Why is this activity of importance to the neighborhood or community? What is it about activating this plaza in this creative way that is compelling to you?
The Naguchi Plaza is owned by the Community Center as a non-profit organization. This is one of the only, if not the only, public plaza that is within the private domain. I guess LA Live is a public private space. This particular space has been there for over 30 years and was designed by Naguchi. It has always been kind of a hidden gem. It has been used as a focal point for community festivals and events, but it is offset and not terribly visible from the street. It doesn’t have a direct street presence because of the way that Naguchi designed the space. It has the quality of a secret garden. It is a secret public plaza space. Most people don’t know about it. This installation is one of many installations over the years to engage the people and the public, to bring people into the space, to let people know about this unique space in the Downtown community.
Besides the public and the private, the other mixing of worlds evident in this nine-day event is the blending of the traditional and the modern. Can you elaborate on how those dynamics played out over the course of the event?
I was thinking about the importance of the installation as the idea of the garden. This particular installation speaks to my interest in sustainability and the connection between human experience and nature. In this case, the simplicity of the modernist expression of the gravel gardens evokes what I call a spiritual experience. The natural environment, as with most Zen gardens, has to do with the inner workings of oneself—the contemplative qualities that the garden space can create. We had to create a garden space that was at scale that has a major presence. It is a spiritual space—that is a connection back to nature. That is part of the whole idea of ecoartspace.
Given your role in planning the event, what do JACCC stakeholders hope for from the event in terms of neighborhood revitalization? What makes Little Tokyo great and what investments could take the neighborhood to the next level of a livable and engaging community?
We are fortunate that the population of Downtown, in particular Little Tokyo, is shifting. We are now finding many residents in the area. Little Tokyo has become one of the major areas for night activities. It is very active in the evenings with youth and events and dining. The space is an opportunity for these types of events to occur to encourage further community, further community engagement, and a place to hang out. The whole week will see evening social events that we hope people will take part in. We’re really a part of a larger economic growth that is hapopening—I don’t know if it is growth, but it is definitely a shift. The Community Center wants to be a part of that so we aren’t just Japanese Americans, but we’re part of a larger urban fabric that can host activities Downtown.
How did you expertise and experience as a landscape architect help you curate the event?
There are two parts. One is a practical side. On the conceptual side is the relationship to the Zen Garden. Hirokazu Kosaka is the public artist that I worked with—we co-curated this installation. We were interested in transforming the plaza into a new experience. As a boardmember at the community center, I said, “why don’t we skew this installation to make sure we have an environmental plan.” Out of that I threw out the idea of Ecoartspace, and the comittee picked that up and pushed that idea. Because my background as a landscape architect includes a lot of work in sustainability and ecological systems approach to design, that’s how we collaborated.
On the practical side, I had the 27 tons of gravel organized, delivered, and installed. I paid for it. I hired labor to spread it and install. There are three inches—a lot of gravel out there. I was able to make that happen through my industry connections .
LA Bloom concludes on May 5, so you have one last Saturday to check out the event.