For 51 miles, the Los Angeles River flows from Canoga Park, through Downtown Los Angeles and finally into the San Pedro Bay. A new public humanities collaboration between Pomona College, The Claremont Colleges Library and LA River X aims to highlight the cultural and historical significance of those miles through the collection, dissemination and preservation of the stories of the people who live along this river, the world’s longest channelized waterway.
Char Miller, director of environmental analysis and the W.M. Keck Professor of Environmental Analysis and History, is the principal investigator of the two-year project entitled “The People’s Archive: Los Angeles River Narratives, Counternarratives and Conversations.” This project was made possible with support from California Humanities, a non-profit partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was awarded a $19,998 grant in December 2021.
“This is an extraordinary opportunity to capture the biotic and human stories about the region’s iconic river and its larger watershed,” Miller notes. “The Los Angeles River has sustained human settlement for thousands of years, and our hope is to surface, cultivate, and preserve the contemporary record of its complex significance and diverse meaning.”
LA River X, a digital humanities project, has been gathering and publishing people’s river stories since summer 2019. They have featured photographers, filmmakers, artists, community activists, scientists. The partnership with Pomona College will not only allow more people to share their stories through special exhibitions and events, but it will help preserve and protect these stories for future generations.
“The river is an incredible case study in nature's resilience. To have been entombed in three and a half million barrels of concrete and remain a viable and important habitat for flora and fauna as well as treasured open space for walkers, anglers, cyclists, and others is a remarkable feat,” says Tilly Hinton, founder and curator of LA River X. “The river's 51 miles are culturally significant, holding stories of continuous indigenous stewardship and relationships, as well as more recent significance in filmmaking, popular culture, graffiti and urban ecological research.”
Hinton says that even now, many people express surprise and disbelief at the existence of the river and as a new county-level master plan for the river is in its final stages of adoption, the river's future again hangs in the balance as developers propose projects that could see the river capped off in more concrete. Miller and Hinton hope the Humanities for All Project Grant will help fight the erasure of the river and preserve its stories.
The grant provides paid opportunities for Pomona College students to help with various archival aspects as the collection is added to the Western Water Archives at The Claremont Colleges Library.
The grant is being matched with community support from the City of Los Angeles, Elysian Valley Arts Collective, LA as Subject, LA River Kayak Safari, Los Angeles Waterkeeper, Las Fotos Project, Photo Friends of the LA Public Library, River Ridge Club and Stables, Riverpark Coalition, and the Society of California Archivists. The funding will allow for exhibitions, events and community-based opportunities in the communities that border the LA River.
The Humanities for All Project Grant is a competitive grant program of California Humanities which supports locally developed projects that respond to the needs, interests and concerns of Californians, provide accessible learning experiences for the public and promote understanding among California’s diverse population.