L.A.'s mayor will hire an artist to help reduce traffic deaths on city streets

Mayor Eric Garcetti is looking for an artist who has what it takes -- not just to create something of beauty or that provokes feelings and thoughts, but to save lives. He’s accepting applications right now.

A new effort called the Creative Catalyst Artist in Residence Program aims, as Garcetti put it in a written announcement, to harness “the creative genius that thrives in Los Angeles” for “outside the box thinking” about some of the city’s problems.

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The artist will be embedded in the city’s Department of Transportation, to focus on how to save bike riders and pedestrians from being maimed or killed by automobiles.

Part of the artist’s work will take place in bureaucratic settings, where he or she will join a team of transportation planners and engineers working on a project called Vision Zero, which calls for eliminating traffic fatalities on city streets by 2025.

The initiative is intended to prevent incidents such as the one outside city limits Tuesday in which a man riding his bicycle was crushed to death by a shipping container that fell off a big rig after it went under a railroad bridge. The truck was traveling near Carson's border with Long Beach, authorities said, and struck the railroad bridge, pushing the container off. 

The artist tasked with being a creative catalyst will presumably have constructive ideas that non-artists might not have thought of themselves.

“I want somebody who can understand the issues and think of them in different ways,” said Seleta Reynolds, the transportation department's general manager. “I don’t want to constrain where that goes” by getting too specific in advance about what the commissioned artist might create.

The Department of Cultural Affairs will handle the recruiting. It’s taking applications online, with a deadline of Nov. 6.

A panel of art and transportation experts will evaluate the submissions in the kind of competitive grant review process the cultural department usually conducts to pick artists for more conventional tasks, such as creating new work for the annual City of Los Angeles Exhibition at the Municipal Art Gallery in Barnsdall Park.

The artist chosen will get a $20,000 commission paid over two years.

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Spiffing up materials the city puts out to promote safe driving “is definitely not what this is about,” Reynolds said. “It's going much deeper into the way we think about designing the streets. Art has the power to get people to sit up and pay attention and jolt them out of their normal ways of thinking. We can infuse unexpected elements into the design of the streets and the way of moving through the streets.”

Whatever emerges, said Danielle Brazell, the cultural affairs department’s general manager, the effect should be something that touches many hearts and minds of motorists.

“We’re talking about culture change, and thinking about the greater good,” Brazell said. “It’s going to take some real imagination and cultural shifts and change in the way Angelenos move through space and time. I think art is a powerful vehicle.”

As are trucks and automobiles, which, Reynolds said, on average claim the lives of about 100 cyclists and pedestrians each year on the streets of L.A.

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