All around Los Angeles are underground tunnels that are closed off to visitors, except one in Cypress Park that has been converted into a family-friendly gallery.
Built in 1925 when streetcars were popular, these tunnels were meant to give pedestrians a safe place to cross the road. In the 1960s the streetcars were removed, and by the '90s the Department of Transportation closed them off to the public after a surge of violence occurred in the unsupervised space.
Yancey Quinones grew up in L.A. and remembers traveling through the tunnels to get to school before they were closed.
When he opened Antigua Cultural Coffee House a few years ago, he decided that the tunnel across the street would be an ideal place for the local community and kids from the neighborhoods schools to gather.
“Now that we have it open and we are inviting them in, they have the opportunity to say, 'Hey look, we have an underground tunnel that’s a gallery,’ rather than when I was a kid, when we said, ‘Hey look, we have an underground tunnel that’s violent and very dangerous,’” Quinones said. “It’s a big difference, a complete 180.”
Quinones began reaching out to the local community and politicians for support in early 2011. By September 2012, local council members said they were willing to go 50-50 on the project. Whatever effort he put in, they would try and match.
Local non-profits came together to clean and paint the tunnel, and the city took care of the lighting and wiring.
“It became a battle, but not a big battle,” he said. “It was always positive, but it’s a process you have to go through, and that’s just the way it is.”
The Cypress Village Tunnel Art Walk opened on May 11. It provides 200 feet for art to be displayed during monthly shows that offer different themes, music, food, and community.
“This is a free community event. That’s the whole purpose – to hangout and just meet other people and appreciate art,” Quinones said. “And for the artists who don’t have the opportunity to showcase in a regular gallery, this is the first step because you will meet a lot of gallery owners, art buyers and people who will help you.”
The next event is “Tunnel Rats, a Skateboard Art Show,” on Saturday, July 13.
Curator Kelly Thompson asked local artists to draw and design skateboard decks, which will hang throughout the tunnel while music plays.
“I’m excited because I grew up skating and we used to ride our skateboards through that tunnel, so to me this show is special because it’s going to bring all those memories back,” Quinones said. “I think it has a lot of emotional attachment to people in the area who grew up with different types of skateboards. There’ll be different decks. You may find something in there that you haven’t seen in ages.”
Quinones is currently working with people in Silver Lake and El Taurino to convert tunnels there into galleries. He hopes to do this throughout L.A. and create a new type of art scene.
“The main goal is to have these spaces open for people to respect and appreciate and shape our city — we have the opportunity to make it look how we want for future Angelenos and visitors,” he said.
If you are interested in being a show curator or exhibiting your art you can email Quinones at email@example.com.