there were not always great circumstances that brought us to California,” Williams said.

Some notable Black artists contributing to the project include Alison Saar, Artis Lane, Maren Hassinger and Kehinde Wiley, who painted former President Barack Obama’s 2018 portrait for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery.

The art pieces housed by Destination Crenshaw include themes of identity, race, power and culture. Charles Dickson’s 20-foot-tall chrome and fiberglass sculpture is an ode to Crenshaw’s car culture. Lane’s sculpture of a Black man is made of bronze and stands at 12 feet, looking upward toward the sky in hope.

Hassinger, a Black artist who received her Master of Fine Arts in fiber from UCLA in 1973, is represented at Destination Crenshaw by her outdoor sculpture, “The Object of Curiosity, Radiating Love.” Six feet in diameter, her pink Corian stone orb is equipped with a sensor that causes it to glow when approached by viewers. The sculpture’s spherical shape is innately warm and organic, emulating planetary forms, Hassinger said in a press release, adding that its circular shape encompasses an infinity of love and curiosity.

Hunter said one difficulty he faced with Destination Crenshaw’s research was the knowledge that urban redevelopment historically meant the displacement of Black people. He hopes this project will aid in redefining the term. The hope, Hunter said, is for the Black locals to feel included, consulted and incorporated.

Rather than the design’s blueprint forcing the community in Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw to adapt, Hunter said, he strives for the blueprint to be informed by its Black populace and cultural humility to the Black history that shaped LA.

Contributing reports by Shaanth Kodialam, Features and student life editor.

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