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The Art of DTLA//IRL
Arts & Culture / Retail

The Art of DTLA//IRL

Friday December 14, 2018 | By Nick Griffin

DTLA//IRL was envisioned as a space and experience that embodies the spirit of Downtown – an expression of the community, culture and commerce that make it such a vibrant place.

To manifest that vision, the Downtown Center Business Improvement District engaged creative agency Neon Butterfly to conceptualize the space and program. The firm's founder, Abby Allen brought in Tre Borden / Co, a place-making consultant and producer to create a highly-visible and engaging art piece on the outside of the building. Tre in turn selected the artist Phil America to lead the creative vision. That vision lead to an iconic poem entitled "I Am Alive in Los Angeles" by LA poet Mike Sonksen, which became the heart of the installation and the soul of the project.*(see artist statement below)

Photo Abby Allen

Men holding banner I am alive in LA

The main themes of the artists and artwork for DTLA // IRL are Community, Culture, Diversity and Accessibility. The space and the installations are a celebration of those things, and the programming and activations are an invitation to Downtowners and Angelenos to partake, enjoy, contribute, and share!

Mike Sonksen a 3rd generation Angeleno, and his poem evocatively captures the spirit of Downtown. It is a work EVERYONE can enjoy, from residents to commuters to the homeless, and is truly a unifying and equalizing piece of work—an offering to all Downtowners. Phil America (Instagram Instagram @philamerica) is a California-raised artist, writer and activist, and his installation is a physical manifestation of the visceral words, images and ideas in Mike's poem. Covering the ground floor of the LA Athletic Club building, it is quite literally an enlargement and amplification of the piece, and proclamation that we are all, in fact, Alive in Los Angeles!

Man talking with microphone

Inside the DTLA//IRL Event Space, Neon Butterfly tapped local artist Ethan Lipsitz to adorn the walls with his vibrant abstract work. Ethan (Instagram @ethanlipsitz) is a multidisciplinary artist, community organizer and entrepreneur. His art is focused on empowering and spreading love as a form of activism.

Artist paining blue design on wall

In the Visitors Center (the Recharge Lounge) – is the interactive photography piece, "21 Days of Community" by LA native, Lorenzo Diggins Jr (@essentialman_ld) It's a wonderfully simple invitation to all who pass by to share what community means to them. Lorenzo is an interdisciplinary creative whose work focuses on fostering connection and community.

Back of head of person looking at photos on wall

And in the spirit of fostering the virtuous cycle of DTLA pride + partnership – In Real Life – the DTLA//IRL team hosted an Open Artist Call on social media, inviting local creators to submit their work to adorn the interior of the Retail Space, answering the phrase, WHAT DTLA MEANS TO ME… There were dozens of submissions and the two winners are testament to the magnificent diversity of Downtown LA.

Sossi Madzounian (Instagram @sossimadzounian) is a photographer and mother, born in Beirut, Lebanon and living in Southern California since 1968. The work she has featured at DTLA//IRL captures the simple, almost abstract beauty of modern architecture in Downtown.

Gallery with photographs

Cassandra Carrillo (Instagram at @casscvision) is a Los Angeles-based multi-media artist working as a graphic designer, painter, muralist, and sculptor. Her sculpture, Mirror City, is a 360-degree reflective impression of the Downtown skyline.

Sculpture Mirror City

The retail space also features the Downtown LA street + fine art photography of Rob Shum (Instagram @visualrez).

Photograph man on skateboard

* Phil America, Artist Statement

In Real Life is a series of paintings and multimedia artworks created by Los Angeles-based artist Phil America. Derived from the poem I Am Alive In Los Angeles, written by LA native and poet Mike Sonksen, the works present selected lines in a variety of visual and technical styles in an effort to reflect the diversity of signage and cultures found in downtown Los Angeles. Emblazoned across flags, awnings, windows and other surfaces, the artist utilizes a typeface inspired by the many signs within the building—the Los Angeles Athletic Club—on the exterior of which the work is shown. The various media work in concert to create a relationship with the surroundings of the viewer, and the different techniques for displaying the poem are in dialogue with the building's historical architectural elements. The work reflects an intention to heighten accessibility to art in the community, facing out toward the city rather than inside a private, restricted space.