Community groups are pulling together to refurbish the landmark and complete its design
By Joe Piasecki
Perhaps these are poetic times after all.
The north wall of the Venice Beach Poets Monument got a long-awaited facelift on Saturday with the installation of 61 ceramic art tiles to complete the original design planned 14 years ago.
Created by fifth-grade students at Grandview Elementary School, the tiles are part of ongoing work by community groups to spruce up the monument, which includes the north wall on Ocean Front Walk near 17th Street and three other locations along the beach and boardwalk.
The effort is spearheaded by the Endangered Art Fund, a project of the Venice Arts Council, in collaboration with Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, the Social Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) and Venice Community Housing. Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin’s office and the Abbot Kinney Festival Association Community Grants Program have also kicked in funding for monument upgrades.
SPARC’s Public Art Rescue Program, formed to preserve and restore distressed Los Angeles murals, is leading the restoration work on various parts of the monument.
“Specifically for this project we designed a series of chemicals to be able to restore the concrete to its original color and then we also did hand sculpting of the previously engraved letters so you could get enough contrast to read them,” SPARC project manager Carlos Rogel said.
Restoration workers also applied a protective coating on the north wall but left the carved letters untreated so that future calcium carbonate buildup would help the words stand out, Rogel said. The north wall contains stanzas of poetry written by Charles Bukowski, Tony Scibella, Ellyn Maybe and Frank T. Rios.
And then there are the colorful six-inch-by-six-inch tiles — created as expressions of visual poetry, said Tamie Smith, a visual arts teacher at Grandview Elementary School who led the students in their work.
“The prompt was ‘What is visual poetry to you?’ One kid did an old couple holding hands in the sunset; another did ‘tacos two for a dollar’ — I love that, too,” Smith said.
“Individually they’re beautiful, but taken as a whole it’s really eye-catching. I love the colors,” said Linda J. Albertano, a poet and performance artist who represented Los Angeles in the 1984 One World Poetry Festival alongside poet Wanda Coleman and poet/musician Exene Cervenka.
Writings by Albertano, Coleman and Cervenka are represented on other parts of the monument.
Rios, deemed the last of Venice’s Beat poets, and Maybe also joined Saturday’s tile installation event.
Maybe said her poetry excerpt (my mind is a radio / once I could sing/ the play by play of Blonde on Blonde/ like it was Eddie Doucette weaving/ basketball free throw averages/ with a handful of scars) relates a love of music.
Rios said he selected his stanza (I am a man/ who stands against the mountain/ and thinks of pebbles) because “that’s how we build, from the bottom up.”
Rios’ observation also relates to a larger theme of Saturday’s event, said Suzanne Thompson, a cofounder of the Venice Arts Council and chair of its Endangered Arts Fund.
“This is an opportunity to really celebrate four nonprofits coming together to beautify public art in Venice,” she said.