Mickalene Thomas: LA’s New Metro Line Opens With 14 Public Artworks

Matt Stromberg, Hyperallergic, October 20, 2022


Kenturah Davis, Mickalene Thomas, and Shinique Smith are among the artists who created work for the K Line, which connects historical centers of Black American life and culture in LA.


On Friday, October 7, the long-awaited K Line opened to the public, connecting South Los Angeles communities from West Adams and Leimert Park to Inglewood, historic centers of Black American life and culture in LA. The $2.1 billion light rail line is significant not just for its expansion of public transit options in the previously underserved area but also for its art program, which encompasses 14 artworks by 14 artists across the seven stations. (An eighth station, connecting to the Los Angeles International Airport, is set to open next year.)


Rendered in mosaic, porcelain enamel, or glass panels, the station artworks display a range of styles and subject matter; however, all reflect and respond to the communities around their specific sites.


Metro Art was concerned not only with representation, but with audience. “We were looking at who rides the system … tourists, commuters, someone visiting a cultural destination,” Zipporah Yamamoto, senior director of public art and exhibition programs at the Los Angeles Metro, told Hyperallergic. “We’re allowing for different levels of experience: a quick read, or you can take it in in bits and pieces.” She added that each station has community-facing artwork, offering a visual connection to the streetscape.


The K Line art program began eight years ago with an open call for proposals, with winners selected by a panel of community-based arts professionals. Still, the K Line itself has been called “a blessing and a curse” by community residents, who are wary of its role in spurring development and gentrification. Frustration that the entire route is not underground (the Northernmost three stations are below ground; the other four are at grade) was partially behind the creation of Destination Crenshaw, a series of public artworks touted as a “reparative development project” to counter the K Line’s disruption.


On opening day, however, riders seemed in good spirits, relieved that the years of planning and construction were finally over and excited to explore the new route. 


“I love it. These are our people, that’s our community,” said a rider who was waiting for the rail at Westchester, the southernmost station, before taking the eight-and-a-half-mile line back north. “It’s nice that we can be appreciated, that we can have the same perks as other communities.”



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