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Hand over the mini-malls

December 26, 2007|BY BARBARA BESTOR | Barbara Bestor is an architect and author of "Bohemian Modern: Living in Silver Lake."

The ubiquitous L.A. mini-mall is the 1980s love child of bad tax laws and shortsighted planning policies. But we have them all around us -- every street corner it sometimes seems -- and they're not getting any prettier as they age. I propose that we embrace the mini-mall and make it a positive feature of the contemporary urban landscape.

The mini-mall's banal visage is the perfect place for contemporary art. I am not talking about an official, permanent, committee-sanctioned "public art" piece, but rather a temporary transformative layer of ideas wrapping the site.

A model for this might be the Fourth Berlin Biennial in 2006, which took place on a single street using all sorts of locations -- private apartments, a cemetery, a church -- as venues for the art on display. It was a raging success. Just imagine what photographer Uta Barth or street artist Banksy or watercolorist Dave Muller or artist-designer Jorge Pardo might do if they got their hands on a mini-mall. Not to mention all of the less known but excellent up-and-coming artists and designers our fair city seems to be producing at a very healthy rate.

I imagine that the artists' "interventions" would not be in the stores themselves (though how great would it be to have a gallery here and there, between nail salons); instead, the art projects might occupy all or any of the outside surfaces -- parking lots, billboards and signage, nighttime lighting, landscaping, rooftops, etc. With a budget of about $25,000 per mini-mall and a bit of curating, some seriously fun things could happen. And it might help broker a new way for small-time commercial property owners to increase their property's value at the same time they increase the public value of our streets.

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