In Santa Monica, California, the 18th Street Arts Center has been archiving its city’s history in the face of accelerating gentrification. Culture Mapping 90404 documents the people and places that have served as cultural anchors in the city’s Pico neighborhood, where the arts center and artist residency program has been located for almost 35 years. With a $3.3 million grant from the state’s Creative Corps, 18th Street Arts Center is now expanding its map to cover other California zip codes. Applications are now open for 18 artists to launch the project in their cities.
The culturally diverse Pico neighborhood is small, stretching only about a mile and a half through Santa Monica. Culture Mapping 90404 marks the area’s “cultural assets,” defined as people, places, events, and organizations that have served as anchors of the community. These are defined by the people who actually live there, and community members can submit assets to the project.
Culture Mapping 90404 also includes interviews with longtime Pico residents who tell stories about their lives and talk about the forces that have shaped them. In one clip, Gina de Vaca delves into the neighborhood’s history of gentrification and displacement, and in another, Iris Gee talks about her family’s return to Santa Monica after being sent to a Japanese internment camp and discusses the formation of a Japanese community in Pico.
The map has accumulated over 150 wide-ranging locations, including a hardware store called Busy Bee, a beloved family-run shop that opened in 1963 and closed its doors after more than half a century in 2017, and a ballet school that has existed since 1967. Other assets include a Catholic church, the city’s “Jazz on the Lawn,” an annual free concert in Gandara Park, and the Quinn Research Center, an organization working to preserve the history of Santa Monica’s Black community.
18th Street Arts Center also hosts exhibitions in which artists engage with the mapping project and the neighborhood’s history. One such activation was the 2021 installation “Three Structures Touching,” a collaboration between Danish artist Maj Hasager and the Quinn Research Center. Hasager created her new series of work by drawing from the research center’s trove of archival information.
“The dialogue between artist and community is extremely meaningful,” 18th Street Arts Center’s senior director of engagement Michael Ano told Hyperallergic. “When artists create projects that deeply engage communities and reflect their needs and lived experiences, it creates a space for social change.”
Candidates interested in applying should review the list of eligible cities and towns across the state. In the first of two application rounds, 18th Street Arts Center will select 40 artists and provide them with $1,000 and professional coaching to help develop project proposals. The arts center will then examine the 40 proposals and choose 18 to fund. The selected artists will receive $65,000 grants and a year of free health and dental insurance.
Applications are open through February 20.
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