Art Takes to the Street, Decorating K-Rails

Photo courtesy Ed Donnelly
The South Pasadena Arts Commission is currently adding vinyl wraps of Los Angeles-centric artwork to the concrete K-rail barriers being used in the city’s al fresco program.

Mission Street is getting a little bit easier on the eyes, thanks to the South Pasadena Arts Council.

The organization, with financial help from the city and guidance from the municipal Public Art Commission, has begun installing vinyl wraps of curated artwork around the drab concrete K-rail barriers that facilitate the city’s outdoor dining and retail program. The effort serves to make an ugly exterior more palatable as the world soldiers through the realities of the coronavirus pandemic.

The first wrap was installed on Friday, Nov. 6, and covered 70 feet of K-rail in front of Jones Coffee with works that mostly evoke life in the Los Angeles area. The barriers outside TeaMorrow, Aro, Mike and Anne’s, and Shiro also were slated to get their makeovers.

Indoor dining remains prohibited in Los Angeles County because of the pandemic, so many cities have developed al fresco dining and retail programs to give local businesses a chance to continue operating amid the restrictions.

“Art adds a little bit of soul to it,” said project curator Blue Trimarchi, who owns Artworks/Fine Arts Publishing and serves on SPARC. “It’s been interesting to see how COVID has affected the art world. In a weird way, it’s been good for the arts.”

Art for the Jones Coffee set includes selections from Italian photographer Gusmano Cesaretti’s images of East Los Angeles; examples of lowbrow art from L.A.’s Anthony Ausgang; photos from L.A. Lakers photographer Andrew Bernstein; visual art from Thee Oh Sees songwriter John Dwyer; images from art educator Christian Clayton; and contributions from mixed-media artist Victoria Ariola.

Trimarchi said many local artists have spent their time during the pandemic focusing on new projects and producing new works, while more people have been investing in art pieces for their homes.

“You’ve got traditional painting, outsider art,” Trimarchi explained. “We’ve got musicians that are artists as well. That’s another thing that’s been really affected, the music world. There are no live performances anymore, so a lot of people are having to change how they work.”

The city and SPARC came to an agreement in October to use the vinyl wraps to add flair to the barriers, which are being leased and do not belong to the city. That would have complicated actually painting the barriers, as other cities that own them have done. Using adhesive prints also allows artists to promote their existing work and for SPARC to draw from a wider variety of art.

“I wanted to make sure that this was a win for them as well, so that they have a chance of being exposed to the public,” Trimarchi said. “Having a career as an artist sounds really fun and romantic, but it’s a really tough road for artists. Anything we can do as a community to help the arts, we reap the rewards.”

The city granted SPARC $7,000 to fund the project.

Laurie Wheeler, president and CEO of the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, has previously said businesses and residents appreciated the al fresco program but were a bit dismayed with the industrial appearance of the barriers. Thus far, the art wraps have not elicited that sort of response.

“I heard some negative before that, so we’ll see,” she said.