In the throes of a sweltering heat wave near downtown L.A., Jason Ostro wanders sun-baked alleyways off Beverly Boulevard that until recently had been strewn with litter, discarded mattresses and rusty bikes, and he beams at the new explosion of color around him.
Ostro’s the Alley Project has produced more than 75 murals by more than 50 artists, some local and some international. The side-by-side works, a mishmash of colors and styles, cover nearly every vertical surface, including garage doors, window bars, even dumpsters. Three alleys have been completed since April; production on a fourth is planned to start in about a month.
“When we first moved into the neighborhood three years ago, there was so much garbage and graffiti around here,” says Ostro, owner of the nearby Gabba Gallery. "The whole idea was: 'Turn blight into bright.'"
The Gabba Gallery paid to put up many of the works. Ostro also secured sponsors, among them art supply store Blick and real estate developer Light Space & Shadow, which is renovating a nearby building and which made a five-figure donation to the project, Ostro says. He then went door to door, knocking at what are mostly homes to gain permission to use building exteriors as canvases.
The first mural to go up was by Swiss-born German artist Raphael Grischa. It was a multicolored eagle, wings spread, on the side of a Beverly Boulevard building across the street from the Gabba Gallery.
“I think it shows that street art is actually a viable art form and not just graffiti,” Ostro says. “I love how it’s broken apart, and the detail of it, and the color combination -- it gives the project freedom and this sense of wonderment and interest.”
Week after week, mural by mural, the Alley Project has inched forward, generating curiosity as more people stop to ask questions and check out the art in a neighborhood that the city has designated Historic Filipinotown.
“Alley Project #3” -- sandwiched between Beverly and Vendome, and Reno and Council streets -- has more than 22 works. A mural by Australian artist Stormie Mills depicts two childlike skeletons playing a dice game. L.A.-based Peter Greco’s signature florid “caligraffiti” run up and down a garage door. A bold, clownlike face by Aussie Anthony Lister fronts another garage door.
A collaboration between Grischa and L.A.-based New Zealander Clinton Bopp features a jewel-toned, sideways giraffe besides a cigar-smoking monkey. Another work, by Spanish-French duo Dourone, depicts a black-and-white portrait of a face with infinity markings.
In the tradition of murals bearing messages, a work by local artist Wrdsmth faces an elementary school and reads, “You are amazing. And you deserve amazing,” over the image of an old-fashioned typewriter. A spray-can-wielding robot, by local artist Skid Robot, is meant to bring awareness about the skid row area and homelessness.
“I wanted positive messages,” Ostro says.
The mural medley also has been attracting the attention of other artists wanting to participate in the project.
“Artists have sent other artists or they hear about it online,” Ostro says. “We're getting calls all the time from artists asking if there are walls left."
Many of the participating artists have significant social media followings. Lister and Wrdsmth have more than 40,000 Instagram followers apiece. Ostro says that since the project launched, his gallery’s social media presence has grown by about double. The hashtags #alleyproject and #gabbaartdistrict bring up copious photos on Instagram.
Ostro says he’s been approached by groups in Atlanta, St. Louis and Asheville, N.C., that heard about the project online. “They want to get crowd-sourced funding going to bring us out to do the same thing there,” he says.
Residents have brought out cold drinks and snacks to artists toiling in the heat. One block of murals runs along a property teeming with chickens as well as lime and peach trees; during a recent painting session, those residents took chilled fruit to the artists.
“Different treats with different alleys,” Ostro jokes.
The gallerist says he’s intent to take the Alley Project as far as he can.
"My goal is to do every alley in this area, District 13, from Virgil to Occidental to start, and then we’ll keep pushing on as far as they’ll let us go,” he says. “As long as we have neighborhood and resident support, we’ll keep moving forward.”
What will happen if the new artwork gets tagged with graffiti or otherwise painted over?
"We hope that the community helps preserve the art, but street art is ever-changing and temporary," Ostro says. "If it gets tagged, we'll fix or replace it."
Follow me on Twitter: @debvankin