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Arts District to get Sixth Street bridge’s first public art piece: a sculpture of the ‘LA’ fingers

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Not putting it on the Boyle Heights side is “super disappointing,” residents say

The old Sixth Street Bridge, which was demolished and is being replaced by a new structure.
Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A large-scale sculpture of hands making the “LA” fingers—the only work of art definitively planned for a 12-acre park below the new Sixth Street Viaduct—will go on the Arts District side of the bridge, not Boyle Heights.

The location was revealed at a project meeting Tuesday night in Boyle Heights, and was not well received.

“It’s a historic problem for Boyle Heights,” says resident Edward Padilla. “I know there are opportunities to put something else on the east side in the future, but it’s an afterthought.”

Glenn Kaino’s art piece, shown for the first time in renderings at the meeting, will be a roughly 30-foot-tall sculpture of a pair of hands making the LA gesture—an image that most Angelenos would likely associate with the Boyle Heights side of the river, not the Arts District.

The gesture was popularized by a 1995 photo by photographer Estevan Oriol, which shows a Latina woman’s hands with long curving nails and gold rings forming the letters. Though the image and the gesture refer to the entire city, the LA hands are often associated with the city’s Eastside and Latino community.

The LA hands “symbolically came from” Boyle Heights, says resident Zahra Bejaune, and the decision to put the sculpture on the Arts District side, she says, is “super disappointing.”

Kaino plans to cast hands from communities on both sides of the river in a series of workshops (the dates have yet to be set). The final sculpture will be made of one hand from each side of the river, Kaino said, which is intended to be unifying.

But the sculpture will not even be visible from the east side of the river, and Boyle Heights residents say the placement is the continuation of a long history of their neighborhood getting the shaft.

“The west side [of the river] always gets everything,” resident Antonio Gallo told city officials.

“We had a feeling it was going to end up this way,” Padilla said, referring to concerns he said other community members had shared at previous meetings for the park and its contents.

The Boyle Heights side of the park, as planned, would be larger—7.5 acres of the 12 acre park—and would include a skate park, artificial turf fields for youth soccer, gardens and picnic areas, and restrooms.

Kaino said that eight prospective sites for the sculpture were explored—two on the Arts District side and six on the Boyle Heights side—and that on the Boyle Heights side, each possible location resulted in the artwork butting up against another amenity in an unfavorable or unsafe way. Locating the artwork in or along the flood channel itself was also vetoed.

Kaino said he and city officials spent a year trying to find a suitable spot for the sculpture on the east side of the river. “That’s where we wanted it,” he said.

The sculpture will be funded with $1.3 million generated by the city’s Percent For Public Art, an ordinance that mandates that one percent of the cost of construction and renovation on public projects, such as the viaduct, be set aside for public art. That entire amount will go toward building Kaino’s artwork, DCA representatives said.

Kaino’s sculpture will not be the only public art piece in the park, city officials said, emphasizing that Tuesday’s meeting was the first in a series of community meetings to discuss what the art will be and where in the park it will go.

A rep for Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar, who represents the area, noted that arches from the original Sixth Street Bridge were acquired and could possibly be incorporated onto an art piece on the Boyle Heights side.

But, at this point, Kaino’s piece is the only with one funding.

Kaino and representatives from the city’s cultural affairs department, which is leading the project, indicated at the meeting that the project and its location were more or less final. It’s unclear if the reception the location received at Tuesday’s meeting could lead to a reevaluation of the piece’s location.

Construction on the parks is expected to get underway in 2022, and the new viaduct is set to open late next.