Leimert Park art renaissance in bloom at Papillion gallery

Art by | Stephanie Monte

Art by Raksha Parekh at Papillion. | Stephanie Monte

“L.A. is a beautiful flower of art right now,” said San Pedro-based artist Stephen Scheffle at the opening Saturday of Papillion. The contemporary gallery and the newest addition to Leimert Park Village, part of local efforts to restore the neighborhood’s reputation as an African-American artistic hub.

Papillion’s first exhibit, called “OPEN,” showcases the work of artists at the beginning of their careers from all over the world: the U.S., Great Britain, South Africa and Angola. “OPEN” features a variety of fine art elements, including sculpture, drawings, paintings, installations and digital media.

In the main room, you’ll find an installation of caramelized sugar cane paper that hangs like rope, created by South African-born Raksha Parekh. Each string of actual sugar cane is carefully tied and aligned to create boat shapes, meant to symbolize slave ships that were used in trade, Parekh said. For her, Papillion’s opening show is about re-emergence.

Jeffrey Deitch, former director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, said the exhibition shows artists “creating a fresh vision.” “This is just the beginning of something very big in this neighborhood and in the art world,” he said. “It will get international attention.”

Michelle Papillion, the gallery owner, said in a press release that she chose Leimert Park because the neighborhood has “its finger on the pulse” of the arts scene both locally and globally. “The historic, artistic and culturally rich legacy that this community has built is unmatched anywhere else in the city,” she said.

The building was once home to the Brockman Gallery, one of the first places to exhibit Black art in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In the next few years Papillion aims to promote Leimert Park’s art renaissance by introducing a wave of emerging and high profile artists working together.

Visit Papillion at 4336 Degnan Blvd., Los Angeles, Calif. 90008. Its hours are 12 – 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday and by appointment. “OPEN” runs through April 13.

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‘Impossible Dream’ documentary film pays tribute to Tom Bradley

Screenshot from "Impossible Dream"

Screenshot from “Impossible Dream” | www.mayortombradley.com

The California African American Museum premiered a documentary film yesterday on Tom Bradley, the first African American mayor of Los Angeles.  The 46-minute film titled “Tom Bradley: Impossible Dream” will be distributed to Los Angeles Unified School District high schools as a way for 11th and 12th graders to commemorate Black History Month.

Click play on a story from Annenberg Radio News to hear comments on Bradley’s legacy from South L.A. councilman Bernard Parks and others.

Watch an excerpt from the film on Vimeo.

West Adams neighbors seek to oust oil production


Freeport McMoRan facility at 1371 Jefferson Blvd. | Stephanie Monte

Residents in the historic West Adams neighborhood are taking a stand against an unwanted new neighbor, Freeport McMoRan Oil and Gas, which set up drilling operations there last year.

More than 100 residents have mobilized in an effort to halt FMOG operations–to keep their community safe and their air and water unpolluted, they say.

Residents and environmental organizers, united under the banner CoWatching Oil LA, are pushing for more transparency and healthier practices in L.A.’s natural gas and oil industries. They met last Thursday at the LA84 Foundation, directly across the street from the Murphy site, to strategize and formally file complaints with the Air Quality and Management Division, which regulates all oil drilling activities.

Eventually, they hope to force the suspension of all urban oil drilling in Los Angeles. [Read more…]

Christmas celebration at Martin Luther King Jr. health center

Three hundred kids received free toys during the annual tree lighting ceremony at the Martin Luther King Jr. Multi-Service Ambulatory Care Center in South L.A. on Dec. 13. Mark Ridley-Thomas, L.A. County Supervisor for District 2, talked about the joy of celebrating Christmas in one’s community. Meanwhile, attendees got a preview of the new outpatient center.

Click play to see photos and hear comments from Ridley-Thomas.

Leimert Park Phone Company debuts reinvented pay phones

Pay phone protoype

Pay phone protoype. | Stephanie Monte

At the forefront of remixed technology, transmedia, and community storytelling, the Leimert Park Phone Company seeks to create new forms of civic engagement simply by re-purposing old pay phones.

Leimert Park glimpsed the future Saturday outside the historic Vision Theatre at the unveiling of the first reinvented phone.

The fire-engine red prototype is equipped with a microphone, loud speaker, tablet device and electrical outlets. The public was invited to pick up the receiver and share as well as hear stories about the history and culture of Leimert Park.

To project participant Ben Caldwell, director of media arts organization KAOS Network, the old objects have potential.

“Discarded pay phones are portals for community storytelling and to preserve our history,” he said. KAOS Network has been a community staple for more than 30 years helping develop local artists develop multi-media and design skills.

Caldwell is one of a group of Leimert Park community members, artists and musicians who have worked with 30 USC students and faculty on the project since 2012. It began with a series of workshops geared for brainstorming and rapid-prototyping – “hacking” the pay phone to find ways the device could be programmed to record sound or create its own WiFi network.

François Bar, a USC Communication professor, helped acquire the phones. He also posed a key question: “How do you change the objects that are on the sidewalk so they can interact with the people that live there?” Leimert Park’s unique street life would offer an ideal opportunity for experimentation, he decided.

“Many people live outside, there’s a lot of interaction — life from the sidewalk that’s very different from other parts of this city,” said Bar.

Art work for the Leimert Park Phone Company

Art work for the Leimert Park Phone Company. | Stephanie Monte

Leimert Park has been a key artistic and cultural hub for L.A.’s African-American community. Residents and business owners have recently begun to worry that that developers will drive them out by buying property and blasting up the rent, now that a Metro Line is slated for a Leimert Park station.

Some say a few old-fashioned pay phones could be just the thing to help stimulate business within the community as well as generate civic engagement.

Pick up the receiver and you’ll hear: “Press ‘one’ to hear a story about Leimert Park. Press ‘two’ to leave a story. Press ‘three’ to hear the history. Press ‘four’ to hear the music of Leimert Park.”

The project, still in its soft-launch, operates with a small computer called “Raspberry Pi,” which uses an ARM processor, runs Linux and costs about $35. Programmers said it’s ideal for embedding in a pay phone because it’s cheap, flexible and can detect and send voltage changes.

Electrical engineer Wesley Groves made the two outlets encased in flexible plastic tubing that let users plug in USB cables such as phone chargers. He said the pay phone was designed to look attractive.

“As you’re walking down the street and you look at this, your eyes begin to communicate with the object… Then you’ll walk over to it, maybe interact with it, and more people will come,” said Groves. “It creates its’ own communication field.”

His wife Collette Foster Groves, who lives in nearby Ladera Heights, said the phone plays with innovation and technology in mystical, magical ways.

“It’s great to see such art and technology fused together, recycled and repurposed especially for a historical function,” she said. “They should call it the smart phone because of all the ways it can be used.”

Historic Visions Theatre in Leimert Park

The historic Visions Theatre in Leimert Park. | Stephanie Monte

Attendee Janice Villarosa also supported the idea of making art “instead of throwing something out,” and said she thinks learning about Leimert Park’s history will “build more community.”

Andrea James, a frequent Leimert Park visitor, said this kind of project is long overdue to help people understand the neighborhood’s history and struggle.

“This is really the last area that people of Black culture can call their own in the city of Los Angeles,” said James.

For now, the prototype phone is too fragile to be left on the sidewalk. But the Leimert Park Phone Company says it’s planning a permanent installation by January, perhaps with the help of local business owners.

For more, visit http://leimertphonecompany.net.

The Vision Theatre in Leimert Park. View larger map.


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54th District Assembly Special Election Dec. 3

Chris Armenta, John Jake, and Mark Waksberg, three of the 54th District Assembly candidates.

Chris Armenta, John Jake, and Mark Waksberg, three of the 54th District Assembly candidates. | Stephanie Monte

The four candidates running for the 54th District Assembly discussed jobs, prisons, guns, traffic and the environment Saturday at the Holman United Methodist Church ahead of tomorrow’s special election.

The 54th District includes Westwood, Century City, Baldwin Hills, the Crenshaw district and Culver City.  The election was called by Governor Jerry Brown to fill Holly Mitchell’s vacancy after she took a position in the California senate.

At the forum, Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, son of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, pledged to fight for jobs, education, and healthcare. Chris Armenta, former Mayor of Culver City, named the economy and the environment among his priorities. John Jake said growing up with adversity in South L.A. made him the right assemblyman. And Mark Waksberg, the independent among three democrats, said both democrats and republicans need his vote for legislation.

Read on for highlights from the candidates’ forum… [Read more…]

South L.A.’s Martin Luther King Jr. park scores new sports field

MLK Jr. Elementary 5th grade class with community leaders.

Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary 5th grade class with community leaders. | Stephanie Monte

A class of fifth graders from Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School in South L.A. excitedly rushed to score goals at the school’s new sports field on Thursday, just next door at the Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center.

Councilmember Bernard Parks and representatives from the Department of Recreation and Public Works were on hand to announce the completion of a project that they say will provide a safe place for kids to play and exercise.

To hear comments from Parks and others, click play on an audio story from Annenberg Radio News:

The bright green synthetic grass field measures 80 by 130 feet and is surrounded by fencing and two sets of bleachers. The construction cost about $650,000 from a special project fund. [Read more…]

LA leaders push for free Wi-Fi citywide

Photographer brings everything he needs to work online at the local coffee shop.

The Los Angeles City Council is considering a plan to provide free wireless Internet for all of Los Angeles, a move that would make the city the nation’s largest with free, universal access.

Some South L.A. residents say they aren’t sure if they agree with expanding the city’s hotspot. Still, the need is apparent.

Destiny Walker, 21, rides her bike about twelve blocks to the nearest Starbucks on Slauson and Western Avenues to get online.

“If I could just be wherever I want with free Wi-Fi, I’m going to be, like, everywhere,” she said. [Read more…]

NAACP trains Black church leaders about health equity

1.1 million people in the US are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

1.1 million people in the US are diagnosed with HIV/AIDS.

African-Americans comprise about half of all HIV-positive people in the United States. The NAACP is promoting education that might help halt the trend. It held a forum on Thursday in Manhattan Beach on HIV, health equity, and the black church.

The event, part of NAACP’s California Hawaii State Conference, drew an array of people, including Black pastors from South L.A. “We’ve been in this losing streak for a long time,” one said.

A long-time health care worker from Inglewood also attended. “Everyone thought this was a gay, white disease,” she said. “And I said no, that’s not true.”

Hear more voices from the event in a story from Annenberg Radio News:


HIV Statistics among Black women

HIV Statistics among Black women


South LA business is on the RISE


The business climate in South Los Angeles is changing: A microfinance company today released its first annual economic development forecast, and its new name — RISE. The company is feeling positive about the city, especially if businesses here can become more innovative.

[Read more…]