Portraits of Hope co-founder Ed Massey, top, in cap, demonstrates to students… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )
From the Palos Verdes Peninsula to Malibu's Zuma Beach, vibrant artworks will soon sprout from the bland sands of Los Angeles County's coastline.
For five months starting in May, more than 150 lifeguard towers spanning 31 miles of beach will be enveloped in panels and rooftop canvases painted fuchsia, turquoise, orange, green and yellow by thousands of Los Angeles-area children and adults.
"Summer of Color — Lifeguard Towers of Los Angeles" was conceived by brothers Ed and Bernie Massey, founders of Portraits of Hope. The 15-year-old nonprofit group develops large-scale, hands-on art projects for adults and children -- many of them coping with poverty, serious illness or disabilities.
Among the projected 5,000 youngsters and young adults preparing the lifeguard-tower artwork were 45 first- and fifth-graders from Palisades Elementary Charter School. They arrived Friday morning with a dozen chaperons at a Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors building in Marina del Rey, which Portraits of Hope has converted into a studio.
Kneeling amid the youngsters on a paint-splattered floor, Ed Massey demonstrated the best techniques for avoiding blobs and wayward swipes. First, dab the paint in the middle of one of the white spaces, then hold the sponge roller like a piece of sidewalk chalk and spread the color. The children and adults then went to work on the 5-by-10-foot and 4-by-8-foot panels.
Kelsey Tsuchiyama, 10, applied bright-pink acrylic paint to a white section on a panel pre-printed with the stylized black outlines of a flower.
She pronounced the project "really cool," adding: "I can look at my work if I go to the beach later on."
Her mother, Jane Tsuchiyama, said she appreciated the program's emphasis on civic engagement. Portraits of Hope estimates that 45 million beachgoers will see the exhibit.
This is art writ large, akin to the temporary "environmental" works by artists Christo and his late wife, Jeanne-Claude.
Portraits of Hope's high-profile public art projects serve as creative therapy and teach students about involvement in civic activities, Ed Massey said.
The group has transformed a DC-3 aircraft, a blimp, buildings, tugboats, NASCAR race cars and the New York City taxi fleet. In 2000, students and hospitalized pediatric patients painted the panels adorning the Beverly Hills High School oil derrick.
Each lifeguard tower will have a sponsor paying $10,000, organizers said.
Ed Massey, a painter and sculptor, credited county Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Don Knabe for championing the effort. The Los Angeles County Lifeguard Assn., the union that represents lifeguards, is collaborating.
Frank Bird, a member of the union's board, said he expected a lot of visitors this summer to ask about the enormous flowers and other patterns. Creative locals, he said, have decorated the occasional tower on the sly. But, he added, "there's never been anything on this scale."
For more information, visit www.portraitsofhope .org.