Inglewood celebrates the arts

Those who say a sense of community is dead in L.A. weren’t in Inglewood this weekend.

The 12th annual Market Street Festival and Car Show brought around 2,500 Inglewood residents together on October 3 to celebrate the city’s rich tradition in the arts.

For six hours, Market St. from Florence Ave to Manchester Blvd. shut down while people danced, enjoyed a free concert, and devoured hot dogs and fried fish.

What started out as a small street fair on a corner of a city block has morphed into a beloved Inglewood tradition.

And to many residents, the festival means more than just a jovial cultural fete, it represents a chance to dispel common myths and stereotypes about their South Bay city.

With its 40 percent African American population and a poverty rate twice the national average, Inglewood often gets an unfair rap in the media.

“This is a safe city,” said Loretta Morris, who grew up in Inglewood and owns an accounting firm in the area. “I don’t see a whole lot of crime. If it were that dangerous, I wouldn’t be bringing my children here. I wouldn’t own a business here.”

Morris had to struggle to make her voice heard over the shrieks of children’s laughter coming from the bounce houses and the deep, soothing tones of a saxophone of a jazz band on the stage behind her.

Originally conceived as both a solute to the local art culture and a means for businesses to introduce themselves to the community, the Market Street Festival grew steadily each year.

An ever-expanding roster of vendors clamored to sign on board, while attendance skyrocketed as word of the festival and it’s offerings spread amongst Inglewood residents. This year, 58 vendors hocked goods ranging from jewelry to African art to a record crowd.

Nautica De la Cruz of local radio station KJLH emceed the festivities on stage, where an array of musicians played jazz, hip hop, American oldies-but-goodies, and salsa in a reflection of Inglewood’s own diversity.

At the foot of the stage, strangers young and old danced together in random groups.

Out of nowhere, a man dressed in ceremonial African garb and standing eight-feet-tall on stilts, began making his way through the throng as his wife, also wearing traditional clothing, walked in front of him to clear the path.

Peter Abilogu, a professor of African dance and music at El Camino College, hails from Nigeria and is a member of the Urhobo tribe. In Nigeria, Abilogu presided over important tribal ceremonies as an Ikeneke, a spiritual leader who wears stilts to symbolize his duty as a liaison between the Urhobo people and heaven.

Abilogu quickly became offended when an African American man in the crowd yelled out that the professor looked “like witchcraft.”

“You are, what, 50-years-old, and you don’t know your culture?” Abilogu shot back, starting a heated exchange as the man insisted that Abilogu was just a type of hokey witch doctor.

Even when the man eventually disappeared into crowd, Abilogu continued to vent. “We are here to educate the people,” he fumed. “The people don’t want to learn but rather assimilate. They want to be black, not African American.”

Showing off a gold bracelet to the people congregated around him, Abilogu expounded on the beauty and value of the abundance of gold found in West Africa, which he says many African American people eschew for more “precious” metals such as platinum or have plated into white gold.

“We are never proud of what we have,” he said. “We are proud of what other people have.”

On the other side of the stage, several Inglewood-based painters and artists displayed their work as part of a mobile gallery set up by the Inglewood Arts Commission.

Calling Inglewood “The best kept secret in the L.A. art world,” the Commission says many Los Angeles artists have studios in Inglewood, but you would never know it because they choose to show their work on the West side of town or in other parts of the California and the U.S.

However, photographer Edward Ewell embraces showing digital prints in the city he works in. That way “people can see the differences we have as artists,” he said.

Diane Dennis brought her 6-year-old neighbor, Nylah Briggs to the festival, where the two enjoyed the ever-popular folk art of face painting. Dennis, who celebrates her birthday next week, had the zodiac sign for Libra painted on her cheek, while Nylah, blueberry snow cone in hand, sported a colorful rainbow and clouds.

“This is really awesome,” Dennis said. “I just like seeing … people out getting along. I love the city of Inglewood for doing this.”

For her part, Nylah didn’t hesitate when asked what she liked best about the festival. “Dancing,” she said, her typically pristine smile by now blue from the snow cone.

Though most people came for the food or the arts, others, such as 16-year-old Luis Gomez, came for the cars.

The 35th annual Inglewood Classic Car Show, which organizers timed to coincide with the festival, exhibited about 30 cars, mostly Chevy Impalas.

“I was impressed,” Gomez said, adding that he fell in love with a yellow cadillac. “It was very nice.”