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Across From Watts Towers, Facade Improvement as Art

Artist Edgar Arceneaux is the man behind the Watts Towers Project, a collaboration of international artists to make the poverty-stricken neighborhood facing on the famed folk art structure into works of art in their own right.
November 4, 2008, 1pm PST | Tim Halbur
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"What is Watts? What does Watts need? And what does Watts deserve? These have been among the hard questions Arceneaux, with the help of residents, hopes to answer. To the outside world, Watts is many things: code, a euphemism, a one-word cautionary tale. "It's a place that everybody thinks they know about but are afraid to go to," says Arceneaux. "And this project offers a chance for people to come together and build something collectively."

After dozens of community meetings, fundraisers, late-night porch talks and a trip to buy a foreclosed property at auction, this first chapter of Arceneaux's venture -- a grand-scale collaboration involving local artists and the city's major arts and educational institutions, as well as residents -- is finally beyond the drawing board phase. Based on artist Rick Lowe's Houston development, Project Row Houses, the Watts House Project (WHP) -- part conceptual art, part activism -- is a mission that Arceneaux, its director, describes as "an artwork in the shape of a neighborhood development."

At the moment, his medium looks like many old streets in L.A., those elder neighborhoods that have eluded the nip-and-tuck of assembly-line gentrification. Here stands a row of bungalows, some stucco, others with their original wood, some fronted by neat lawns, or gardens tangled with succulents or bright splashes of bottle brush."

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Published on Sunday, November 2, 2008 in Los Angeles Times
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