Temporary outdoor retail zones remade into art galleries rather than road construction.
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Beautify made it easy for Santa Monica to turn traffic barriers into an art gallery.
Seeking to create more outdoor space for restaurants, shops, hair salons and other businesses during COVID-19 restrictions on the use of indoor commercial space, the City of Santa Monica—an oceanfront area on the west side of the city of Los Angeles incorporated as its own city— in March 2020 declared a set of temporary outdoor use zones on streets lined with such establishments, barring auto traffic to make safe places for tables, booths and displays.
To keep traffic out, the city installed K-Rails, the large white road barricades used to route entire freeway lanes around construction sites. They work, but who wants to dine next to them? What a great opportunity to beautify these new parts of the city, even if they’re temporary.
This is the kind of project for which we conceived Beautify. Our platform makes it easy for city officials and local organizers to find artists, review proposed art, and track schedules and payments in one place, instead of chasing down artists and handling every one separately by email or phone. As both a muralist and a software product manager, I saw how we could remove friction and uncertainties from the process.
Revitalization shouldn't look like road construction
“Naked white K-Rails can look like a construction zone or scream ‘neglected,'” says Marc Morgenstern, President of the Ocean Park Association in Santa Monica. “We wanted to turn them into a horizontal art gallery that brings color, wit and artistry onto Main Street. The City sparked our K-Rail murals through its Art of Recovery grant program.”
Shannon Daut, Santa Monica’s Manager of Cultural Affairs, adds, “One of the focus areas of Art of Recovery is Economic Recovery The goal of the Main Street mural project is to create vibrant works of art on otherwise dour concrete barriers to provide a richer experience for people dining and shopping, and to encourage people to traverse the business corridor to see all the murals.
A platform that connects everyone involved
“This project is a dynamic partnership between artists, a business district (Main Street Business Improvement Association), a neighborhood association (Ocean Park Association), a mural beautification organization (Beautify Earth) and the City's Mobility and Cultural Affairs teams.”
Morgenstern says it’s one thing to have the vision, but another to see it to completion. “Don't underestimate the high bar for execution in a project like this, especially making beautiful art on busy streets,” he says. “It's all about the details and knowing what the artists need. Beautify Earth's platform and people handled all of that for us.”
Result: A safe new downtown destination
Hunter Hall, executive director of the Main Street Business Improvement Association, says the projects has delivered both expected and unexpected benefits. “Having this attractive outdoor space has literally meant the difference between life and death for many of our restaurants," he says. "Everyone is jealous of Main Street, and I am proud of that because I know we have made a difference in so many peoples lives with this project. Working collaboratively with the city and residents has also forged deeper relationships among all of our community stakeholders.”
Outdoor art is great exposure for the artists, too. People who would normally be afraid to go into a gallery walk up to you while you're painting. Several K-rails received further commissions from people they met during the project.
As the past chair of the Ocean Park association, I couldn't be happier and prouder to work with some of my favorite organizations to bring Beauty to my own favorite stomping grounds. I founded Beautify Earth because I knew this kind of urban beautification was possible if we pulled together to make it happen. As Marc put it, “Never discount the power of a creative vision and some paint.”
Evan Meyer is a co-founder and the CEO of Beautify.
Artist: Gus Harper
Artist: Maybe Sandy
Artist: Nicole Sherman