Author Archives: grandpark

Master Altar-Maker Ofelia Esparza: L.A.’s National Treasure

Ofelia Esparza in Grand Park

Ofelia Esparza, Noche de Ofrenda in Grand Park, photo by Rafael Cardenas, Oct 2015

For Ofelia Esparza, Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is her busiest time of the year. The weeks leading up to Día de los Muertos are spent planning and creating altars at numerous locations are town. She’s gives presentations at college campuses on the meaning and history of this celebration. With Día de los Muertos growing in popularity every year, community leaders like Ofelia are essential in keeping the essence of this tradition alive and well. Her unwavering commitment can be seen in the altars she creates. As a retired educator and life long artist, she has no plans to stop anytime soon.

With the support of her family and the community of artists that she belongs to, Ofelia has been able to instill the true meaning of Día de los Muertos with countless individuals. For her, the meaning of Día de los Muertos is something that was instilled in her at an early age by her mother. Usually in coordination with the Catholic calendar, her mother had altars at home at various times of the year. They weren’t elaborate or large like the ones Ofelia makes today, they were small enough to fit on top of a dresser, table or shelf, emphasizing intimacy. They were adorned with flowers from the family garden, which included the traditional marigold, also known as the Cempasúchil.

Community Altar created by Ofelia Esparza, Grand Park. Photo by Javier Guillen, Oct 2015

Community Altar created by Ofelia Esparza, Grand Park. Photo by Javier Guillen, Oct 2015

Her mother never went into detail to explain why she placed certain items or did things a certain way because her practice of the tradition was rooted in an indigenous tradition – it was simply something that was done generation to generation. However, through Ofelia’s own research, experience, and learning from others who celebrate Día de los Muertos, she has been able to piece together the meaning and significance of items commonly found on altars. For example, the Cempasúchil attracts spirits through its bright color and distinct scent. In addition, calaveras (skulls) have been used since pre-Colombian times to represent the dead. Artists like Jose Guadalupe Posada, who used calaveras in his political cartoons and artwork, contributed in establishing the skull as part of the Día de los Muertos language of symbols and icons.

While the visuals of the tradition have changed over the years, the spirit of the celebration has not, which is to honor and remember ancestors and loved ones. In our lives, we go through what Ofelia explains, is three deaths. The first is the day we take our last breath. The second death is when we are buried, never to be seen again. The third, and the worst death anyone can go through, is when we are forgotten. “We’re only here for a short time and just like a flower that wilts or gold tarnishing, all things are temporary, but we live on in the memory and hearts of our ancestors because we are all here for a purpose.”

Los Angeles’ own Self Help Graphics & Art has been instrumental in growing the tradition of Día de los Muertos in the United States. Through happenstance, Ofelia’s beginnings at Self Help Graphics & Art date back to 1979 when a posted sign for instructors lead to her first meeting with founder Sister Karen Boccalero. In need of instructors for Día de los Muertos community workshops, Ofelia was hired on the spot after sharing her family’s history with the tradition. Since that day, Ofelia and her family has been a staple at workshops, but also in creating the community altar that has come to define Día de los Muertos at Self Help Graphics & Art.

Self-Help Graphics & Art

Self Help Graphics & Art Day of the Day circa 1970s. Photo by Self Help Graphics & Art

Starting out as a participant in the building of the community altar and eventually leading the project, the altars themselves took a life of their own. Community residents would share their personal items and display personal pictures to honor their loved ones. With her families’ help, Ofelia also created themed altars in the downstairs space of the old Self Help Graphics & Art building called Galeria Otra Vez, which lead to the creation of Noche de Ofrenda, a Self Help Graphics & Art tradition that continues to this day, now in Grand Park. Noche de Ofrenda began in the mid-90s by Tomas Benitez, and the event was intended to host guest in the space to see the altars and art for that year’s celebration. Over time, the night transitioned into more of a community-oriented space for individuals to contribute to the community altar, but also for Ofelia to talk on the history of Día de los Muertos and its tradition.

Self Help Graphics & Art, along with Galería de la Raza in the Mission District of San Francisco, is one of the oldest institutions in the U.S. that have helped popularize Día de los Muertos. By continuing the tradition of bringing community together, these organizations are true to the spirit that inspired Sister Karen as she began building the tradition.. At the same time, she also involved community artist to participate and share their works on Día de los Muertos, a tradition that is continued to today, culminating in artist and community members coming together in celebrating the lives of loved ones.

Self Help Graphics & Art Day of the Dead circa 1970s. Photo by Self Help Graphics & Art.

Self Help Graphics & Art Day of the Dead circa 1970s. Photo by Self Help Graphics & Art.

As Día de los Muertos continues to grow and change, Ofelia is steadfast to remind individuals that Día de los Muertos isn’t just a “Mexican Halloween” celebration, despite the days being right after each other. “One shouldn’t consider Día de los Muertos a holiday because it devalues the tradition and meaning behind it.”

Ofelia Esparza. Photo by Javier Guillen

Ofelia Esparza. Photo by Javier Guillen

Ofelia encourages the curious to ask questions about Día de los Muertos and to not be afraid to inquire more about altars, or to contemplate and reflect on the idea of how our loved ones are remembered once they leave this world. “It’s not my job to say you can’t do this or you can’t do that. What I want to pass on is the tradition of remembering our loved ones, celebrating their lives, and keeping up their legacy for the next generation” says Ofelia, remembering what her mother used to tell her: “Ojala sigas con las tradiciones (I hope you carry on these traditions).”

-Guest blog by Erick Huerta, @ElRandomHero

See Ofelia’s Community Altar revealed at NOCHE DE OFRENDA on OCT 29, as part of GRAND PARK’S DOWNTOWN DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS. All altars will be on display thru NOV 6.

 

Fall and Winter Magic in Grand Park

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A warm welcome to the changing seasons as we deepen roots one gathering at a time.

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MAKE YOUR MARK IN THE PARK // SUN OCT 2 // 11AM – 4PM. 

Presented in partnership with Ryman Arts as part of the global initiative The Big Draw.

The concept is simple: drawing, doodling, simple expression no matter what age or background. Let the park gardens and breezes inspire you (the morning Starbucks jolt will help).

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DOWNTOWN DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS: NOCHE DE OFRENDA // SAT OCT 29 // 7PM – 9PM. 

Presented in partnership with Self Help Graphics & Art.

The night evokes memories of the past and passed. Traditions are linked and Angelenos connect with traditions across borders and states.

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DOWNTOWN DÍA DE LOS MUERTOS: ALTARS + ART // SUN OCT 30 – SUN NOV 5 // ALL DAY EXHIBITION 

Each individual altar comes with its unique story –  from family history to social justice narratives. Connect with these stories by walking through the park’s paths and gardens.

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¡LUNCHTIME! FOOD TRUCKS // EVERY TUES + WED + THURS // 11AM – 2PM

Trucks come to two locations – Olive Court and the Marketplace (near CIty Hall).

¡LUNCHTIME! YOGA reTREAT // EVERY WED + FRI NOV thru MAY // 12:15PM – 1PM

Breathe, relax and sink into Grand Park bliss. Bring your own mat or borrow one from Grand Park at no cost.

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WE ARE LOS ANGELES // SAT NOV 12 –  WED NOV 17 // ALL DAY EXHIBITION 

30 unique angel sculptures by local artists spread their wings in Grand Park.

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GRAND PARK LIGHTS UP THE HOLIDAYS // SAT NOV 26 –  SUN DEC 25 // ALL DAY 

Grand Park shines and glitters with the spirit of the season

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GRAND PARK + THE MUSIC CENTER’S N.Y.E.L.A. // SAT DEC 31 // 8PM – 1AM

Ring in the New Year at the flagship West Coast public New Year’s Eve countdown.

 

 

PAPER AIRPLANE Takes Flight in Grand Park

 

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Yay! The Paper Airplane shade structure has landed in Grand Park!

An example of public art with a practical purpose, the structure can be moved and relocated to “take flight” in any area of Grand Park.

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Artists Dean Sherriff and Elenita Torres came up with the concept of the giant paper airplanes, and after a public vote, Los Angeles agreed that their concept would be the one to take flight to make A Cooler Grand Park.  Each plane represents one incorporated city in Los Angeles County and in its entirety, represents the 88 incorporated cities in the County.

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Canvas Specialty’s engineers and industrial designers took the artists’ concept, then created the airplanes and structure and brought the concept to flight.  This project was fabricated in East Los Angeles and took six months to complete from concept to installation.

 

This inaugural public art project in Grand Park would not have been possible without the support of the Goldhirsh Foundation’s My LA2050 Grants Challenge.

BTW If the inspiration hits you and you have an idea for a better L.A., this year’s My LA2050 Grants Challenge is up and running! Propose your vision by OCT 4.

Fun Family Activities Around Grand Ave

July splash pad closure

Grand Park’s splash pad area will be closed for 4 days – JULY 5 thru 8, opening by the weekend on SAT JULY 9. Never fear, there are plenty of fun options nearby to keep the whole family cool and entertained. Something to definitely put on the calendar is Dance Downtown: Cumbia where you can experience live music and dance lessons in the fountain area on FRI JUL 8 // 7PM – 11PM // FREE.

 

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The Grand Park Playground on the Event Lawn (near City Hall) will remain open from 8AM-8PM as usual. The playground features a custom 20-foot-high tree house with a four-foot-tall roller slide, a 12-foot-tall tube slide, seven berms that range from one to four-feet-tall with some having added features, such as rock-climbing handles, a rope climber, and a tunnel that visitors can crawl through and outdoor musical instruments.

 

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Credit: Henry Salazar

Tour The Music Center! Free, self-guided tours of its spectacular Walt Disney Concert Hall can be reserved from 10am-2pm each day July 5-8. Guided tours are complimentary and offered at 12pm and 1:15pm Thursday-Saturday. More info: musiccenter.org 

 

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The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is free for children 12 and under, 2 for 1 admission ($12 for adults) with a TAP card, and open every day except Tuesday. Free admission to MOCA for the whole family is accessible on Thursdays from 5pm-8pm. More info: moca.org

 

 

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The Broad is just a stone’s throw from MOCA and also offers exciting contemporary art for free. The museum is open every day except Mondays. Admission for the onsite standby lines is first come, first served, based on availability. The wait time in the onsite standby lines is 10 to 45 minutes on an average weekday. More info: thebroad.org

 

 

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The Wells Fargo History Museum is open 9am-5pm Monday through Saturday and offers free guided tours, historic Los Angeles maps, and a replica stagecoach you can board. More info: wellsfargohistory.com

 

 

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For a breezy view of beautiful downtown Los Angeles, check out the observation deck at City Hall. You can check in with security at the 201 Main Street public entrance and they will direct you onwards and upwards to the 27th floor. Open M-F 10am – 5pm. Deets from WelikeLA

Thank you so much for your patience, please come back with the fam to visit Grand Park + The Music Center with free events all summer-long, there is something to do with everyone you love.

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Beat Swap Meet at Grand Park

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The final event of 4 Days of Hip-Hop Dance at Grand Park and the Music Center is the Beat Swap Meet on Sunday June 19th. Coming on the heels of the Ain’t No Half Steppin’  panel, Sleepless at The Music Center’s Walt Disney Concert Hall and Compagnie Käfig at The Music Center’s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, a palpable spirit hangs in the air on Grand Avenue in the Cultural Corridor.

The Beat Swap Meet for those that do not know is a travelling record swap meet that started back over 8 years ago. The Grand Park edition is the 8th anniversary and it promises to be an exciting afternoon of several dozen vendors selling vinyl records, apparel and lots of miscellaneous music related merchandise. Several local independent record labels are on hand selling their wares and also lots of vinyl collectors are there selling rare records and hard to find collectibles. As much as the event is associated with Hip-Hop, there are thousands of records from every genre including Blues, Funk, Jazz, Reggae, Rock, Punk, Soul, Metal, Dancehall, Hip-Hop and the undefinable all will on be on hand.

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Jeremy Sole with Mike the Poet

Prominent local DJ’s like KCRW’s Jeremy Sole will be there selling gems from his own personal collection. Zulu Nation member and venerable Los Angeles Hip-Hop artist L. Scatter will also be in the mix selling records and sharing conversation. DJ Abel, known for his great DJing skills and time at Stacks Records in Cerritos will also be in attendance fixing turntables for any DJ’s that need help with that. Among the many local record labels on hand with their own table, one of them is MoFunk and its co-founder XL Middleton.

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XL Middleton

XL Middleton is a Pasadena-born musician and one of the key figures in the Modern Funk Movement. Earlier this week, he shared with me his enthusiasm for Beat Swap Meet, Los Angeles and funk records. “I started MoFunk Records with Eddy Funkster,” XL exclaims, “one of the deepest collectors of 80’s funk records that I’ve ever met, who is also one of the resident DJ’s at Dam Funk’s Funkmosphere night here in LA. We were already aware of what a worldwide phenomenon that modern funk music was becoming, and we found it ironic that there was so little of it coming from the city that had really adopted it as its signature sound, decades prior. So we wanted to start this label to give people our unique take on the funk. It’s based on things, both positive and negative, that we saw growing up in LA in the 90’s – backyard parties, low riding, popping and locking, breaking, gangbanging, all the things that, for better or worse, were an integral part of the landscape, so to speak. The music is an amalgamation of synth-heavy 80’s R&B, electro hip hop, and 90’s g-funk.”

XL has a lot of enthusiasm about the Modern Funk Movement. He explains that there is a burgeoning scene of many artists and LA is one of the epicenters. “I can’t name them all because there’s just so many,” he confesses, “but I’ll give you a few. Zackey Force Funk, in many ways we think of him as a part of MoFunk too. He was the vocalist on “Press Play,” which me and Eddy Funkster produced, and is now considered one of the essential tunes in the modern funk canon. There’s Brian Ellis, another amazingly talented multi-instrumentalist and recording artist. Psychic Mirrors from out of Miami, they’re another favorite of mine. Their tune “Charlene” is probably still my favorite modern funk song ever.”

On the MoFunk label he has several artists. “First there’s Moniquea,” he says. “She was the first artist we released on MoFunk, with the 7″ single “I Don’t Wanna Get Used To It,” as well as our first full length LP release, “Yes No Maybe.” She’s got a really unique voice and she grew up listening to tons of 80’s funk and new wave,” he explains. He has also recently signed an artist from the Bay Area, Diamond Ortiz, a multi-instrumentalist and composer/producer. They have already released a 7″ from him and an EP, “The Boomerang EP.” Ortiz just finished his first full length, “Loveline,” and it’s coming out before the end of the year. Beyond that, MoFunk also just put out a 12″ from a group called Shiro Schwarz out of Mexico City. They are planning to do much more with them in the future. XL tells me there is much to be excited about with MoFunk and the Modern Funk Movement.

XL Middleton loves Los Angeles, the Modern Funk Movement and Beat Swap Meet. He’s been participating in several ways with the Beat Swap Meet over the last 3 years. In 2013 Moniquea and he performed when Beat Swap Meet was in Chinatown. “I remember thinking how amazing it was, in every sense, but especially on a cultural level.”

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He sees the event as a microcosm of the city itself. XL concludes our discussion by saying, “Beat Swap Meet is a cultural cross-section of everything in the city that falls outside of what LA is stereotyped to be. It’s so much more than just a place to buy used records. It’s where people can come together and feel free. That sounds so cliché, but what I mean is – There’s no dress code, you don’t have to pay $30 to get in, it’s not a place that’s overrun by aspiring stars and Instagram models. It’s everything that LA truly is, that is sometimes hard to put into words. But, if you come out and experience it for yourself, I think you’ll understand.”

Considering Grand Park is in the center of the city and the place for everyone, there is no better place for Beat Swap Meet to be on Father’s Day than the iconic rectangular three-block park connecting City Hall and the Music Center.

Mike the Poet, guest blogger/social media host #hiphop4days

Ain’t No Half Steppin’ at Grand Park

Left – right. Dr. Imani Kai Johnson, Thelma Davis, Dr. Rennie Harris, Damita Jo Freeman, Lil’ Cesar Rivas, Lucas Rivera

On Thursday June 16th at 6pm, in Olive Court at Grand Park, the dynamic panel “Ain’t No Half Steppin,” thoroughly educated and entertained the crowd of b-boys, b-girls, Angelenos and passerby’s who stopped to listen the panelists break down the evolution of street dance. The tone was immediately set by Grand Park’s Director Lucas Rivera when he introduced the panel by saying, “Grand Park is the only place where head spins and ballet slippers fit on the same stage.” This inclusive spirit defined the panel and their action-packed discussion.

The conversation was moderated by Dr. Imani Kai Johnson, an interdisciplinary scholar, professor at UC Riverside and leading voice on Hip-Hop dance in international communities. Dr. Johnson was joined by Damita Jo Freeman, one of the original “Soul Train” dancers, Thalma Davis, also one of the original “Soul Train” dancers, Julio Lil’ Cesar Rivas, the founder of the Hip-Hop School of the Arts in Pomona and an original Los Angeles b-boy dating back to Radiotron in the early 1980s and Dr. Rennie Harris, the founder, artistic director and choreographer of one of the most influential Hip-Hop dance companies.

The Story Must Be Told By Those Who Were There

In the course of their nearly-90 minute conversation, the panelists not only discussed the evolution of street dance, they discussed the importance of getting the story right. One of the key themes of their dialogue was that, “if the story is not told by the people who know it, the facts and details will be twisted incorrectly and not represent what actually happened.” They each told their story with heartfelt authenticity and the audience enjoyed every minute of it.

To this end, each of the panelists talked about their own history with street dance. Thelma Davis and Damita Jo Freeman talked about how they began as “Soul Train” dancers at 17 years old in 1971. Davis noted that her parents were activists and that her dancing was informed by the Civil Rights Movement, the Blaxploitation era and all of the spirit that was in the air in the early 1970s. She also mentioned that she had been dancing as a ballerina from her early childhood and that her own style melted ballet, freestyle, jazz and evolved into its own amalgamation that Don Cornelius, the host of “Soul Train” allowed her to express on the show’s stage every week. As time went on, Davis opened up for the Jackson 5 and did choreography for a wide range of artists.

Damita Jo Freeman echoed many of the same thoughts as her longtime friend Davis. Freeman not only danced on “Soul Train,” she also had a background in ballet and danced in Los Angeles clubs like Maverick’s Flat and The Climax. As her career went on, she crossed paths with James Brown, Cher, Lionel Richie and countless other artists as she danced and choreographed on television and with events like the American Music Awards and the Soul Train Music Awards. Both Freeman and Davis described their formative years as, “a period of awakening.” Above all, they said their dancing came from the heart and was about having fun. They also said that they were never competitive, it was about building rapport, finding identity and sharing spirit. They also stressed the importance of “Soul Train,” in the transmission of street dance and the fashion across the country.

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Lil’ Cesar Rivas agreed with them both about the influence of “Soul Train.” He spoke of watching the show in El Salvador when he was 7 years old in the late 1970s, a few years before he would move to Los Angeles. Rivas would go on to become one of the most influential b-boy dancers in Los Angeles, the founder of the Air Force Crew, a performer in the film “Electric Boogaloo,” and one of the key participants in Radiotron, the seminal space located across from MacArthur Park in the mid-1980s. Rivas spoke of an influential moment in his life that led him to begin the Hip-Hop School of the Arts in 2007-2008. The turning point for him was in 2007 when he was flown to Korea to participate in a huge event to celebrate Hip-Hop dance. Korean politicians spent 2 million dollars and brought artists from 16 countries to Seoul to participate in a monumental Hip-Hop festival. He wondered way Hip-Hop did not get this type of love in America.

The experience was life changing and it made him come home with the desire to document the history of Hip-Hop. He started collecting all of the books and films ever made about Hip-Hop. “I wanted to create a Hip-Hop library,” he said. From this inspiration, he put a proposal together and started the Hip-Hop School of the Arts in Pomona to chronicle the movement’s history and carry on the spirit to the next generation.

Dr. Rennie Harris shared this intention of documenting the history of street dance as well. He explained his youth in Philadelphia and his early years in dance. He also noted that in different cities, street dance was called different names and had subtle differences. In Philly it was “GQ” dance, in Washington D.C., there was “GoGo,” in Chicago it was “House,” and the West Coast he said was about dancing to funk like Parliament and Funkadelic. Harris noted that the term “Hip-Hop” was first used in a historical context in a 1981 Village Voice article. He essentially said that many of the participants never named it because they were too busy doing it.

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Harris had danced with groups like Run DMC and others in the early 1980s, but he the said the life changing moment for him that led him into more choreography and dance theater was sometime in 1990 when he was approached to choreograph a Hip-Hop dance routine for $1500. This made him realize that his lifelong participation in dance was meaningful to the world at large. From this time, he began to organize experimental theatrical dance productions he called, “Black Performance Art,” where he would have dancers responding to work by the Last Poets and other similar thoughtful work. He aimed to tackle racism and wanted to use dance as a force for social justice. Before he knew it, he was doing events at the Lincoln Center and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Harris shared that he even had some of his shows picketed because they were too incendiary for some audience members. Harris has gone on to teach at UCLA and the University of Colorado at Boulder and he continues to choreograph and speak on dance around the world. He sees Hip-Hop as the most original American art form.

At one point early on in the panel, Harris and Davis debated about the influence of “Soul Train” versus dance in smaller community venues. Davis emphasized that since “Soul Train,” had a national television audience, it spread the spirit of street dance around the world very quickly through the 1970s and 1980s. Harris did not disagree with this, but he said that many of the street dancers in various cities around America were so engaged in their local community, that early on, the movement was not named, they were just young people having fun and doing their best to express individuality and innovation. After some playful dialogue, they came to the agreement that the roots of street dance were in the generations even before them. One of them noted that there were people doing the Moonwalk in the 1930s.

As the panel concluded, Dr. Johnson asked each of the panelists how dance connected them to politics.

Rennie Harris said, “Dance is the most dangerous art form because it is movement.” The visceral and immediate nature of dance makes it timeless because it happens in the moment. Rivas noted that in 1985 when the city tried to shut down Radiotron, all of the dancers he was with marched to City Hall to oppose this. He said that their desire to keep b-boying made them political in that moment because they realized how important Radiotron had been to their own growth and identity. Harris and Freeman reiterated what they had said about dance leading to their awakening.

All and all, the panelists closed the discussion by saying, “Its 2016 and we are still dancing.” The audience gave them a standing ovation, many photos were taken, a few moves were captured on film and everyone went home happy as the sun slowly set over Grand Park.

Mike the Poet, guest blogger/social media host #hiphop4days

Literary L.A.: Places, Spaces and Faces

It’s almost time for the 4th DOWNTOWN BOOKFEST here at Grand Park. This year, there have been even more ways to celebrate literature than ever with #SpringtimeReads. Look forward to bookshops, kid’s performances, readings, and panels – all of which center around Los Angeles and the theme “Places, Spaces and Faces.”

It goes without saying, the bookworms are excited about Downtown Bookfest. With over 30 independent presses and publishers on display in the Pop Up Bookshop curated by Writ Large Press, three stages for readings, panels and children’s performances, a dedicated children’s bookshop, and activities with some of the best literary organizations in L.A., why wouldn’t they be.

With this celebration of words, we wanted to crack open L.A.’s writers to see how their love of language and their love of L.A. live together. Here are a few glimpses:

Photo by Javier Guillen

Photo by Javier Guillen

David Kipen’s literary is career is quite expansive. He is not only the founder of Libros Schmibros, a teacher in UCLA’s Writing Program, and Critic at Large for the Los Angeles Times, but he is also the NORTH LAWN STAGE curator at Grand Park’s Downtown Bookfest.

DW: What is your favorite place to read in Los Angeles? 

DK: On a surfboard. Off Playa del Rey. Preferably in a pod of dolphins. In this context, my lifelong inability to surf might seem, at least at first, a disadvantage. And yet experienced surfers have proven singularly disinclined to read while surfing. I can only assume that surfing experience is, if anything, a disincentive to waveborne literary enjoyment. All surfing teachers interested in an eager if distractible pupil are hereby entreated to get in touch.

DW: What is one of your favorite places to write about in Los Angeles? 

DK: Just the next one. Just now I’m working on a Times op-ed for opening weekend of the Expo Line. Writers seldom get to choose their own headlines, but I’m thinking of it as “’When We Reach the City’: Ray Bradbury, L.A. Urbanism, and Stations of the Crosstown Train.” Which may help explain why writers seldom get to choose their own headlines. So my favorite L.A. place to write about at the moment is anywhere you can sit, nosh, bask, and watch the trains go by. Candidates include Goldstein’s Bagel Bakery in Arcadia, Cemitas Poblanas Elvirita in Boyle Heights, Nicole’s in South Pasadena, and now The Coop Pizza at Palms and National. All L.A. hungry ferroequinologists with ideas of their own are hereby entreated to get in touch.

DW: Who is your favorite L.A. writer? 

DK: My favorite L.A. writer is always the next one — even if he’s ten years gone, like the L.A. historian, John Cheever pen pal and Central Library savior John D. Weaver. Or screenwriter Mayo Simon, who wrote my some of formative favorites, like Why Man Creates, Phase IV and Futureworld, and who’s still kicking out there somewhere. Or Geoff Dyer, who just got here, and will be fun to watch as he discovers the city. All unbought champions of unsung L.A. literature are hereby entreated to get in touch.

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LOU MATHEWS

Lou is an LA writer who has done just about everything you can do with a pen. As a novelist, his breakthrough LA Breakdown was honored by LA Times as 1999’s ‘Best Book’. As a journalist his work has appeared in LA Magazine, LA Times, Mother Jones and LA Weekly. His screen and stage plays have graced local theatres and international festivals alike. As an educator, Lou teaches for the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program and has been a National Endowment for the Arts fellow in fiction.

DW: What is your favorite place to read in Los Angeles? 

LM: For a writer that’s a two part question, there’s the reading you do and the readings you give.  I love to read late at night, when the house is quiet.  Usually at the dining room table.  When I read my work aloud, two favorites, Skylight Books, my home-bookstore, and the auditorium at the Skirball Center, where I read once a year for the UCLA publication party.  Best acoustics in town.

DW: What is one of your favorite places to write about in Los Angeles? 

LM: Two neighborhoods, one real, one imaginary.  Toonerville was where I spent most of my time when I was a kid, most of my friends lived there.  It’s a neighborhood bordered by Los Feliz Boulevard to the south, the L.A. River to the west, San Fernando road to the east and roughly Colorado Blvd to the north.  The imaginary neighborhood, which I’ve been writing about for thirty years, is Shaky Town, which is also the title of a book I’ve just finished.  Shaky Town, as I said, is an imaginary neighborhood, which means I’m not bound by actual boundaries, but it is roughly based on two real neighborhoods, Glassell Park and Highland Park, where I went to high school and misspent my youth.  My first novel, L.A. Breakdown, about illegal street racing in Los Angeles, mostly takes place there, centering on the monumental Drive-in restaurant, Van de Kamps,  at the corner of San Fernando Road and Fletcher Drive,  which was the central hub for street racers in the 1960’s.  I loved the neighborhood growing up and that affection abides.  Great taco trucks and restaurants, great street scene, great people.

DW: Who is your favorite L.A. writer? 

LM: I can’t answer that with one name.  A lot of great writers, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Budd Schulberg, lived here and wrote about the place.   John Steinbeck lived in Eagle Rock for a while. Raymond Carver once worked in concessions at the Cinerama Dome theater, but like Steinbeck, didn’t write much about the place.  I think of favorite L. A. writers in terms of generations. The early days, I would have to say Nathanael West. Day of the Locust is, I think, the best book ever written about Hollywood.  After that, Joan Didion, Wanda Coleman, Charles Bukowski and Lucia Berlin.  Currently, I have a lot of faves.   In no particular order, Steve Erickson, Susan Straight, Michael Jaime-Becerra, Aimee Bender,  Dana Johnson, Jim Gavin, J. Ryan Stradal, Lisa Glatt, Meghan Daum (even though she now lives in NYC).  They all bring a lot to the table.  By this afternoon, I’ll remember ten more.  There’s a lot going on in L.A. right now.

Photo by Javier Guillen

Photo by Javier Guillen

traci kato-kiriyama

traci is a multi-disciplinary artist, writer, educator and community organizer who is one half of the PULLproject ensemble. She also leads the weekly Grand Park’s Writer’s Meetups as part of #SpringtimeReads (every TUES noon-1:30pm now thru May 10)

DW: What is your favorite place to read in Los Angeles? 

 tkk: one of my favorite places to read in LA –
There’s a coffee chain spot (Coffee Bean) right next to an exit off the 405 freeway in North Torrance. It has a good window in the front and I had been going there for quite a while to write and read before I realized that was exactly where my grandpa’s farm was.  He had completely started over with land there, after losing everything when he was put away in Manzanar during WWII.  In the 50s the government came back and told him he had to get out quickly to make way for the Crenshaw exit for the new freeway.  He pretty much had it with the government after that.  But I end up going there regularly to work and read at that front window where I can see the cars in a constant stream toward the freeway.  It’s odd, maybe, but I feel a kind of comfort there.  Maybe it’s like I’m looking out for signs of my grandpa or he’s watching out for me. Or, more likely, his spirit is totally done with that spot and I’m just trying to reclaim it. 😉

DW: What is one of your favorite places to write about in Los Angeles? 

tkk: one of my favorite places to write about in LA –
Little Tokyo is easily a longtime muse of mine.  There are endless characters, past and present, who made and make it what it is today.  I’m fascinated by its long history of redevelopment – an ebb and flow of popularity, abandonment, scarcity, darkness, abundance and vibrancy.  Most people walk through it for the tourist destination it most definitely has become and they pass by both – ghosts and living beings they have no idea are the tireless builders of a small, but mighty gem of our great city.  I’ll likely spend a lifetime writing about J-Town with utter curiosity and fierce love.

DW: Who is your favorite L.A. writer? 

tkk: That question astounds me. Can anyone pick a favorite in any given city?  But especially, I think, in Los Angeles?  That’s what makes it a great question if it is to open up a conversation, on not only writing, but what the rest of the country thinks of LA writers…and then of LA itself.  I’m a third generation LA gal and I happen to live a few houses down from one of my writing heroes – she is in her 80s and was one of the first Asian American women to be published in an anthology.  Several blocks north and then exactly half a mile east are two other writers, both playwrights I love dearly for totally different reasons.  And we all live in Gardena.  
See what I mean?  People may have imagined I was talking about the Valley or, I don’t know, Silver Lake?  But I think of my little neighborhood and I think of the webs and concentric circles extending from that point – neighborhood after neighborhood filled with writers who form, inspire, teach and fill me in ways as sprawling as this city’s geographic reach.  Baldwin Park to Venice, Redondo Beach to Toluca Lake, I never stop searching for my favorite writers in LA because that’s how big this city actually is. (And i love it.)

10834918_10204271077831260_6182440115959152284_o  –Duncan Woodbury, Grand Park’s Blogworm

#SPRINGTIMEREADS: For the Love of Lit

The smells of Spring are in the air. The sights of flowers are in bloom. Young couples finding new love are everywhere you look. But at Grand Park, the love of literature abounds. To celebrate this literary season, the Park presents SPRINGTIME READS, a series encompassing a multitude of free literary events for all, including THE BRADBURY ROOM, weekly ¡LUNCHTIME! WRITERS’ MEETUPS, and DOWNTOWN BOOKFEST. Here’s a glimpse into SPRINGTIME READS’ faces and spaces:

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The Bradbury Room. Photo by Javier Guillen

THE BRADBURY ROOM SAT MAR 12 // Click-Clack-Clickity-Clack. The sound of a dozen or so typewriters filled the air in Olive Court on a sunny afternoon in mid-March for THE BRADBURY ROOM. Fans of all ages, and all walks of life came together to celebrate the work of L.A.’s own Ray Bradbury and to kick off the literary season.

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The Bradbury Room. Photo by Javier Guillen.

For some, it was their first time using such a device, but for other’s it was a trip down memory lane.

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The Bradbury Room. Photo by Javier Guillen.

THE BRADBURY ROOM was part of the Department of Cultural Affairs’ The Big ReadGrand Park joined other L.A. schools, groups, museums and organizations in celebrating Bradbury’s seminal science fiction classic Fahrenheit 451. Participants of THE BRADBURY ROOM will get a chance to see their work in print on May 7th, at DOWNTOWN BOOKFEST.

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¡Lunchtime! Writers Meetup. Photo by Javier Guillen.

¡ LUNCHTIME! WRITERS’ MEETUP EVERY TUES THRU MAY 10th // Every week creative and curious minds are gathering for ¡ LUNCHTIME! WRITERS’ MEETUPS. Writers of all backgrounds are encouraged to pop in and join a literary community led by multi-talented writer traci kato-kiriyama.

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Photo by Javier Guillen.

GRAND PARK’S LITTLE LIBRARIES ALL YEAR ROUND // The Little Libraries are a perennial fixture in the park. If you’re looking for a new book to peruse, or to pass along a book you enjoyed. The concept is simple – leave a book, or take a book, and find a nook. The Little Library system is an organic way to spread the love of literature to fellow Angelenos.

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Grand Park Pop-Up Park, The Last Bookstore. Photo by Javier Guillen.

POP UP PARKS // The pink landscape of Grand Park has a way of popping up in all sorts of places, including Macy’s and The Last Bookstore! Next stop is LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes’ Dia de los Niños on SUN APR 24.

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Downtown Bookfest 2015. Photo by Javier Guillen.

DOWNTOWN BOOKFEST SAT MAY 7 // What would #SpringtimeReads be without a thrilling conclusion? DOWNTOWN BOOKFEST is that grand finale.

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Downtown Bookfest 2015. Photo by Javier Guillen.

This year, DOWNTOWN BOOKFEST will explore, “Literary LA: Places, Spaces and Faces,” a celebration and reflection of where Angelenos love to read and write – past, present and future. Explore works from 31 independent presses and publishers at the Pop Up Bookshop…

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Downtown Bookfest 2015. Photo by Javier Guillen.

…or hear readings from local authors on three stages, or poke your head into one of four literary panels spread around Grand Park’s nooks and crannies.

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Downtown Bookfest 2015. Photo by Javier Guillen.

Youngsters can get excited for fun activities including performances by Birdie’s Playhouse, The Chameleons and more. And don’t forget to pop into the Skylight Books Children’s Bookshop

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Downtown Bookfest 2015. Photo by Javier Guillen.

Bring your curiosity, your imagination and maybe your reading glasses, Springtime Reads is blossoming all season long for booksworms big and small.

 

Calder Greenwood: The Artist + The Environment

Every April 22nd, the world takes a day to honor and celebrate that planet we all call home. As people celebrate the connection between themselves and the environment, a sense of peace and love flourishes. Here in DTLA, we celebrate with EARTH DAY LA as Grand Park, The Music Center and the Department of Water and Power come together to present a day of composting, recycling, yoga, kids’ performances, tree giveaways and more.

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I caught up with Calder Greenwood, a local artist whose work will be on display at Earth Day LA. Greenwood has made a splash in Downtown LA, with his giant animal sculptures highlighting the wild side of the city. His installation will consist of large dragonflies, largely made of cardboard and recycled materials, buzzing around in the trees on the Performances Lawn.

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DW:    Your work has celebrated nature in some very urban environments. How did this juxtaposition come about?

CG: No urban environment is completely devoid of nature – it surrounds us, is above and below us, even if we only see it creeping through cracks in the sidewalk.  I try to make these contained slices of nature more noticeable by drawing attention to them.

DW:    Can you tell us why you chose to create a dragonfly?

CG: As a child my school celebrated Earth Day by visiting a nearby park.  I remember seeing giant dragonflies buzzing around us, taking note of their translucent wings when they landed on a plant.  It seems fitting to celebrate that image now, to share that sense of wonder with a younger generation, which may have never seen a dragonfly in real life.

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DW:    What inspires you about Grand Park?

CG: My dog actually – she responds to the park, to the sights and sounds and smells, the way a child would, with curiosity.

DW:    How does the setting of a piece affect your perspective?

CG: Setting is the most important aspect of a publicly-installed piece, because it draws attention to the environment it’s in.  A well-placed piece should make you more conscious of the world around you, which you might otherwise never notice.

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DW:    What steps can Angelenos take to honor their environment more?

CG: Every human should regard nature with respect, we share this planet with everything else that inhabits it, it’s a symbiotic relationship.  We should all be more conscious of how our actions effect the environment, and we should all try to leave less of a footprint.  Reducing waste and recycling is a way of life that anyone and everyone can do and should do.

DW:    Do artists have a responsibility to inform their audiences about the environment?

CG: The responsibility lies with everyone, not just artists.  We are all stewards.

10834918_10204271077831260_6182440115959152284_o  –Duncan Woodbury, Grand Park’s Green Blogger

And if you really want to get into the spirit, check out Grand Park’s 8 Tips To Help The Environment This Earth Day.

PAPER AIRPLANES SOAR OVER GRAND PARK

Grand Park has a new landmark on the way…

Paper Airplanes by Elenita Torres and Dean Sherriff

The results are in! L.A. has chosen the design to make A COOLER GRAND PARK. Soon, Paper Airplane will soar over Olive Court. Artists Elenita Torres and Dean Sherriff have created a whimsical vision, inspired by both Grand Park and the Downtown landmarks that surround it. This project has been made possible by the Goldhirsh Foundation’s MyLA2050 Grants Challenge, which sought creative and innovative solutions to shape a better Los Angeles. The grant received by The Music Center will make it possible for Grand Park visitors to enhance their enjoyment and comfort by gaining much-needed UV protection, while increasing the park’s potential as the site for performances, exhibitions and festivals. Paper Airplane will be featured in the park for two years.

Elenita Torres and Dean Sherriff. Photo by Javier Guillen

When Elenita and Dean first moved to Los Angeles five years ago, their love of their new city was immediately galvanized when they first discovered Grand Park. “I ended up coming here by accident,” said Torres who was instantly enamored, ”What is this place?!” When they heard about this design challenge they knew they had to throw their hats into the ring.

Paper Airplanes by Elenita Torres and Dean Sherriff

“I think it goes well with the architecture in the area, with Frank Gehry’s building, and it’s even a nod to the art deco architecture (of City Hall). It looks like it all belongs together,” said Dean. They have sought to synthesize DTLA’s classic past with its bright future while still complimenting the essence of Grand Park. “With the beauty of the park when everything is blooming, and all the different colors, we didn’t want to take away,” Elenita added.

Torres and Sherriff explain their design reflects the hopeful nature of Grand Park with a universal concept – the paper airplane – that appeals to all ages and is understandable no matter what language one speaks.  Like the park’s emphasis on providing free, accessible programming, the artists describe the paper airplane as free to create.
The artists chose white as the main color for the planes to provide a neutral palette that would complement the surrounding garden landscape, add an element of elegance and symbolize peace.

Paper Airplanes by Elenita Torres and Dean Sherriff

Of course, the function of this new structure is to provide some much-needed shade, but it also will also serve as a place for the Angelenos to gather. “It’s such a vibrant county, there’s so much movement going on, you need a park like this in the center of it to give people a sanctuary,” said Sherriff.

Paper Airplanes by Elenita Torres and Dean Sherriff

With summer on the horizon, work on this project is about to get underway. And what better way to usher it in than by catching a bit of cool shade on a beautiful day in the heart of DTLA.

Thanks to Goldhirsh Foundation, the community of talented artists who submitted their beautiful designs, and all of Los Angeles for helping build a cooler future for Grand Park.