What is the varied experience of a pedestrian walking 12.2 miles of Vermont Avenue? Sometimes it helps to ask an artist— especially an artist who is a dancer, social worker, urban planner and importantly, an embedded local resident with formative and lifelong experiences traversing the major intersections and sidewalks of that very street as a daily rider of Metro Line 204.
This is why Metro Art Presents was first intrigued to collaborate with longstanding socially engaged arts and culture organization Side Street Projects to amplify a performance by their current artist-in-residence, Jose Richard Aviles.
Conceived by the artist as a daylong journey along the Vermont Corridor which began at 120th Street at 10am, El Camino de Vermont was an original solo procession by Jose Richard Aviles along Metro Line 204 beginning in South Central Los Angeles and concluding in Hollywood — with, of course, many stops at specific intersections and landmarks in the distinct pockets of neighborhoods and communities between. The date was selected by the artist to creatively mark the culturally significant celebration of Dia De Los Santos on November 1, with the performance’s name inspired by traditional pilgrimage walks along the Camino de Santiago in Spain.
Aviles’s intention for the walk was to honor and reflect on the impacts that COVID-19 has had on transit riders, pedestrians, and bus operators. Specifically, Aviles walked Vermont Avenue to consider how experiences and relationships to the geographies along Line 204 have been affected by the pandemic this year. It was also an exercise in endurance, in homage to the bus rides and accompanying shared places, routines and experiences that Aviles also personally missed due to the pandemic.
With the goal of reaching “Sunset (Blvd.) by sunset,” Jose Richard traversed and connected with the many cornucopias of history, culture and community that exist along the 12.2-mile stretch of Vermont. Live reports by Aviles via Instagram Stories offered the audience online a physical and emotional experience of virtually walking through the city alongside Aviles. These photos, brief encounters, videos and first-person reports were shared on the account feeds of Metro Art, Side Street Projects and Aviles’ own Instagram account, too.
“El Camino De Vermont was my attempt to create an opportunity where performance art can be seen and used as a community engagement strategy. Whether it was a former alum of Manual Arts High School at Vermont/King or a frequent visitor of El Salvador Corridor to Vermont/11th, viewers of this performance were grateful to be able to relive those intimate memories of location.
While on the intersection of Vermont/Imperial, I shared with viewers the importance of pedestrian refuge islands and traffic safety…as well as how to safely cross a street as wide as the southern part of Vermont! After sharing that exercise, I joked that it felt as if El Camino De Vermont was the marathon of walk audits, a model for long-term community engagement.”
El Camino de Vermont was one part of En Movimiento, Jose Richard Aviles’ larger project as the Side Street Projects Mobility Archived artist-in-residence exploring histories and cultures of mobility. En Movimiento — which emerged from the residency — is an exploration of space, identity formation, heritage preservation and community engagement rooted in their love for public transit and Los Angeles.
In case you missed it, or if you’d like to learn more, you can join Jose Richard Aviles and Side Street Projects for a culminating En Movimiento (Virtual) Celebration on Saturday, December 5 at 7 p.m.
The program will share video documentation of El Camino de Vermont alongside an additional performance work by Aviles entitled Tio Metro. A related performance workshop and Q&A will also take place. Learn more about how to join the event via Zoom on Side Street Projects’ website.
Projects like El Camino de Vermont are one means by which local artists can help contribute their unique skills and sensibilities to reimagine transportation and foster new connections with the communities Metro is serving across Los Angeles County.