June 26, 2019

Creating Art for the Streets of L.A.

Southern California native Michele Weisbart had two of her designs chosen for the Bigbelly trash bins in Mar Vista. Photos courtesy of Michele Weisbart

When Los Angeles artist and graphic designer Michele Weisbart had the opportunity to showcase her work at the Mar Vista Art Walk in 2017, she had no idea it would lead to having her art literally displayed on the city’s streets two years later. 

In December 2018, the Mar Vista Art Walk posted on social media a call for 15 artists to create designs for the Bigbelly trash bins situated along a mile-long stretch of Venice Boulevard as part of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Great Streets of LA initiative, announced in 2013. The initiative aims to transform streets throughout the city into more vibrant, safer and community-oriented public spaces. In 2014, a Great Streets mile corridor was identified in each of the 15 city council districts for the project. Venice Boulevard from Inglewood Boulevard to Beethoven Street was designated for Councilman Mike Bonin’s 11th District, which includes Mar Vista. 

Lenore French, president of Green Communications Initiative Inc., a nonprofit that organizes the Mar Vista Art Walk, said the art walk was looking for the best interpretations of the Mar Vista neighborhood identity and artists’ ability to work with the dominant light blue color palette to harmonize with the preformatted trash bins that display the city’s departmental logos and the councilman’s office crest. 

When Weisbart heard about the contest, she treated it as she would any other client, researching Mar Vista and its history.

“Even though I do brush painting and flowers, I also wanted to see what would be important to them,” Weisbart told the Journal. “I took some of my flowers — you had to match the three blues, because of the recycling part on the side of the bin — and also did some mandalas, because they represent wholeness, unity, harmony. These are things that I thought would express Mar Vista and how they support the artistic community.”

Weisbart submitted two designs in December and both were accepted within the month. She then received a template for creating the designs, which she submitted in January. The Bigbelly bins hit the streets the first week of February.

“I love Michele’s work because of her use of mandalas,” French told the Journal, “and that her work is at the same time abstract and references a very specific spiritual belief system.”

“Mar Vista has a very vibrant art community,” said Weisbart, 61. “While I plan to do more things along these lines — public art — the fact that this is the first place [to have my art displayed on the street] is really exciting.”

“I love Michele’s work because of her use of mandalas, and that her work is at the same time abstract and references a very specific spiritual belief system.” — Lenore French

The designs are displayed on both sides of the bins, so people can see them from all angles. 

“They are solar bins, so they compact the trash using solar energy, which is part of the city’s new interest in implementing projects that can be seen as part of the sustainable future for Los Angeles,” French said. 

Weisbart, who grew up in Thousand Oaks and now lives in Westwood, said, “I love the idea of trying to bring beauty to all the [streets of Los Angeles] in little steps. I love that [my work is] in a part of the city that is very active for the artistic community, is very cognizant of going green and does a lot for street planning. I’ve worked with urban planners, so it does many things that align with my personal philosophy.” 

Her appreciation for the arts along with a focus on education was a major part of Weisbart’s life growing up. “Education goes hand in hand with Jewish upbringing,” she said. “My parents have always opened my eyes. We were members of museums, we were taken to plays. They made sure we weren’t just educated in the traditional sense, but also in fine arts. Everything we’ve done, we look at [things] in a Jewish way.”

A graphic designer and illustrator for more than 18 years, Weisbart has worked with clients in the entertainment, financial, medical and food industries. Among other projects, she was the lead designer for the award-winning 2011 “Model Design Manual for Living Streets,” commissioned by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

“As an artist, I do things for clients all the time,” she said. “This was the first time I put myself out there just as an artist, and it was very self-affirming.”