Long Beach is getting attention from artists on the national level.

Tom Bob, an established New York street artist, flew to Long Beach in early January to create artwork on the West Coast.

"We saw Tom Bob's work on Instagram and we fell in love with it," Blair Cohn, executive director at the Bixby Knolls Business Improvement Association (BKBIA), said. "We thought, Can we get him to come to Long Beach, California, and do some work here?"

Cohn said that he reached out to the artist for months — and although it took some time, Tom Bob confirmed in December that he would be flying into the city early January.

Blair Cohn

Blair Cohn

And he came prepared.

"He completely Google Earthed the entire district (of Bixby Knolls) and knew where he wanted to go and had a folder of ideas," he said. "So we walked around and showed him his locations."

In Bixby Knolls, the street artist completed four pieces: One inside the men's restroom at the BKBIA, one on the building's purple recycle bin, one on the fire hydrant outside of the building and one painted as a heart and key underneath a bicycle rack. There's also one in downtown Long Beach, which received thousands of interactions on his social media. A photo of the piece also went viral on Reddit.com.

Tom Bob: Watches Art

This piece in Downtown Long Beach went viral on the popular website Reddit.com. Cohn said that the landlord approved the artwork on the building.

The recycle bin was painted into a USC Trojan. Tom Bob took the bin with him to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to take a photo, but returned it to the BKBIA afterwards.

"He sees things in everyday items that we just don't see," Cohn said. "You and I see a trash can, and he sees a face wearing a helmet."

It shows the public that street art can be more than wall art. The city is a canvas and the artwork should be just as diverse as the people who live here, he added.

"It's important to bring in international or national artists and bring them to Long Beach — and specifically Bixby Knolls — to put their work here and create destination pieces," Cohn said.

BKBIA Princess Leia Fire Hydrant

Princess Leia-painted fire hydrant outside of the BKBIA.

"What this has done is opened the door for me to reach out and see if they will come out and create some work. Long Beach is an art-friendly and street-art friendly city, and everyone else will see that."

Cohn added that Mayor Robert Garcia is excited about the process as well.

"We're bringing more attention to Long Beach, like an extension of Pow-Wow," he said. "The mayor called me as these pieces were going up on social media and said, 'I love these, please do more.'"

As for compensation, the artists aren't paid for their work, but they aren't operating out-of-pocket either.

Cohn said that the BKBIA provided the paint and a per diem for food, but Tom Bob declined the offer for a hotel and opted to stay with friends instead.

BKBIA Tom Bob

Tom Bob's piece in the BKBIA men's restroom.

"We don't exactly have a set method for compensation," he said. "If they ask for something like $10,000, we won't be able to do that, so we'll see how everything looks moving forward."

Cohn and the BKBIA will continue to bring in new artists to paint the city, and he said he hopes the outreach will attract other artists as well.

"People are always stopping by to take pictures of the hydrant," he said. "It brings in people from outside of Long Beach just to look at." 

And the next artist?

According to Kohn, it's Ten Hundred, a street artist and designer based in Seattle, Wash. His Instagram handle is @TenHun and he boasts more than 50,000 followers across his social media channels.

"We're trying to pull away from L.A., and get artists to come to Long Beach and create more here," he said. "But of course we want them to start in Bixby Knolls first."

For more information, go to bixbyknollsinfo.com. To sponsor a project, call (562) 595-0081.

Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at sstutzman@gazettes.com.

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