Destination Crenshaw wins approval to reimagine historic Crenshaw Wall in South L.A.

Destination Crenshaw has logged another milestone.

On Wednesday, the $100-million public art project, underway in South L.A., announced that the Los Angeles Cultural Affairs Commission approved its plans to reimagine the neighborhood’s historic Crenshaw Wall. The structural refurbishment includes having the RTN Crew — which in 2001 painted the wall’s iconic but now faded and peeling mural — create a new, panoramic painting for the wall.

When it debuts in late February, Destination Crenshaw’s public art corridor will stretch for 1.3 miles along Crenshaw Boulevard, reflecting and celebrating Black Los Angeles through monumental works by artists with ties to the area. Organizers have called it the “largest commissioning project ever undertaken for Black artists,” with permanent, outdoor works by Kehinde Wiley, Charles Dickson, Alison Saar, Gerard Basil Stripling, Patrick Henry Johnson and others.

The project also includes 4 acres of added green space as well as multiple murals, the signature one being the RTN Crew work, which has long needed an upgrade.

Read more: Destination Crenshaw announces new artworks, official grand opening pushed to early 2024

“Since the beginning of Destination Crenshaw, improving the Wall has been the paramount public art project for residents in the Crenshaw District,” Jason Foster, Destination Crenshaw president and chief operating officer, said in the announcement. “It’s an honor for us to undertake this work and give this landmark a second life.”

The Crenshaw Wall has been a focal point of the neighborhood for more than 50 years, a public canvas giving voice to a cross-section of local graffiti artists. The RTN Crew (Rocking the Nation) formed in 1989, then one of the city’s only all-Black graffiti crews. It gave the wall a new identity with its original 2001 mural, “Our Mighty Contribution.” The work — 10 feet tall and running more than 780 feet long — has long been a point of neighborhood pride, depicting Black luminaries including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass as well as other prominent figures from culture, sports and politics.

The new mural, “The Struggle Continues,” builds on those ideas, broadening the focus as well as adding images of everyday life in the neighborhood — all in neon-bright colors. It will include “depictions of Africa, the Black diaspora and the Great Migration from the U.S. South to Los Angeles,” Destination Crenshaw said in its announcement. “Pioneers of Black Hollywood, including Billie Holiday, Dorothy Dandridge and the Nicholas Brothers, appear alongside images of the Black struggle against police brutality with the Watts Uprising of 1965 and the Rodney King Uprising of 1992.”

Eric “Cre8” Walker — RTN president and an original crew member who was on hand at Wednesday’s Cultural Affairs Commission meeting — said in an interview that the new mural will be “like an actual outdoor museum for people to look at and enjoy but also to study as a history lesson.”

“A lot of people’s interpretations of Black history are that we started as slaves and ended up here and that was it,” he said in an interview. “But in the new mural, we talk about before any of that took place — it shows the ancestors teaching young people and the young people looking into the future. It’s inspiring.”

Aesthetically, Cre8 says the mural will be especially vibrant, executed in a dynamic style of spray-paint art.

“The end result will be mind-blowing,” he says. “As artists, all of us as a team, we’re definitely excited. We’re excited to bring new life to the community through our art.”

The upgrade to the wall includes a new viewing deck, now underway. Both the new mural and the deck will be complete by late February, when Destination Crenshaw will celebrate its grand opening.

“The narrative is powerful,” said Dr. V. Joy Simmons, Destination Crenshaw senior art and exhibition advisor, of the new mural. “The images are bold, and the RTN Crew is really to be commended. They have respected their previous work while offering something to the community that is entirely fresh.”

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.