Watts Towers makes list of America’s Endangered Landscapes

wattstowerThe Watts Towers was declared an endangered site last week by The Cultural Landscape Foundation. The iconic South L.A. art piece was one of 11 landscapes that made the “Landslide” list of at-risk landscapes. The foundation cited “thermal effects, vibration and earthquakes” which have cracked the cement case around the towers’ wire structure.

According to Lucy DeLatorre, a tour guide at the Watts Towers Arts Center, Simon Rodia singlehandedly made the towers of recycled materials, including steel bar, wire mesh and cement. [Read more…]

New era for business in Leimert Park

Within a month, a quiet closure and a successful opening on Degnan Boulevard

Michelle Papillion | Kevin Tsukii

Michelle Papillion at her gallery. | Kevin Tsukii

March 15 marked the first month of business for Papillion, a contemporary gallery created and run by Michelle Papillion. The art space opened amid construction on the neighborhood’s anticipated Metro stop and the Leimert Park Village Committee’s plans to restore the historic Vision Theater. The gallery is the first new business to emerge from the “renaissance” of Leimert Park. Despite the closure of a neighboring business and anticipated rent increases due to the neighborhood’s proximity to the light rail, Papillion said the cutting-edge gallery has been a success.

She called the first month “amazing,” explaining, “We had our grand opening on Feb. 15 and 500 people showed up…what happened at our opening was exactly how I envisioned it.”

Papillion added that the initial days of any business are especially tough because the period of time usually requires a higher overhead cost to establish the business and deal with unforeseen issues.

But as Papillion began to look forward to more successful months, Zambezi Bazaar, a family-owned shop and Papillion’s next-door neighbor, quietly closed its doors.

“I didn’t know they were actually leaving,” Papillion said with a surprised look. [Read more…]

Community response: South LA murals

Mural on Crenshaw Blvd. in South LA. | Stephanie Monte

Mural on Crenshaw Blvd. in South LA. View more mural photos on Flickr. | Stephanie Monte

The L.A. City Council decided Tuesday to allow South L.A.’s private, single-family houses to be painted with murals.

The vote — ten approvals with five absences — extends a former provision limited to commercial buildings. It will apply to homes in Districts 1, 9, and 14 — many parts of South and Southeast Los Angeles as well as Boyle Heights and Downtown. (Click to view the City Council reports.)

The council only requests that these private, home murals steer clear of advertisements or other commercial intent.

In the couple of months that the City Council has spent debating the ordinance, little has been heard from the residents of the communities it would affect. We took to the streets to get their input, and discovered that many residents had no idea the extended provision was even on the tables for discussion. Still, they had plenty to share.

Click on photos in the slideshow below to read their thoughts and opinions. Visit Flickr to view Stephanie Monte’s photos of existing murals.

Created with Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.

Saving the arts at LAUSD

As the executive director of Save the Arts, a non-profit organization designed to promote arts education in the fiscally embattled LAUSD, Suzanne Nichols is used to being on the frontline for innovative social change.

Save the Arts

Suzanne Nichols, founder of Save the Arts.

Nichols founded Save the Arts to address the gutting of arts positions and programs across the district. On Saturday, May 18, Save the Arts will hold its annual silent auction and benefit at the Coconut Grove. [Read more…]

Pan African Film and Arts Festival kicks off in South L.A.

By Subrina Hudson
Associate Editor

The 21st Pan African Film and Arts Festival opened on Thursday at the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Plaza giving residents and visitors in South LA a chance to view African art and watch films touching on the African and African-American community.

imageThe art festival inside the Baldwin Hills/Crenshaw Plaza. (Photo by Subrina Hudson)

The film festival, hosted by Actress Salli Richardson-Whitfield, is the largest international Black film festival in the country and features a 10-day long art festival with over 100 established and emerging artists showcasing everything from fine art and fashion to home furnishings.

Viveca Mays has been an artist for over 30 years, and said it was her first time showcasing her work at the art festival. After joining Art 2000, a non-profit visual art association founded by Artist Charles Bibbs, Mays said she was invited by Bibbs to present her work along with several other artists in the association.

“It has been very good considering that this is a regular mall day and everybody is doing their regular shopping,” said Mays. “We’ve had a lot of traffic coming through, which is surprising because Mr. Bibbs said usually the first day is kind of the work day, setting up, but it’s been good.”

Artist Djibril N’Doye said he has participated in the art festival for ten years but did not present for the last three years. During that time, the film festival was shown at a theater in Culver City and the art festival remained inside the mall, leaving less visitors and potential customers.

imageArtist Viveca Mays’ artwork is open for the public to view and purchase. (Photo by Subrina Hudson)

“This festival is important for this community and beyond because most of the theme of the films have a connection with Africa, African history and African culture and all the artists who are displaying their artwork also harken on the same subject…this is like family,” said N’Doye.

N’Doye, who is self-taught, creates his artwork with a ballpoint pen. Growing up in Senegal, his father could not afford to send him to an art school. So, N’Doye decided that he would teach and train himself.

He said his medium helps hims show that it doesn’t matter what an individual’s income is because art “is an open door to everybody.”

“It’s in your heat. It has a very high dimension and culture and history. This is building bridges across cultures,” he said.

imageArtist Djibril N’Doye with his artwork. (Photo by Subrina Hudson)

The same goal was kept in mind for the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF), according to Wyllisa Bennett, publicist for the Pan African Film Festival.

“We want to stay in the community, and the films showcase the work around the country and puts it in the heart of the black community,” said Bennett.

Films like the documentary “Red, White, Black and Blue,” which recently won “Best Documentary at the Idyllwild CinemaFest, will be available for visitors to watch at the Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills. “Red, White, Black and Blue” is just one of 154 films, representing 34 countries, that PAFF selected for this year’s film festival.

PAFF was founded in 1992 by award-wining Actor Danny Glover, Emmy-award winning Actress Ja’Net DuBois and Executive Director Ayuko Babu. The Pan African Film Festival is a non-profit corporation that looks to promote ethnic and racial respect through films and art.

For showtimes and tickets, click here.

Black History in LA webcast

The Los Angeles Urban League (LAUL) and Time Warner Cable (TWC) have teamed up to present on February 8, 2013 a free interactive webcast with civic leaders who will share insight on Black History in LA. The “There is Black History in LA” webcast will take place from 1:30pm – 2:30pm PT and will feature new LAUL CEO and President Nolan V. Rollins, Reverend Cecil “Chip” Murray and community activists “Sweet Alice” Harris and John W. Mack.
The webcast (which can be accessed at http://engage.vevent.com/rt/twc~90builtla) offers an opportunity for the LA community to interact with the aforementioned individuals and host Josefa Salinas of KTLK am 1150 and HOT 92.3, and learn more about the history of civil rights in LA. It builds on an exhibit – “The 90 That Built LA” – at the Museum of African American Art (MAAA http://www.maaala.org/) which opened on December 12, 2012 and celebrated LAUL’s 91 years of existence by honoring 90 individuals who have fought for civil rights and equality. In addition to the webcast and other Black History Month events (see Facebook post), LAUL will co-present a panel featuring USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Dean Ernest J. Wilson III, Mack and USC Dornsife African Studies Director Francille Rusan Wilson, who will discuss the PBS special “The PowerBroker: Whitney Young’s Fight for Civil Rights” after it is screened at the USC Annenberg Auditorium on February 11. (http://annenberg.usc.edu/Events/2013/130211Powerbroker.aspx)

LAUL VP of Marketing & Communications Chris Strudwick-Turner said her team had the vision for the exhibit, which features the tagline “We Built LA” to assert the contributions of Blacks and other minorities to LA’s development, several years ago and was able to turn it into reality thanks to TWC. “Like us, they saw the vision of what this exhibit could be and they have been with us every step of the way as a presenting sponsor to put this exhibit together for the community,” said Strudwick-Turner in a December statement to the press.
Members of the TWC Diversity and Inclusion team recently visited the exhibit–located near Leimert Park at the MAAA’s space at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall’s Macy’s third floor–on February 1, 2013 to commemorate 15 months of partnership between LAUL and TWC and promote the aforementioned webcast. TWC Regional VP of Operations Debi Picciolo said in a press statement her company was “proud of our long term partnership with the Los Angeles Urban League, and delighted we could help bring this exhibit to the community.”

One of the most notable aspects of the webcast and exhibit is the rare opportunity for young people in LA to delve deep into Black history in the city thanks to the presence of individuals like Reverend Chip Murray. Murray, who grew up in the South during segregation and whose insight on civil rights movement like the 1992 LA uprising was featured in a 2012 Intersections South LA story (http://www.bit.ly/UDlnGw), will answer questions from webcast attendees and discuss the struggle that made equality possible. Murray and his fellow panelists plan to highlight trailblazers from the distant past such as Biddy Mason–a slave that walked several hundreds of miles to LA to gain her freedom–in addition to former LA Mayor Tom Bradley, who made history in LA as the first Black mayor of a major American city.
imageAngelenos can discover historic art and photos commemorating LA trailblazers in fields such as cinema, civil rights, music and media; Sir Sidney Poitier, Cesar Chavez, Ella Fitzgerald and Paula Madison, respectively, at “The 90 that Built LA” exhibit through March 7, 2013.

Elias Kamal Jabbe is the Founding Editor of MulticulturalMatters.org (http://MulticulturalMatters.org).

In South LA, the Art Doctors Are In

By: Danielle Tarasiuk

The Art Doctors might not be able to cure a crippling illness, but they may be able to provide a colorful cure for a bland t-shirt, shoes and even cars in South Los Angeles.

The list of artistic endeavors the Art Doctors take on is extensive: air brushing, silk screening, painting wall murals, logo and graphic design, car murals, illustrations, and graffiti art.

Owner Alan Araugo is passionate about his small store near the front entrance of Slauson Super Mall where they have been a main staple for over 20 years.

He is currently the only artist there, but occasionally take on apprentices.

During that time, they have been able to work with a long laundry list of celebrity stylists doing everything from music videos (their artwork appeared in Gwen Stefani’s music video for “Hollaback Girl”) to painting celebrities’ cars.

Araugo said they have even gained notoriety due to different mentions in pop culture. The Art Doctors and the Slauson Super Mall were mentioned in rapper Dr. Dre’s song, which brought attention to the store, he said.

Since he mostly works with stylists and not directly with celebrities, he has been able to remain under the radar. Araugo refers to himself as a “ghost designer” and prefers to remain that way.

“It’s crazy that people don’t know who you are, but you’ve done so much work,” said Araugo.

Despite the Art Doctors’ success, Araugo has no interest in moving his shop to other areas of Los Angeles where the urban art scene is booming.

The entire artistic movement in California was born out of South Los Angeles and Araugo likes staying close to his roots.

He said he has seen friends and colleagues move their business, become successful for two or three years then after a short period of time close down.

“For some odd reason, being here [Slauson Super Mall] is kind of timeless,” said Araugo. “People come here regardless.”

USC African American beauty art exhibit nears its last week

imageThe definition of beauty varies from person to person and an art exhibit at USC’s Fisher Museum of Art explores this discrepancy throughout many forms of media.

“Posing Beauty in African American Culture” opened in September 2011 and will end its run on Saturday, December 3.

This exhibit focuses on how African and African-American beauty has been represented throughout history until today.

Using a wide range of media from photography, to film, to video, to fashion, to advertising and more, “Posing Beauty” poses the question of what makes an African-American woman beautiful. From the plentiful pieces of art available for museum visitors, there is no definite answer. image

Deborah Willis, the curator of “Posing Beauty” says “the images in this exhibition challenge idealized forms of beauty in art by examining their portrayal and exploring a variety of attitudes about race, class, gender, popular culture and politics as seen through the aesthetics of representation.”

“Posing Beauty in African American Culture” is divided into three distinct sections that emphasize disparities in the way African American women are represented in the media. The sections are “Constructing a Pose,” “Body and Image,” and “Modeling Beauty & Beauty Contests.”image

The exhibit “explores contemporary understandings of beauty by framing the notion of aesthetics, race, class, and gender within art, popular culture, and political context,” says Willis.

Even though the “Posing Beauty” will finish its run at the Fisher Museum on December 3, there is still time to join the conversation of what is the true definition of beauty.

South LA recreation programs receive $12 million donation

South LA nonprofit youth organizations focusing on art, music, and sports have been chosen to receive grants totaling $12 million over the next five years.

The grants, courtesy of an anonymous donor and led by the California Community Foundation’s (CCF) “Preparing Achievers for Tomorrow” (PAT) Initiative, invited only a select group of nonprofits to apply for the funds.


HeArt Project students stay in rhythm with the beat.

The seven nonprofit organizations that will benefit from this donation are A Place called Home, A World Fit for Kids, Heart of Los Angeles, Kids in Sports, Los Angeles Brotherhood Crusade, The HeArt Project, and Watts/Willowbrook Boys & Girls Club.

Nike Irvin, Vice-President of Programs at California Community Foundation, said that “PAT nonprofit partners are selected based on four criteria: a proven track record of providing music, sports and/or recreational programs for undeserved youth in South L.A., existing partnerships with high schools in South L.A., sustainability, and leadership.”

One South LA group in particular that will benefit from this donation is The HeArt Project – a nonprofit that provides long term, sequential arts programs in order to inspire young students to stay in school.

imageHeArt Project students learn how to screen print art.

Liliane Ribeiro, Development and Communications Director of The HeArt Project, explained that this group will be “receiving a two-year grant of $100,000, totaling $50,000 every year.” Ribeiro thought that being one of the elite nonprofits to benefit from this donation was very fitting, since this year The HeArt Project is celebrating its 20th anniversary. “It’s a great time for us to go through this process,” Ribeiro said.

Research has shown that students who are involved with some kind of artistic or athletic extracurricular activity are more than likely to stay in school. As a result, Ribeiro said that it’s “critical” that these kinds of programs are funded for South LA schools.

“In L.A. alone, the high school dropout estimate is at about 35 percent. Almost one out three students is dropping out school.” Ribeiro said that the “number one reason for these dropouts is boredom. Through our 20 years of experience, we’ve come to find that arts is a key engager.”

imageA HeArt Project student proudly poses with her work of art.

Irvin further explains California Community Foundation’s decision to continue serving the South LA community, “We know from research that creative, social and recreational activities improve motivation, engagement and development of social competencies in youth,” she said. “We also know that youth in South L.A. lack basic access to quality after-school programs.”

With the help of these substantial grants, these nonprofits can be sure that their futures are bright and welcoming for future artists, musicians, and athletes.


A HeArt Project student sees his dream of attending UCLA’s art school becoming a reality.

Dia de los Muertos outgrowing its Mexican cultural roots

Listen to an audio story by Annenberg Radio News

imageDia de los Muertos fills Los Angeles with altars, sugar skulls and yellow marigolds on the first two days of November each year. But recently, the Mexican holiday has become increasingly popular.

The Day of the Dead is at least a two-day affair. According to the holiday’s tradition, souls of deceased children returned to earth today, and they’ll be joined by families’ other ancestors overnight.

But at the South LA marketplace Mercado la Paloma, this year’s festival is much bigger than its Mexican roots.

Celebrations, art and food are bringing people from all kinds of backgrounds together, said Gilberto Cetina. He owns Chichen Itza, a restaurant within in the Mercado.

“White people, Asian people, Indian people, Latin people… it’s really a multicultural event. it doesn’t matter where you’re from, or if you sing in English or Spanish.”

This year, Gilberto is serving a special tamale pie called Mucbil Pollo. It’s what families in the Yucatan region of Mexico used to leave with their ancestors’ bodies while their souls waited for the afterlife. They still leave it on their altars. And people love it.

“The Mayans had a tradition to leave a corn on the mouth of the body, to feed the body. And now that corn dog is a little bit more sophisticated, and it’s a tamale pie.”

Visitors have plenty to see, too. Altars for families’ ancestors line the walls, and each one uses different fabric, pictures and relics based on what their ancestors loved.

Damon Turner is the Mercado’s Arts and Cultural Program Director. He helped set up the altars and a festival this past weekend. As a kid, his family didn’t even celebrate Halloween.

But Dia de los Muertos is special, he thinks, because it recognizes such common ground: family and death.

“I think the idea of Dia de los Muertos is really like celebrating that which is taboo, typically, in America, which is death. It’s looking at death as a place of strength, a place where we can build community with each other – and, yeah, have some good food while we’re doing it.”

Dia de los Muertos ends tomorrow – but Gilberto’s tamale pie will be back at the Mercado la Paloma next year.