Project 35

I’m spinning over a few possible projects I’d like to accomplish in Los Angeles this year. I use the word spinning purposefully, as spinning is the common thread that binds each of the potential projects I’m proposing.

But first things first.

On the list that you’ve graciously provided I’d have to say that my still-in-motion proposals best fit with item 3: Investigative Cultural Reporting. (This said, there could easily be elements of 4&5, Innovative Technology & New Forms of Story-telling, respectively.) But lets focus on 3 first:

As a refresher, you wrote:
“There is plenty of opinionating on the web, but an important part of arts journalism that has had a bad time as traditional media outlets have cut back is arts reporting; particularly meaningful investigative arts reporting. We’d love to see a great investigative piece/package come out of this fellowship. We potentially have more arts journalists to throw at a reported/investigative piece (albeit for a very short time) than any other news organization in America. Is there a great investigative cultural story in America (or internationally) that isn’t being done and for which we potentially have the resources to produce through this project?”

I’ll begin with the overall theme, offering a few potential projects that I’d be excited to be a part of it. The thread that connects all of these projects is
Bicycles in LA
Or
2011: The Year the City of Angels Declared Independence from Cars

As a lifelong bicyclist I followed closely last week as LA’s Cycling community enjoyed a quick succession of unprecedented victories. First came Carmageddon. The closing down of a section of the 405 freeway did not, as many predicted, bring chaos to the city. Instead it did the opposite, providing a respite of calm and proving that Los Angeles might not be as hopelessly dependent on the automobile (as many believe). The city’s bicyclists used the shutdown as an opportunity showcase that bicycling may offer a viable alternative to what is arguably LA’s Achilles Heel – a transportation system almost entirely dependent on automobiles. Victory #1.

Not to be outdone, a more hardcore group of cyclists took it a step further, responding to a publicity stunt by Jet Blue (“$4 flights from Burbank to Long Beach”) with a challenge of their own: A race between cyclists and airplane passengers, door to door, Burbank to Long Beach. The cyclists won with a cool 90 minutes to spare. Victory #2!

On the legal front, the LA City Council voted 12-0 in favor of the first local anti-harassment ordinance in the nation, allowing LA cyclists to file civil suits and claim damages when injured, or otherwise harassed by motorists. Victory #3! Not bad for a week in LA. All this led me to ask myself the following question:

Is Los Angeles vying for the title “America’s most bicycle friendly Metropolis”?

What I’m proposing is a potentially multi-segmented, multi-journalist project that explores this question in greater detail by focusing on the nexus between bicycling, politics, culture & art. It is conceivable that the all of these projects could be done, given the time and resources. (If this is the case, I may be able to spare more time for it – I have no overseas projects lined up for 2011). We could also pick one and roll with it for a week or more.

The overall theme of the project is one that documents LA’s growing bicyclists culture – everyday cyclists who have largely abandoned the automobile – and how this still-small segment of the population aims to change the perception of LA as a city that’s impossible to live in without a car. Scratch the surface of this group and you’re going to find artists – there’s always been a nexus between bicyclists and artists.

A few segment / ideas that present themselves.

Bicycles as Art: Artists who use bicycles as an artistic medium.

There’s a group I know in Texas called The Austin Bike Zoo. They create fantastic movable sculptures made by combining bicycle parts with other materials before putting the resulting work on parade. They make stuff like this:

and this:

and this:

I’m hard pressed to believe that Austin Bike Zoo doesn’t have at least one LA counterpart. The closest thing that I know of from the fellowship is Mister Fixit & his mobile bicycle powered movie projector. I suspect he’d be a good person to contact about finding likely suspects in LA. The brief research I’ve done has led me to a few sites and folks that might be doing similar bike craft activities. One of these is The Bicycle Kitchen (funded in part by the Annenberg Foundation!) on Heliotrope & Melrose. Another organization I want to explore further is Ciclavia,which spearheads all kinds of bicycle related civic activities. If something like this exists in LA, it would be an excellent subject for a multi-media review on Engine29.

Another segment that presents itself:

Los Angeles Art Ride

(In the “Giving Credit where Credit is Due” department, this idea was born during a conversation with Jeff Weinstein last week.)

Less than a month ago I posted a short film I created with 600+ rapid fire photos shot by hand from a bicycle during a midnight ride from Harlem to the Lower East Side. I absolutely want to do something in the same vein, only longer and more elaborate during my time in LA – this one using a helmet mounted camera (I was pushing the danger envelope just a bit much speeding through traffic with a handheld). I particularly like the “flip book” visual effect that resulted, and think it would be an excellent project in LA, perhaps done over a series of shifts to allow for both night and day shots. Definitely Art in and of itself, Jeff offered what I think is a very interesting focus that might be more geared towards Arts Journalism.

During the 2009 fellowship I found myself asking (during the sometimes long drives between venues) how many of the museums, galleries and other venues could be comfortably visited in a week by an in-shape bicyclist. Art Walks are a long standing urban tradition – why not see about hosting a day (or more) of “Art Cycling” in which a group of cyclists would visit a handful of museums, sites and galleries around LA.

In addition to being a worthy event in and of itself, the event could be filmed by various participants, and the resulting footage used to create a montage incorporating both stills and videos, both of the city itself and of the works viewed. Some cooperation from the galleries involved would of course be necessary, especially if we wanted to incorporate photographs and films of the work itself..

(If LA Art Ride were to become my project for the November Fellowship I would likely go ahead and do the Flip Book LA Ride film as well, since I’d already have the equipment and would be riding all over anyway.)

It isn’t necessary, of course, to confine this to galleries – another neat, perhaps even more topical idea would be to spend a few fellowship days with a group of fellows attending local events & happenings, forming an ad-hoc car free arts journalist posse to go and cover local events.

Actually, rather than just riffing on the idea, lets give it it’s own “potential proposal” title (because three is such a nice number). Lets call this one…

72 Hours With the Car Free Arts Journalist Posse

How this might work would be as follows:

4-6 Getty fellows with an interest in promoting various aspects of alternative transportation in LA spend 3 days covering various happenings, events, noteworthy galleries, museums, interviews… maybe even a few restaurant reviews…all without cars.

Bikes, Public Transport, Walking, even Inline Skates (I’ll bring mine out of retirement) may be utilized to get the stories. Sometimes traveling solo and other times as a group, we’d want to use a tight degree of logistical planning to maximize efficiency (kind of like the dispatcher at a messenger company). During the 72 hours, in addition to tweeting & Facebook updates, we’d want to be uploading footage, photos & short form writing to someone back in the office, where it can then be put up at Engine28. The point of the exercise is to see how much quality, timely multimedia content pertaining to LA’s art scene can be produced over the course of 72 hours using alternative transportation only.

If we have someone with documentary film-making experience on board (say, Barbara C?), we might consider doing a film project of the three day experience. I think it would be interesting to create a short documentary showing the journalists involved divvying up the events, deciding which ones can be covered without a car and which ones are simply logistically unfeasible, leaving the nerve center using our chosen forms of transportation, returning afterwards to write & upload.

I’m assuming that we’d all have at the least our own flipcams & netbooks (I almost never leave home without mine, and have a special bag for my bicycle for my equipment), so we could also be getting footage along the way that could be edited into the overall film. (In my mind’s eye I’m seeing one of us typing a review while on a subway, another one of us dictating into an MP3 player while riding a bicycle, that sort of thing.)

Actually, for the purposes of a limited time fellowship, this idea might be the most doable, as it would allow a small group of fellows to produce the most short-form content in a condensed period, while also allowing for one longer piece incorporating the work of the group itself, a piece which would then (to bring it all full circle) explore the question of whether or not it’s possible to fully appreciate LA without being a slave to the private car.