by Laura Daroca (’03 MFA)
“At Otis, I was taught that being engaged in your community was key to making art. I learned tools and directions that have guided me throughout my art-making career and my job with Metro.”
With a dedication to collaboration and community, a healthy sense of humor, and a healthy appetite, Alan Nakagawa juggles no fewer than fi ve roles: multidisciplinary artist and recent recipient of the California Community Foundation Mid-Career Fellowship for Visual Artists; administrator for L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s public art program; curator of Ear Meal, a weekly webcast dedicated to experimental music and sounds; creator of food blog Café LA LA; and Collage Ensemble leader, a role he’s ending after 28 years. Nakagawa is passionate about art, his hometown, and the communities in which he plays various roles.
For the past twenty years at L.A. Metro, Nakagawa has worked with artists, community members, and designers, coordinating public art projects that contribute to L.A.’s expanding public transportation system. For each rail station, Nakagawa works with community members to develop a neighborhood profi le. Artists submit their responses to these profi les through an open call, and the fi nal selection is made by a panel of community members and arts professionals.
Nakagawa has worked with a variety of Otis-affi liated artists including faculty member Soo Kim, and alumni Roberto Gil de Montes (’74 MFA) and Ricardo Mendoza (’87). Other Metro projects include a trading card series promoting public transportation etiquette; a photo light box series that features work of fi ne art photographers; a poster series of artist-made portraits of L.A. destinations accessible through the Metro system; and a docent-led tour of the public art projects.
So how does Nakagawa’s food blog Café LA LA enter into this picture? With each Metro project, Nakagawa visits new neighborhoods, and discovers the best places to eat. Recommendations from local residents lead him to eateries where he can learn more about the community.
Nakagawa enrolled at Otis in the early 1980s, studying with faculty who taught the fundamentals and nuances of art making and introduced the worlds of contemporary and avant-garde art. At the newly formed Mural Training Program at the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) run by muralist Judith F. Baca, he learned about mural art, brainstorming, and consensus and team building. Through this experience, Nakagawa understood that art can be a vehicle for social change with successful community collaborations.
Nakagawa also studied painting with muralist Kent Twitchell (’77 MFA), who introduced him to international mail and postal art movements. With his classmates, he curated a show of more than 200 artists from around the world. This group became the collective Collage Ensemble, which Nakagawa explains, led until spring 2012.
“The ability to multitask and administratively create something—to be able to juggle logistics— is something that the performance artists that I was into were able to do. In Hollywood, the ability to make art, promote it, collaborate with people and organizations, and present it is all part of the mix. As a student at Otis in the early ‘80s with the rise of MTV, and icons such as Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, and Spalding Gray bridging the art and entertainment gap it seemed logical to be able to do all different things and not just solely make art.”
Above: Ricardo Mendoza (‘87), mosaic mural at Firestone Station