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EAST LOS ANGELES : MTA, Artist Clash Over Station Design

August 28, 1994|MARY ANNE PEREZ

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority invited the community last week to help select the artists who will work with architects in designing the seven stations of the Redline's Eastside extension.

But as the design process begins, a controversy is brewing.

Artist George Yepes, who was hired by the MTA to complete a $20,000 cultural-needs assessment of the area, said he enlisted the research of 25 scholars from throughout the country to examine the history, culture and people of East Los Angeles. What resulted is a 400-page document that Yepes calls a "working draft that can be a model for all major cities."

The document examines educational programs, the economic effects of the construction project, area art and cultural programs, and the effects the massive project will have on the Eastside. The 6.8-mile subway extension will stretch from Union Station to Whittier and Atlantic boulevards at a cost of $979.6 million.

Construction on the first segment, which includes stations at Little Tokyo, 1st Street and Boyle Avenue, Cesar E. Chavez Avenue and Soto Street, and 1st and Lorena streets, is scheduled for late 1996 or early 1997 and will be completed by 2002.

Yepes envisions the local subway line as a "seven-mile-long art piece" that 200 artists would create with the engineers, architects and construction companies. But his views are apparently not sitting well with MTA officials, who, he said, are proceeding as if his report did not exist.

Diego Cardoso, project manager for the Eastside subway extension, said the MTA asked Yepes to complete a cultural needs assessment so that the agency might avoid the criticism it has received over art projects at some stations. Residents have complained that the stations do not reflect their communities' character, he said, but rather the artists' whims.

Cardoso said the Resident Advisory Committee wanted the assessment to include the community's character with social and historical research. But Cardoso said the document Yepes compiled does not include the history of the area's many inhabitants over time, including Eastern Europeans, Japanese, Chinese and Jewish immigrants. And the Mexican community is portrayed only "superficially," Cardoso said.

"We are building a project that will be with us for centuries and we want to make sure that that reflects the deep history of the area," he said. One of the controversial proposals Yepes made in his assessment is that there be a lead design team and that he be its director, a proposal Cardoso calls "impossible."

"He has tried to portray that we are not interested in coming up with a visionary plan for the Eastside, but many people see through what he is trying to do," Cardoso said.

At a Monday meeting of the Review Advisory Committee at Stevenson Junior High School, Maya Emsden, director of the MTA ART Program, asked for recommendations for an art advisory group and artists selection panel. Emsden said the artists will likely be selected as early as December to work with architects from the beginning of the design stage.

The MTA allocates 0.5% of the cost of construction for art. The budget for art at each station may range from $50,000 to $150,000, which is provided by the county's Proposition A half-cent sales tax, grants and donations.

Information on the art committees: (213) 244-6408.

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