By Michael Aushenker
The city of Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks has found a unique way to raise money for Venice’s beachfront sanitation services –and cultivate some culture in the process – by partnering with the private sector.
A zipline ride installed last month has not only provided a new activity for locals and tourists to tackle beachside, its ancillary projects have been furthering Venice’s arts scene, among them murals by local artists and a dance and acrobatic student show held earlier this month.
Initiated by Greenheart Conservation Company/Flightlinez, a Canadian company creating and operating conservation-based canopy walkways and other nature-based aerial attractions globally (including in the Amazon and Africa), Venice Beach’s zipline finally took flight mid-July after some delay.
“Venice is an ideal location,” Greenheart President and Co-Founder Ian Green told The Argonaut from his Vancouver offices. “It has that performance base and that history with (the boardwalk and the Pacific Ocean Park of yesteryear), the street performers. The only thing we thought would be beneficial was how would we create more of an artistic space?”
Venice-based artist Hans Walor curated the zipline tower-adorning murals, created by local artists (including Walor). Among those painters are Gianni Arone, Alex and Christopher Couto, Hans Haveron, Lindsay Carron, Chase, Asylm, Chris Saunders and Joseph Skala.
The Venetian artist was the logical choice since Walor has been working with Greenheart Global since 2011, when he single-handedly created a slew of murals that summer under the company’s auspices.
“I worked with them for the last two years doing all their presentation work throughout the world,” Walor said.
“They did these for free,” Walor continued of his artists. As a result, the pieces will be auctioned off Sept. 27-28 at the Boys & Girls Club of Santa Monica, where money from the murals sold will go to their artists, along with a portion of proceeds to a charity still undetermined. Curator Warren Brand will oversee this “pop-up gallery on a massive scale,” Walor added.
All of this culture centers on the 750-foot-long zipline in which harnessed riders glide from a 50-foot-high launch tower (at speeds up to 25 miles per hour) to a 30-foot-high landing tower near 17th Avenue and the basketball courts. This attraction, accessed from the northern edge of Windward Plaza, has been operating at $20 a head each day between 11 a.m. and sunset.
Earlier this year, an Argonaut story reported about how the city’s Department of Recreation and Parks would be applying two-thirds of funds raised through this ride toward Venice Beach restroom-and-garbage clean-up. When Greenheart introduced the idea to the Venice Neighborhood Council, the plan called for workshops on aerial acrobatics and juggling for at-risk youths. Greenheart has already fulfilled this part of its mission.
But due to city bureaucracy, the attraction’s opening ran a few weeks late, project organizers said.
“We were supposed to have the tower built by July 1,” said Walor, chalking up the delay in construction due to “the craziness of Venice Beach.” However, “the zipline will outlast the murals this round.”
Even in the worst-case scenario, the attraction will remain up and running through Sept. 30.
“It’s a business, so it depends on how well it’s received,” Walor said, adding that about $28,000 – based on projections and a 15 percent cut for the city – has already gone to Recreation and Parks.
Of course, Greenheart hopes for a best-case situation, which would have the zipline remaining there permanently, with more local artists eventually brought in to create new murals around its towers.
Walor delights in the visuals which have emerged from his first group of artists.
“John Park really nailed the concept of the entire piece to be uplifting and exciting,” he said. “Christina (Angelina)’s is a little bit darker but artistically incredible.
“The highlight for me was to see all the performance (with) the artwork surrounding that,” he continued, alluding to Soaring Heights, the program in which students took classes in theater, dance, aerial and leadership, culminating with a public boardwalk performance on Aug. 10. Soaring Heights’ experienced instructors, led by Alicia Schulz, have performed with the acrobatics revue Cirque du Soleil and the metal band Motley Crue.
Green and Walor believe projects such as theirs are crucial to sustaining Venice’s “essence and artistic nature,” Walor said, especially as the community faces gentrification.
Green formalized his company with a conscience back in 2001.
“We’re a for-profit conservation company with the goal of working to support the development of sustainable and profitable public parks and protected areas,” said Green, who credited his Greenheart partners Rex Owen and David Green as active agents in forwarding his mission.
Greenheart first mounted one of its canopy walkways at Cougar Mountain, north of Whistler in Canada, before developing projects in Nigeria, Rwanda, Belize, Brazil, Peru, Guyana and Haiti. In 2006, Greenheart designed and built a 2,500-foot-long zipline across the ocean in Labadee, Haiti, followed by the 3,700-foot-long one across San Diego Zoo’s Safari Park.
One of Greenheart’s most successful public park projects is Bootleg Canyon Flightlinez in Boulder City, and another Nevada venture, established in 2010 on Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas, which has raised about $300,000 for local charities across two and a half years.
Green intends to spread Greenheart’s aerial trails network even wider, currently developing projects for Bhutan, Bermuda, Gabon and Ghana.
Acknowledging the Aug. 3 boardwalk tragedy in which a vehicle struck pedestrians, killing a woman, Green does not see the recent vehicular homicide incident as a reason to dampen his enthusiasm for Venice.
“I work in Rwanda, I’ve worked in Haiti, I’ve worked in Nigeria,” Green said. “The reality is it’s not one of the crazy places in the world.”
And so far, “it’s all going really well,” Walor said.
However, Green acknowledged he would like to see many more people use the zipline to ensure it will remain part of Venice’s topography.
“(With the surrounding murals), we’ve almost achieved our goal that we’re blending in too well,” he said, laughing.
“We want to bring some life around that sunset time,” Green continued of his latest pilot project. “Venice is an incredible place. It’s such a beautiful environment to be in. (With the zipline attraction), it becomes just a great space.”
Zipline admission: $20 per adult; $5 per return ride, Mon. – Thurs.; kids 12 and under, $10; $50, all-day pass, Mon.-Thurs. Information, flightlinezvenicebeach.com.
Let’s get physical – and cultural: Venice zipline project combines amusement park-style thrill with performing and fine arts
By Michael Aushenker