Design for new Sixth Street Bridge/Rendering courtesy Council District 14
The rebuilding of the 80-year-old concrete and steel Sixth Street Viaduct, one of the L.A. River bridges connecting Boyle Heights and Downtown L.A., is shaping up to become one of the city’s largest public work projects, with countless contractors and vendors expected to win a piece of the $401 million budget. In addition to boosting the bottom lines of engineers and cement makers, the rebuilding of Sixth Street bridge will also prove a significant financial boom for an unexpected group: artists. Under a city program that sets aside a small portion of new construction spending for public art, the construction of a new Sixth Street Bridge will generate an estimated $1.65 million for public art. That’s relatively puny compared to other portions of the project, including the $30 million design contract the City Council awarded on Thursday to the firm HNTB. But in the world of Los Angeles public art, $1.65 million is a big deal.
It’s still to early to say who and how many artists will be involved in the project or even what kind of work will be created. But the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs, which oversees a public art program, is gearing up to take advantage of the windfall. Artists have been involved on other bridge projects but the scope and budget of the Sixth Street Viaduct is “the first bridge project that is monumental enough in scale and scope to create an iconic public artwork,” said Department Executive Director Olga Garay-English in a letter to the City Council’s Public Works Committee.
Councilman Jose Huizar, whose district includes Boyle Heights and parts of downtown, sponsored a motion directing Cultural Affairs to come up with a report on the creation of a Sixth Street Viaduct Advisory Committee to “enhance public participation.”
In response, the department has proposed setting up a five-member design council to work with the department, the Bureau of Engineering and Council District 14 to help come up with a vision for the public art and recommend a selection process. The members of that five-member panel, should, according to Garay-English, should be familiar with the “visual landscape of Los Angeles, with specific emphasis on Boyle Heights and the Downtown Arts District.”
The City Council Public Works Committee signed off on the report and recommendations. But it will be a long time before that “iconic public artwork” will come into view. Construction on the new bridge is not scheduled to begin until 2015.