Aug. 18 2015 05:55 PM

City Heights sculpture is the start of something big

Jim Bliesner in front of “Cultural Fusion”
Photo by Lionel Delevingne
A colorful new sculpture stands tall on Fairmount Avenue in City Heights. Titled "Cultural Fusion" by artist Jim Bliesner, the large-scale piece itself is striking, but it represents the beginning of something much bigger.

"This is just the start of efforts by all the arts groups on the street," says Bliesner, with a copy of the 26-page Fairmount Corridor Arts Concept proposal in his hand. "This is an individual piece of art, but the conceptual piece is the street itself."

Standing in the shade of the towering La Maestra Clinic in City Heights, Bliesner is joined by Avital Aboody, economic development manager at City Heights Community Development Corporation; Melinda Chiment, executive director of The Aja Project, which offers photography-based programming to underserved youth and communities; and Christopher Ewald, director of La Maestra Foundation's Generations program that provides art therapy to traumatized community members.

They're the core team behind the Fairmount Corridor Arts Concept, a City Heights CDC- and California Endowment-funded study published in 2014 that lays the groundwork for turning Fairmount Avenue between University Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard into a more walkable arts corridor.

"One of the policy recommendations in the report is that the one-percent-for-art allocation for new development, that we be able to capture that and use it for art on this street," Bliesner says. "Most of this street is either owned by La Maestra or Price Charities and slated for major if we can capture the one percent for art we can begin to turn the street into a canvas."

The team made sure to include the cost of the sculpture in the grant proposal. The physical artwork, says Bliesner, is an important signal to the community that they're serious about getting things off the ground.

"We can produce studies—words—stacks of studies larger than this building all day long," Bliesner says. "But we decided that we needed to do an actual piece."

"Cultural Fusion," an abstract, painted-steel sculpture that incorporates various cultural symbols and patterns, will be unveiled in a community celebration happening from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, Aug. 21, at La Maestra (4060 Fairmount Ave.) in City Heights. At the event, Bliesner and the others will be actively recruiting artists and interested community members to join them in their efforts to fill Fairmount with art.

"The idea of the unveiling is that we have this one piece we've installed and it will be a kickoff to the conversation about what other things people would want to see here," Aboody says.

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