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Photo: Corita Art Center, Immaculate Heart Community.
Corita Kent, then known as Sister Mary Corita, with students. “By the 1960s,” notes the Corita Art Center, “her vibrant serigraphs were drawing international acclaim. Corita’s work reflected her concerns about poverty, racism, and war.”

Talent will out. That was certainly the case with Sister Mary Corita, or Corita Kent, who became a force in the Pop Art scene of the 1960s with her focus on social justice.

At the Los Angeles Times, Carolina A. Miranda recently wrote, that 35 years after her death, the L.A. City Council approved historic-cultural monument status for her former studio — “a humble storefront on Franklin Avenue, near Western Avenue that in recent years had been inhabited by a dry cleaner.”

Miranda continues, “If you drew a Venn diagram that brought together Charles Eames, Pop Art, commercial printing, social justice movements, the Second Vatican Council and 1960s Los Angeles, only one person could inhabit the space where those areas intersect: Corita Kent.

“A nun in the order of the Immaculate Heart of Mary for more than three decades, Sister Mary Corita was a well-known educator and artist dubbed the ‘Pop Art nun’ by the press. … In her classroom at Immaculate Heart College, Kent taught the art of silkscreen printing — a commercial form that she adapted to the era of Pop. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council in 1962, which called for a liberalization and modernization of the Catholic liturgy to the realities of 20th century life, she delved into creating work that echoed calls for social justice — be it antiwar efforts, labor campaigns or Black and Chicano civil rights.

“Her work at its most innovative took vernacular culture — commercial logos and graphics, bits of corporate slogans, images from mass media — and reconfigured them into fine art. Art that not only advanced the ways in which these elements were used formally, but that grounded Pop. … As independent curator Michael Duncan wrote of her work in a 2013 catalog: ‘She addressed consumers not of products but of life.’ …

“The [historic-cultural] designation is important not just because Kent was an artist whose work was a critical part of the artistic dialogues Los Angeles was having in the 1960s, but also because she represents the rare woman to be honored in the city’s landscape.

“As the Los Angeles Conservancy noted in its advocacy for preserving Kent’s studio building, only 3% of the city’s more than 1,200 historic-cultural monuments are associated with women’s heritage. … The designation is reflective of a shift in preservationists’ thinking about how we acknowledge history — thinking that is less preoccupied with the pristine historical details of a site than in making sure a wide range of histories are acknowledged in a city’s landscape. Late last year, the 1970 protest route of the Chicano Moratorium was listed in the National Register of Historic Places; early this year, the Church of the Epiphany in Lincoln Heights — a key site of Chicano activism — was added to the list. …

“The storefront that Kent inhabited, where she taught and collaborated with students and created some of her most memorable work, no longer bears traces of her presence. …

“Kent left the space — and Los Angeles — after she withdrew from the Immaculate Heart of Mary order in favor of a secular life in the late 1960s. Part of her departure may have been due to pressures related to her increasingly high profile: At one point, she was featured on the cover of Newsweek. It may have also stemmed from simmering tensions between the liberal Immaculate Heart order and the staunchly conservative Archbishop James Francis McIntyre, who once complained that that the work produced by Kent and the college’s art department was ‘an affront to me and a scandal to the archdiocese.’ In 1970, Immaculate Heart split from the church and is today an independent ecumenical community.

“The studio storefront, which is currently unoccupied, sits on a small corner of a 1.7-acre parcel that also contains a shuttered Rite-Aid. Recently, the plot was acquired by a pair of real estate development companies who intend to turn the site into a Lazy Acres natural foods market. Part of their original plan had been to tear down the studio to make way for additional parking. (Yes, parking.) That plan has since been amended to leave the old studio building intact.

“This comes thanks to the work of many L.A. preservationists, among them the staff at the Corita Art Center, which is located just across the street in a complex of buildings still inhabited by the Immaculate Heart Community.

“ ‘The big question is what’s next,’ says the center’s director Nellie Scott. It’s too soon to say what the developers will do with the property — whether they would sell it or lease it for the purpose of an arts center. ‘We know that there are a thousand more conversations to happen.’ ”

So interesting that a nun used her natural gift in this way. I’m reminded of the French legend about the Juggler of Notre Dame, who was ridiculed for having nothing to give Mary but his juggling. In the story, her statue accepts the gift with a miraculous bow.

More at the Los Angeles Times, here.

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Photo: Tim Street-Porter.
The view looking across the Los Angeles Music Center Plaza toward the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, one of four venues to pass a new UL verification program for indoor air quality.

We have learned so much in the past year! Remember when we thought Covid-19 might be like Ebola, when we were advised to wipe down all the groceries with bleach? Gradually we learned that although it might be possible to get the coronavirus from surfaces, the air we were breathing in close quarters was the real danger. Even now, when more people are getting vaccinated every day, spending time in crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation could extend the life of the scourge.

That is why people who manage buildings, once concerned that they be airtight to keep in heat and air conditioning, are now much more concerned about ventilation. How is the public to know which buildings will be safe to enter?

Jessica Gelt writes at the Los Angeles Times, “The Music Center in downtown Los Angeles [recently announced] that it is the first performing arts organization in the country to receive a UL ‘healthy building’ verification, representing high standards for air quality at four venues — Walt Disney Concert Hall, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Mark Taper Forum and Ahmanson Theatre.

“Don’t throw away your mask just yet, though.

“ ‘This isn’t necessarily a COVID program. It’s not about putting up a force field for keeping a building completely safe from COVID. You can’t do that,’ said Sean McCrady, director of assets and sustainability, real estate and properties at UL, the safety science company that issues the Verified Healthy Buildings for Indoor Air Verification Mark, which will be posted at the entrances of Music Center venues.

“McCrady reiterated the scientific consensus that air purification and good ventilation can reduce airborne germs in indoor spaces. In September the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance to say the coronavirus spreads most commonly through the inhalation of droplets and tiny respiratory particles that can remain suspended in the air.

“The UL verification program emphasizes filtration, ventilation and the overall hygiene of air systems and of buildings in general. Buildings are required to use MERV 13 air filters, which remove particles between 1 and 5 microns. The coronavirus is smaller than that, but McCrady said the filter has an 85% efficacy rate and captures much of the particulate matter to which the virus hitches itself. Prior to COVID-19, the industry standard was the lower-performing MERV 8 filter.

“UL verified buildings must bring in fresh air and move it effectively around the space. The Music Center will be facilitating four to six air changes per hour, which is recommended by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

That means the air volume of a building will be replaced an average of every 10 to 15 minutes. …

“The hygiene of the air filtration and ventilation systems also is crucial. If mold spores or fibers are present, the technology won’t work as it should. … UL also looks at the chemicals used in the cleaning of the space and makes sure that they don’t pollute the air. …

“The Music Center hopes the UL verification will help to maintain the trust of audiences. … If the science surrounding the virus and how to protect against it changes, or if the CDC or more local health officials issues new guidance, the Music Center intends to pivot too. …

“ ‘This is an ongoing process. We will not be stopping when we open our doors,’ ” Music Center COO Howard Sherman told the Times. More here.

Photo: Michelle Chiu
The Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles has Healthy Building Certification.

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Photo: Los Angeles Country Store
The Los Angeles Country Store, which sells LA-made products, is one small business benefited by a Covid recovery fund set up by local entrepreneurs.

I’m finding a surprising number of stories about people who have been successful — not in a Bezos way, but in a way that makes them feel financially secure — who want to do what they can for others.

But if like Anne Frank, who despite everything believed that people are basically good at heart, I guess I shouldn’t say it’s surprising.

Dorany Pineda has a representative article at the Los Angeles Times. “On a Tuesday morning in September, Raymond Wurwand was in his Southern California home sipping tea and reading the newspaper when he happened upon a story about struggling independent bookstores. The print headline read: ‘Spine-tingling bookstore woes: Some shops, including Diesel, are turning to fundraising to survive. Shelve 2020 as horror.’

“He turned to his wife, Jane Wurwand, and said: ‘We’ve got to do something.’

“In partnership with Pacific Community Ventures and TMC Community Capital, the owners of skin-care company Dermalogica decided to launch Found/L.A. Small Business Recovery Fund, a $1-million grant program to help small minority-owned businesses in Los Angeles County stay open during the pandemic. Among the eligibility requirements: Applicants must own at least 50% of a brick-and-mortar shop, employ fewer than 20 people, and provide evidence of profitability before the pandemic.

“The Wurwands received 2,430 applications for the first round of grants — from restaurants, salons and cafes as well as gyms, retail stores and day-care centers. Ten were randomly selected. Applications for the second cycle open Jan. 11.

“ ‘We built Dermalogica through selling to small salons, so we built our business through selling to small entrepreneurs who have been devastated by COVID-19,’ said Jane in a recent Zoom interview. … ‘Our salons were exactly like Diesel,’ she said. … ‘That’s who employs the neighborhood.’

“The longtime philanthropists typically offer minority businesses micro-loans through their Wurwand Foundation, but Diesel’s pandemic struggle put into sharp focus the need for direct, no-strings assistance — some small businesses just can’t take on any more debt. …

“Stores and restaurants represent the bulk of [recent] closures, with owners of color disproportionally affected. A university study published in May found that 41% of Black-owned businesses across the country shut down between February and April. The number of shops owned by Latinos, Asians, immigrants and women dropped 32%, 26%, 36% and 25%, respectively.

“These closures are what worry Jane Wurwand.

‘The thing I’m fearful the most of after this is, when we lift our heads and look around our communities and neighborhoods, I think we’re going to see a lot missing. … I want to live near the local bookstore and the local salon. I don’t want to live next door to the Amazon warehouse.’

“One new beneficiary, Rice and Noodle, has been holding on by a thread this year.

“Lunch sales at the tiny Thai and Vietnamese restaurant fell by more than 60% after offices in the area closed. Owner Kwan Chotikulthanachai, 43, was forced to lay off all her employees. She hasn’t been able to pay full rent since May, and she didn’t qualify for Paycheck Protection Program or economic injury disaster loans. Cleaning and sanitizing supplies have added more costs. But with her partner and chef, Son Ongjampa, she’s managed to hang on, her 8-year-old son, Hugo, and 6-month-old baby, Ethan, at her side.

“When she found out Monday night via email that she would receive a $5,000 grant, she cried. … Hugo joyously jumped and screamed. She called her mother in Thailand — who cried, too.

“ ‘I’m working so hard,’ she said. ‘This time has been incredibly difficult, but I cannot give up. I don’t want to close my restaurant.’ “

Read, here, about another overjoyed small business owner who got a grant, a woman who was determined to keep staff employed. These are the people who actually are “good at heart.”

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Photo: Music for Milestones
Spurred by a grant from Dragon Kim Foundation
, Los Angeles teenagers Katheryn Williams, left, and Charu Balamurugan set up a music program for children.

As I often say to my grandchildren when they come up with creative ideas, “I love people with ideas!” And nowadays I find young leaders with ideas especially inspiring. I think if teens and 20-somethings working to end gun violence and reduce global warming are successful, they will have earned the mantle of the Great Generation.

Today’s story is about a couple of teens who wanted to use music to help children smile.

Kyle Melnick writes at the Washington Post, “After asking nine children on her computer screen to retrieve a piece of paper and something to draw with, Charu Balamurugan explains the class’s next lesson.

“ ‘We’re going to listen to parts from each of these three different songs,’ Balamurugan says, ‘and you’re going to use … different types of lines [or drawings] to show how it makes you feel; the emotions you feel.’

“A few moments later, when Balamurugan plays the first song, Peter Schmalfuss’s version of ‘Clair De Lune,’ the children put their heads down and draw images that pop into their minds.

“By the time Balamurugan has streamed three classical songs during this Zoom class on a Friday evening in late August, the kids’ papers feature drawings of watermelon, roller coasters, chocolate bars, sunsets, cupcakes, pumpkin patches and Snoopy.

“Los Angeles high school students Balamurugan and Katheryn Williams created this class, Music for Milestones, to provide local children a creative outlet through music. The free Zoom classes give children a chance to socialize and clear their minds at a time when they’re usually stuck in their homes during the coronavirus pandemic.

‘The most meaningful part about all of this is getting to see the kids smile every single class and the joy on their faces,’ Williams said. …

“Balamurugan began playing the piano at age 6. She went through hour-long practices almost every day and partook in local competitions. Balamurugan enjoyed playing waltz, but she also liked performing pop songs to energize family and friends. Playing the piano would boost her family members’ spirits after they returned from work.

“In high school, the piano became more of a creative outlet for Balamurugan as she realized how composers deliver a story or message through their performances. She taught piano to family friends who had money for lessons, but she wanted to reach those who didn’t.

“Meanwhile, music was a driver in Williams, improving her state of mind. When she was 9, she lost motivation to pursue goals in and outside of school. She felt angry at the world.

“Around that time, Williams’s grandmother, Delmy Lopez, played her ‘Esta Vida’ by Jorge Celedón — a song that preaches appreciating the small pleasures in life. That song changed her perspective, and the next day she signed up for her school’s band, learning the bass, guitar and drums. She later gained the confidence to try out for the school’s basketball team.

“In December, Balamurugan and Williams attended a meeting at their school about the Dragon Kim Foundation, which offers a fellowship program that provides $5,000 to a handful of California teenagers, helping jump-start programs they aim to form in their communities. … They wanted to team up to create a music program.

“They decided they would teach music to children around the Los Angeles area. They would create a free workbook for the class and use the grant they’d receive to purchase keyboards for the children participating. …

“Balamurugan said, ‘Katheryn is an amazing public speaker and has such an affable personality, and with me taking the reins on the organizational aspects, we played on each other’s strengths.’ …

“The original plan was for the hour-long classes to occur in-person, but they shifted to Zoom when the pandemic arrived. Online classes have allowed Balamurugan and Williams to expand their reach, as families have inquired about joining from multiple states. … Balamurugan and Williams go over the basics of music notes and tempos, give instructions on how to play the piano and suggest how to use music to improve one’s mind-set. …

“Balamurugan and Williams are proud to inspire children by showing them women of color can create and teach music, too.

“ ‘We want kids to know that through all your struggles, through anything that you’re facing,’ Williams said. More here.

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Ben Hoyle of the UK-based Times writes that Christine Walevska went to Facebook to post a painting of herself at aged eight with her child-size cello.

Here’s a story about a virtuoso’s stolen cello that has a happy ending. I initially learned about it from the Los Angeles Times, where reporter Stacy Perman starts out with a bang: “It was Sept. 14, 2013, when a mysterious email bearing the subject line ‘Is this your first cello?’ landed in Christine Walevska’s inbox.

“The renowned cello virtuoso, however, checked her emails infrequently. … And so six months passed before she clicked on the missive sent by strangers living in Chico, Calif.

“ ‘Maybe you will recognize this cello,’ the note read, describing the instrument made by the 19th century French luthier Auguste Sébastien-Philippe Bernardel. Three photographs were attached.

“Walevska scanned the first two, showing the front and back of the instrument. When she pulled up the third, her heart nearly leaped from her chest. ‘I was so shaken up,’ she recalled.

“The image revealed the luthier’s label, visible through one of the curlicued f-holes. Across it was a note inscribed in the feathery pen of the master himself: Pour la petite Comtesse Marie 1834. ‘For the little Countess Marie.’

“ ‘I could hardly believe it,’ she recalled. The cello had been given to her as a child by her father; nearly 40 years earlier, it had been stolen. …

“Walevska responded to the email with alacrity: ‘Please phone me as soon as you can! Anxiously awaiting your phone contact.’ …

“Her father, Hermann Walecki, an internationally respected dealer of fine and rare classical instruments in Los Angeles, [had] presented the little cello to her in 1953. She was 8½. …

“[Even as she outgrew it,] she remained stubbornly attached to the Bernardel, said her brother Fred, recalling how hard-pressed she was to move up to a larger instrument. Hermann mounted the little cello on a wall in his store, telling her, ‘You will hand this down to your daughter, and her child after that.’

“When Hermann died in 1967, Fred took over the music shop and transformed it into a rock ‘n’ roll mecca — the place where everyone from the Beach Boys to the Rolling Stones went to buy guitars and have them repaired.

“Then one day in 1976, two men in their 30s walked into the store. ‘Wow, what a far-out store,’ Fred remembered one of them saying. ‘You must have a lot of expensive things. What are the most valuable?’

“Without thinking, Fred immediately pointed to his sister’s cello on the wall, as well as a custom-made guitar with mother-of-pearl inlay. That night, after closing, the store’s windows were smashed, setting off the alarm. By the time the police arrived, the cello and the guitar were gone.”

♥♥♥

Years later, when the Breshears family decided to rent a child-size cello from a reputable dealer for their daughter Starla, Julie Breshears “found the label intriguing,” the Los Angeles Times continues. ” ‘I thought it was crazy that this belonged to a countess and nobody knows about it.’

“So she searched the internet looking for clues. When she typed in ‘Bernardel’ and ‘Pour la petite Comtesse Marie 1834’ she came across an interview that Christine Walevska had done with the Internet Cello Society. The Breshearses decided to reach out to her. They typed up an email, attached three photos and waited.

“It was shortly after Walevska’s birthday, March 8, 2014, when she spoke to the Breshearses.

“The conversation started on a note of wariness but quickly turned to amazement. The Breshearses described how Starla had been winning contests and was about to solo with an orchestra. Walevska recounted the instrument’s theft. ‘Now you know the true story of that instrument,’ she told them. The Breshearses were dumbstruck.

“Before they ended the phone call, Dustin told her, ‘You should have your cello back.’

“ ‘We’ve got to figure out how to handle this properly,’ she replied.

“The Breshearses sent Walevska videos of Starla playing the cello, and as she watched Starla perform, Walevska saw herself. ‘I knew immediately, she was a big talent,’ she said. ‘This little girl’s name, Starla, is well chosen.’

Click here to read how a lovely relationship developed between the former child prodigy and the little girl she met because once upon a time a beloved cello was stolen.

The London Times has additional information here.

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Photo: Los Angeles Coliseum
Until a teenager decided to solve the mystery, the story of the coliseum mural was lost in the mists of time.

I’m pretty sure young people are going to save the planet, and after hearing speakers from one youth organization yesterday, This Is Zero Hour, I know I need to follow where they lead. Never underestimate the power of a teen who gets motivated to solve a problem.

On a lesser scale than saving the planet — but illustrating the point nevertheless — a Los Angeles teenage sleuth managed to solve the mystery of a beautiful, neglected mural and ended up providing critical information to the restoration team. Colleen Shalby has the story at the Los Angles Times.

“For decades, the curving mural depicting a golden sun has greeted visitors to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Faded by the elements, its once-vibrant blue lost some luster over the years. The gold-leaf paint had chipped away. Still, the image drew eyes upward.

“No one seemed to know who had painted the scene adorning the Coliseum’s main archway — or when. Guides referred to it as a ‘mystery mural,’ the story of its origins as shrouded by time as the artwork itself.

“But after taking a tour of the historic stadium a few years ago, one local teenager became engrossed with its history.

“Dean Gordon estimates he’s been to the Coliseum more than 100 times. But before that day, he’d never given much thought to the mural high above the peristyle entrance. Two golden Olympic torches flanking a flaming sun, its center a depiction of the planet Earth and the 12 signs of the Zodiac. Solving its mystery soon became his mission.

“Two summers ago, at age 17, Gordon began his quest — poring through library books and searching archives, hoping to find a clue that would lead him to the artist.

“ ‘I basically contacted every single person who might have an idea,’ he said, ‘every archivist, historian or professor who might have some connection to the mural,’ rumored to have been painted before the Coliseum hosted the 1932 Olympics.

“After a series of dead ends, Gordon found a clue in the form of a Los Angeles Central Library notecard that read ‘H. Rosien Coliseum.’ Further online digging produced nothing — until he came across a single tweet: ‘Please don’t touch the mural inside the arch that my FIL Heinz Rosien painted prior to the Olympics!!’

“The plea, posted in 2016, was from Mary Lou Rosien in response to the Coliseum’s announcement that parts of the stadium were being overhauled. The mural would be part of renovations, which eventually totaled $315 million, by USC. The university operates and manages the Coliseum. …

“Rosien’s husband, Igor, [and] his father, Heinz Rosien, had worked on the mural together. The Los Angeles Coliseum Commission tasked the elder Rosien with the job in 1969, in hopes of helping the city win a bid for the 1976 Olympics. …

“The archway of the Coliseum proved to be a precarious canvas. The underside of the curved portico stood more than 70 feet off the ground. To reach it, father and son scaled scaffolding without the aid of safety belts, which now are commonplace. They painted upside down. …

“The origins of the mural were all but lost — until Gordon started his detective work. The teen tracked Rosien shortly after spotting his wife’s tweet, shocked to learn that someone directly connected with the artwork was still alive.

‘The entire time I was trying to figure out who painted it, I thought it was from 1932,’ said Gordon, now 19 and a student at Amherst College in Massachusetts. ‘All my research was in that time period.’ …

“The end of Gordon’s search two years ago led to a series of hours-long discussions about the mural — and the start of a friendship between the younger Rosien and the student detective.

“ ‘Thankfully, Dean didn’t take “mystery mural” as an answer,’ Igor Rosien said. …

“Before the mural’s restoration got underway, Gordon and Rosien met outside the Coliseum. There, the artist presented the young detective with one of his dad’s paintings.”

More.

 

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Photo: Jeremy Copeland
Patrick Torres, Erik Miron, Bergen Moore, of the band Vignes Rooftop Revival, on the way to a gig in downtown Los Angeles.

Around the time Suzanne and Erik were planning their wedding, I met a musician’s mother in what I called my Cancer Dance Class. He and his band mates were Berklee grads, and they had a group called Shamus, which I can no longer find on the web. Suzanne loved their music as much as I did and even asked the band to play at her wedding.

Oh, ha, ha. You can just imagine how much they would have charged to bring all their instruments and band members by plane from California! (Suzanne settled on a local band called the Booze Beggars.)

I’m thinking that a band that travels by bicycle like the one in the following story might have been cheaper to hire than Shamus, although I admit I can’t see them bicycling from California to the East Coast.

Lisa Napoli wrote about the bicycling band at National Public Radio (NPR).

“Some musicians arrive at their gigs in a tricked out tour bus. Others, if they’re lucky, in a limo. But there’s a popular band based in downtown Los Angeles that relies on a lower-key, low-carbon form of transportation.

“In car-crazy L.A., the band members either bike, walk or skateboard to all of their gigs.

“The lively acoustic group, the Vignes Rooftop Revival, began by accident five years ago, on a rooftop of a loft building on Vignes Street in rapidly gentrifying downtown Los Angeles.

“A group of neighbors, including musician Erik Miron, would enjoy meals with other building residents, as the dramatic city skyline shimmered in the background.

” ‘After awhile the instruments would come out,’ said Miron, who came to Los Angeles to study music at the University of Southern California. ‘We’d start goofing around and it evolved into something where we decided to take it down from the roof to the bars and restaurants.’ …

“One gig led to another, and accompanied by a rotating cast of musical friends, the band now play 200 shows a year. …

” ‘It’s funny. We’re almost like an Amish jazz band,’ said Miron, who has a full, wiry beard that makes him look right out of Pennsylvania Dutch country. ‘We don’t use cars or electricity so much.’

“Miron said the Vignes Revival didn’t set out to be so green. He and the core members of the group just found it easier to get around without the use of a car. …

“Driving a car leaves him ‘mildly grumpy,’ while arriving by bicycle, he said, is a refreshing way to indulge his love of being outdoors.

” ‘It’s nice to move under your own power,’ he said, as he loaded up his guitar, banjo and trumpet in a trailer he hitches up to his bicycle. He also adds in a few succulents in pots adorned with the band’s logo for good measure. At each show, they give them away. …

“Bass player Bergen Moore uses different wheels to get to the show: a hand-made, hand-painted skateboard. That has been his preferred mode of transportation for a while, even when he lived in hilly San Francisco. Now, he’s got his instrument affixed with wheels, too. …

“Nary a pothole, nor the occasional motorist agitated at their speed, daunts these musicians. For a gig that was ten miles away, they made their way via a combo of human-powered transit and the Los Angeles Metro system.

“They do enjoy playing the tavern around the corner. Then, they get to indulge in an even simpler commute: walking.”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Craig Schwartz
Tom Hanks as Falstaff in the recent Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles production of Henry IV — the actor’s “Los Angeles stage debut.” Hanks went off the script when a medical emergency in the audience interrupted the show.

One always wonders if an actor known for subtlety in close-ups can make the shift to the grand gesture on the big stage. It’s such a different kind of acting, and I have sometimes been disappointed (e.g. the otherwise brilliant Liv Ullmann, the amazing-on-screen Sally Hawkins). But Tom Hanks, apparently, rose to the occasion in his recent performance as Falstaff at the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles presentation of Henry IV. He channeled Falstaff so well, in fact, he was able to ad-lib in an emergency.

As Tara Bitran  reported at Variety in June, “A few scenes into Wednesday night’s performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Henry IV’ Tom Hanks had to go off script. …

“ ‘An audience member became dehydrated and had to be taken out,’ Heath Harper, Hanks’ theatrical dialect coach, told Variety. …

“One of the crew members with medical training assisted the audience member until they regained consciousness and the paramedics arrived. The medics performed tests on the guest in the crossover under the seats. Because this is the actor crossover as well, the show could not restart.

“ ‘I’ve never seen anything like it,’ Harper said. “It credits the work we’ve done and Tom’s commitment to the character that he was able to just jump on the stage and improv as Falstaff like that. The audience absolutely ate it up.’ …

“Hanks addressed the ‘scurvy rogues who stood up from their seats’ to leave during the 20 minute pause, describing their departures as an ‘insult to all actors and to Shakespeare himself.’

“The video also shows Hanks-as-Falstaff warn: ‘Get back here or find this sword and many a dagger placed neatly in the tires of your carriage’ to laughs from the still-seated audience members.

“Hanks then returned back to center stage, inviting audience members to ‘come sit here, and I shall give thee a haircut,’ he offered. …

“Once Hanks and the production team received word that the audience member had recovered, ‘the show went on and the crowd was completely behind us to the end, giving us standing ovations all around,’ Harper said. … ‘All in all, I think it was a fantastic true-to-Shakespearean moment in LA,’ Harper said. ‘The crowd definitely got their money’s worth.’ ”

I love seeing this kind of thing happen. In fact, I still remembering seeing René Auberjonois do something similar in Alice in Wonderland when he wasn’t more than 14, presaging the brilliant career he would later have. And there’s a funny scene in Thorton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, in which the actors are supposed to pretend that someone backstage got sick and that they are all discussing it chaotically downstage. I loved the line of the actor at the Antrim Players in Suffern: “It must have been the chocolate matzohs.”

Theater can be such a good training for life: Something always goes wrong.

More at Variety, here.

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Photo: Alan Greenblatt/NPR
Growing up, Liam Foley (left) was in charge of dishes and never cooked. He was still able to help chop the onions, though, at a burrito-making project for the poor in San Francisco.

Here’s another great story about ordinary people stepping up to try to make a dent in some of life’s knottier problems. This initiative is about making a dent in hunger and getting to know a few people experiencing homelessness.

Alan Greenblatt writes at National Public Radio, “Jimmy Ryan’s recipe for burritos is really pretty simple. It calls for 50 pounds of rice, 50 pounds of beans, a couple of cases of canned tomatoes and several hundred tortillas.

“That may sound like a lot, but Ryan is one of the organizers of the Burrito Project in San Francisco, an informal charity that makes and distributes about 500 burritos to the homeless once a month. On May 21, the group celebrated its second anniversary and rolled its 10,000th burrito. …

“The desire to distribute healthy, easily portable burritos is catching on. … A couple of the entities have registered as 501(c)3 charities, but others remain completely informal. Anyone is allowed to use the name as long as they’re providing burritos and not making any money off the service.

” ‘From what I understand, we have one of the only burrito projects that runs four days a week,’ says Rai Doty, a coordinator in Salt Lake City. ‘Four days a week, we feed 200 to 500 people a night.’

“The groups rely on a mix of donated food and sponsorships. In San Francisco, different companies pay the bills each month, helping out with both funding and manpower. …

“The crowd [I saw] was mostly young and white, but several other racial and ethnic groups were represented, with at least one grandmother helping out. For some, this effort represents just one stop along their personal charity journeys, which also include efforts such as working at animal shelters or churches. But for others, this was a quick and painless way to give back. …

“The organizers say they’re trying to make the event fun and welcoming, asking everyone to introduce themselves and providing kombucha and cake to celebrate their anniversary. …

“The soup kitchen that allows the Burrito Project to use its kitchen is located on the edge of the Mission District, which is ground zero for gentrification pressures in San Francisco. …

“The Burrito Project encourages volunteers not just to hand out food, but to stop and interact with individuals who are often neglected or avoided. …

“No one is under the illusion that handing out an occasional burrito is going to solve anyone’s problems.

“Some Burrito Project outposts try to do more than occasionally feed people. During the snowy season in Salt Lake City, the group partners with Warm the Homeless, which distributes blankets, coats and hats. The long-running project in Bakersfield, Calif., has been adopted by high school and church groups who hand out clothes and shoes when there are donations. Their ninth anniversary event on July 8 will provide a forum for representatives from other local groups that provide housing, health and legal assistance.”

More at NPR, here.

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Photo: Kol Peterson
Los Angeles will pay homeowners who are willing to house pre-screened homeless families by creating “granny flats,” like this accessory dwelling unit over a garage in Portland, Oregon.

I like stories on creative ways cities are trying to tackle homelessness. These initiatives may seem like a drop in the bucket, but some may actually work well over time and help alleviate the effects of our extreme inequality. You have to start somewhere. After all, the homeless population includes working families unable to make ends meet on their wages.

As Vanessa Romo wrote at National Public Radio last month, “In an attempt to alleviate the soaring homelessness problem in Los Angeles County, officials want to pay homeowners to house people by building new living units or bringing existing dwellings up to code if they are in violation.

“It’s part of a $550,000 pilot program launched by the LA Community Development Commission to explore new ways to safely and at a relatively low cost, provide housing options for handful of the county’s nearly 60,000 homeless residents.

“The county Board of Supervisors has narrowed down the pool of applicants from 500 to 27 and is in the final stages of selecting a group of six property owners who are ready and willing to start construction in the fall, according to the LA Times. The county is also leading a design competition for model secondary dwelling units.

“Officials will consider whether to expand the program after 18 months. …

” ‘People are looking at what they can do to make our neighborhoods more affordable and help more Angelenos find stable places to live,’ LA Mayor Eric Garcetti told the Times.

“Garcetti has been urging property owners to build secondary units, or ‘granny flats’ as they’re often called, in their backyards for years. He estimated it could create 50,000 more units if only 10 percent of homeowners would take on the challenge. …

“The Times also reported ‘the loan principal will be reduced each year the unit is occupied by a formerly homeless person and forgiven after 10 years, at which point the homeowners can do as they wish with the housing.’ …

“Los Angeles is only the latest county trying to take on the nation’s homelessness crisis by inducing property owners to provide affordable housing.

“Multnomah County in Oregon started a similar project last summer where four homeowners agreed to have a small unit built on their lot and pledged to provide housing for pre-screened homeless candidates for at least five years.”

More.

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Photo: Richard Vogel/AP
A statue of Gene Autry and Champion at the entrance to the Autry Museum of the American West in Los Angeles. The museum opened in 1988
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My family had one of the early televisions because my father was writing a story about Dumont for Fortune. It was a clunky little thing, showing black and white only, of course, but we loved it, and all the kids in the neighborhood came to watch.

My hero was Gene Autry, the singing cowboy. (Want me to sing the opening number for you, the one Autry sang when he rode Champion up close to the camera and reined him in with a little bounce?)

Recently I learned that in 1988, Autry founded a museum in Los Angeles about the American West. Here’s an Associated Press report by John Rogers at US News on the museum’s 2016 expansion.

“The Autry Museum of the American West [is expanding] to include a garden of native Western flora, as well as new galleries showcasing hundreds of Native American works, some from present day, others centuries old, many never seen publicly.

“The expansion, named California Continued, adds 20,000 square feet of gallery and garden space to the museum that, with its red-tiled courtyard and distinctive beige bell tower, evokes images of an 18th century, Spanish-styled California mission . …

“Museum officials say visitors will now see one of the largest collections of Native American artifacts found anywhere. Also included will be more than 70 plants native to California — many medicinal and some endangered — as well as new displays that include Western mixed-media paintings and interactive works showing such sights as California from the highest point in the continental United States (Mount Whitney in the state’s midsection) to its lowest (Death Valley on the Nevada border).

“Because it’s the Autry Museum, visitors also will still see such venerable Hollywood artifacts as the Singin’ Cowboy’s Martin guitar, TV Lone Ranger Clayton Moore’s mask and a wealth of silent cowboy star Tom Mix memorabilia. …

“[Autry] died at age 91 in 1998, just a few years before … its 2003 merger with Los Angeles’ Southwest Museum of the American Indian. …

” ‘This collection that is now in the Autry Museum is a native collection of the very same rank, and in some quarters even better, than the Smithsonian’s,’ said [the museum’s president, W. Richard West Jr.,] who was founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

“Some of the best of the collection on display is contained in the exhibition ‘The Life and Work of Mabel McKay,’ a Pomo Indian basket weaver, healer, civil rights activist and person believed to be the last speaker of her tribal language when she died in 1993. Her intricately woven, often colorful baskets are accompanied by a recreation of her workroom, narration by her son and other works. …

“The garden contains native plants that caretaker Nicholas Hummingbird hopes will make people realize there is more to Western flora than cactus and sagebrush.”

More at US News, here.

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Photo: Homeboy Industries
The Rev. Gregory J. Boyle, S.J., is the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world.

I recently heard Terry Gross interview this amazing priest, founder of the world’s largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program, on her radio show Fresh Air. This is a man who lives his religion, ministering to the outcasts of society.

“GROSS: My guest, Father Greg Boyle, has worked with former gang members in LA for over 30 years. He’s the founder of Homeboy Industries, which was created to help former gang members and people transitioning out of prison create stable lives and stay out of gangs. Instead of Father Greg trying to convince business owners to hire young people who are at risk, he created jobs for them through Homeboy Industries.

“Homeboy is a series of businesses including a restaurant, a bakery, cafe, farmers markets created with the purpose of hiring these young people so they can have on-the-job training. The employers come from rival gangs so they have to put aside their distrust and hatred of each other. Homeboy also provides other job training and social service programs. …

“Back in the ’80s and ’90s, Father Greg spent a lot of time on the streets. He’s witnessed shootings, he’s buried over 200 young people and he’s kept on with the work in spite of being diagnosed with a chronic form of leukemia about 15 years ago. He started working with gangs in 1986 when he became the pastor of the Dolores Mission Church in East LA, which was then the city’s poorest Catholic parish. He’s just written his second book, called, Barking To The Choir: The Power Of Radical Kinship.

“Father Greg Boyle … you say that employment isn’t necessarily going to totally change someone’s life. They might end up back in prison. But if somebody’s healed, that will change their life possibly forever. What’s the distinction you make between [the employment] opportunity that you’re giving them and healing?

“BOYLE: Thirty years ago when we started Homeboy Industries, you know, the motto was nothing stops a bullet like a job, and that was a response to gang members saying if only we had work. And that was essential, but then when we discovered that, you know, we would dispatch gang members to jobs. But the minute any kind of monkey wrench was tossed into the mix, they would unravel, you know, that there was no resilience.

“There was no healing. And they would go right back to gang life or go back to prison. So it was then that we kind of, probably 15 years ago, we said, you know, healing is probably more necessary along with the fact that people need to have a reason to get up in the morning and a place to go and a reason not to gang bang. …

“So we altered our [stance] from just finding a job for every gang member or employing them with us but also trying to have them come to terms with whatever suffering they’ve been through and trauma. …

“GROSS: You talk about people whose parent would put their head in the toilet and flush the toilet and nearly drown them. … So when people have been brought up like this, and they’re also poor and they have no real future prospects, how do you heal them? …

“BOYLE: Well, part of what we have at Homeboy is this irresistible culture of tenderness, you know, where people kind of hold each other. …

“We don’t get tripped up so much by behavior. Even gang violence itself is a language. … What language is it speaking? You know, it’s not about the flying of bullets. It’s about a lethal absence of hope. So let’s address the despair. And the same thing is with behavior.

“I mean, we bring it up, and at some point we say, we think you’re telling us that you’re not ready to be here. We love you. We think you’re great. Come back when you’re ready. So that’s the thing we do often enough. And we drug test because we don’t want anyone to numb their pain as they do the work. …

“They’re not going to be able to transform their pain if they’re inebriated or if they’re constantly smoking marijuana. … They’re used to self-medicating. They’re used to escape. They want to find that place where they can’t see their pain from. And the antidote, really, is to hold them in a place where they feel cherished, and that’s really compelling.”

There’s so much food for thought in this long interview. Read it at NPR, here.

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Photo: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times
Lining up for tacos outside the Islamic Center of Santa Ana.  The ‘Taco Truck at Every Mosque’ event for iftar (evening meal that breaks the fast during Ramadan) promotes solidarity and understanding.

Community organizers are getting creative with ways to pull different groups together. Consider this California example.

Anh Do writes at the Los Angeles Times: “Activists Rida Hamida and Ben Vazquez wanted to find a way to promote unity among the region’s Muslim and Latino communities, so they came up with a novel idea.

“After daily fasting as part of the holy month of Ramadan, dozens of local Muslims joined their Latino neighbors Saturday night in the parking lot of the new Islamic Center of Santa Ana, taking part in the inaugural event of the campaign dubbed Taco Trucks at Every Mosque.

“Organizers said the idea is to demystify Islam through the sharing of food and to unite two groups, Muslims and Latinos, facing increasing discrimination. …

” ‘This is perfect timing. The purpose of this month is to give charity, to grow our character and our inner lives and to nourish our soul through service. What better way to do that than by learning from one another?’ asked coordinator Hamida, whose goal is to host food trucks that will serve halal tacos at every mosque in Orange County. …

“Even young participants such as Idrees Alomari, 13, were encouraged by Saturday’s event, which he said was a good way to show how people can appreciate their differences and similarities. …

” ‘All the way from the parking entrance to inside, everyone’s been like, “Welcome, welcome, we’re so glad to have you here,” ‘ said Dulce Saavedra, 24, [a] youth organizer for Resilience OC, a nonprofit created from the merging of Santa Ana Boys and Men of Color and Raiz, a group pushing for partnerships between law enforcement and immigrants.” More at the Los Angeles Times, here.

This initiative reminds me of an annual event that took place in Lowell, Mass. It was a gigantic soccer tournament with teams from the scores of immigrant groups in the city. I always admired the ONELowell initiative because it can be hard to get minorities to band together and realize they can collaborate to promote common needs. Sharing a sport loved by many nationalities seemed like a good place to start.

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Photo: Los Angeles Times
Jackie DesRosier conducts a YOLA at HOLA (Youth Orchestra Los Angeles at Heart of Los Angeles) youth orchestra spring concert.

The arts have a mysterious capacity to touch people in ways that nothing else does. It’s as if most of what we do or even think about every day is on the surface of things, involving the small part of our brains that is conscious. The arts, however, can reach into the unconscious part and make hidden flowers bloom.

Read how, in Los Angeles, an arts program is helping students flourish.

Jessica Gelt writes at the Los Angeles Times, “It is one of the most densely populated areas west of the Mississippi. The poverty rate is over 35%, and more than a quarter of all households earns less than $15,000 per year. At least 30 gangs roam the streets, recruiting children as young as 9. The high school graduation rate is around 50%.

“That’s the state of affairs in Westlake, Pico Union and Koreatown, according to the organization Heart of Los Angeles. The group reaches more than 2,000 kids in those neighborhoods every year through after-school arts and athletics programs, but its crowning achievement is its partnership with the Los Angeles Philharmonic: Youth Orchestra Los Angeles at Heart of Los Angeles, or YOLA at HOLA. …

“The program provides intensive orchestral instruction, including classes on music creativity, singing and ensemble rehearsals, to 250 students in 1st through 12th grades. Classes take place daily. An hour of academic tutoring is thrown in each afternoon for good measure. …

“More than 350 families land on the waiting list for programs at HOLA every quarter, so Brown said HOLA wants to build a recreation center to serve more people. The statistics coming out of the HOLA’s academic enrichment, visual arts and music programs speak to why demand is so high.

“Of the 63 students in those programs who were high school seniors in 2015, 100% of them graduated, and 97% went on to college. …

“[HOLA Executive Director Tony] Brown and his staff are aggressive in preventing kids from falling between the cracks. They sometimes attend parent-teacher conferences to find out what support a child needs, and when a student disappears from their programs, a staff member might make a house call to help bring that student back. …

“Brown likes to tell the success story of a boy named Raymond who came through the program as a troubled middle-school student. His grandmother brought him to YOLA at HOLA because he was failing in school and in danger of joining a gang.

“ ‘This young man started playing the clarinet, and he played the heck out of it. Next thing you know he’s earned his way to playing in London with YOLA at HOLA and Dudamel,’ Brown said, referring to the youth orchestra’s 2013 trip overseas. Raymond is now attending UC Santa Cruz.”

Read why National Endowment for the Arts is crucial to this program, here.

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What is going on with the oceans? Warming trends are bringing sea creatures further north and for longer periods.

In January, Oliver Milman reported at the Guardian about a sea snake with a suggestive name (“Why you yellow-bellied sea snake, you …!”) that has suddenly shown up in California.

“California beachgoers have been urged to steer clear of a species of highly venomous sea snake following a third, and unprecedented, instance of an aquatic serpent washing up on to the state’s beaches.

“A 20-inch yellow-bellied sea snake was discovered on a beach near San Diego … The sighting was the third reported instance since October of the species, which prefers the tropical waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans, washing up on California’s beaches.

“The only previous verified sighting of a washed-up yellow-bellied sea snake was in 1972. Experts believe the snakes have ridden a warm current of water, fueled by the exceptionally strong El Niño climatic event, farther north than they have ever previously ventured. …

“ ‘It’s been an incredibly interesting year for southern California. We’ve seen tuna and marlin and tropical bird species such as red-footed boobies,’ said Greg Pauly, curator of herpetology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. …

“Yellow-bellied sea snakes are fully aquatic snakes capable of swimming vast distances. Although they are highly venomous, their targets are small fish and it’s thought they have yet to cause a recorded human death. However, Pauly said people should keep their distance if they encounter another washed-up snake.

“ ‘They are fairly docile and it’s unlikely for someone to be envenomated,’ he said. ‘It’s rare for them to bite people, it’s usually fishermen who are carelessly pulling up fishing nets.’ ”

More here.

Photo: Carolyn Larcombe/Wandiyali Images
Seen in California after el Niño, yellow-bellied sea snakes usually live in the deep waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans. 

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