ART POLITICS-While South LA does have its share of incredible murals, it doesn’t have much in the way of public art, as a general rule.
This is beginning to change. Councilmember Joe Buscaino recently celebrated the installation of several new sculptures along 103rd St. recently. In the 8th district, Community Coalition’s Power Fest and artivist events regularly feature live painting and art-making around community justice themes. In the 10th district, Leimert Park Village stakeholders turned the plaza at 43rd Place into a work of art grounded in African principles and symbols and cemented its role as ground zero for creative expression of all forms. And in the historic 9th district, Councilmember Curren Price hosted a meeting recently as part of an effort to put together a strategic art plan for the area.
Sadly, South LA’s art scene lost one of its more unusual staples as 2015 came to a close. The Tenth Wonder of the World, located at the corner of 62nd and Budlong, is no more.
I first stumbled across the marvelous hodgepodge of sculptures and structures a few years ago. Dianne and Lew Harris — brother and sister, curators and residents in the home — were sitting outside as they usually did, and invited me to check out the space.
I didn’t make it very far into the yard. Since 1981, the pair had been scavenging enormous chunks of carved glass, transforming metal tubes and fans into tall turrets and telescopes, and planting propellers like flowers all over the yard. There was no room to move. And there was more scrap metal and glass behind the house, they told me. They were just trying to figure out what to turn it into and where to put it.
Tenth Wonder of the World or not, it was the kind of thing I imagined neighbors in a better-off community would condemn for bringing down their property values. But the Harrises’ neighbors seemed quite happy to have them there. The Harrises regularly sat outside and talked with their neighbors. Kids on the street saw their yard as a sort of Disneyland and liked to stop by and gawk at the ever-changing inventory of crazy objects. Hoping to inspire kids to see beauty and opportunity in the ordinary, the Harrises often had candy pieces to hand out to those that visited and were always kind, friendly, and welcoming.
But last year, Lew fell ill and was in and out of the hospital, according to a neighbor. Given the pair’s limited income, they quickly fell behind on bills and found themselves having to move out in the fall. A relative who agreed to take them in came down from Bakersfield to help them close up the place. The neighbor, who also helped them move, was a little shocked at the condition of the interior — it was like something out of an episode of Hoarders, he said, with stacks of magazines and newspapers blocking all but a few paths through the home.
Given the unhealthy condition the Harris’ home appeared to be in, the move may — in the long run — be a good thing for 76-year-old Lew.
Still, it was sad to see that the owner of the property wasted no time in gutting the place, removing any last remnants of the “art” collection that had been so carefully curated over the years, and building a generic dwelling in its place. The only thing that remained of the Harrises was a set of hand-painted signs tacked high onto a telephone pole reading, “What’s up, discipline? Try patience.”
(Sahra Sulaiman writes for LA Streets Blog … where this piece was first posted.)