Ask anyone who attended the free performances emceed by Paul Linked and the late Will Greer, or audience members who met Father Guide Cardiac, Jackson Browne or the Mystic Knights of the Ongoing Boning for the very first time. Talk to the hundreds of volunteers who drove to Ventura to pick oranges so that every other audience member could drink free orange juice under the stars. They will all tell you they had the time of their life soaking up the GET art and ambiance! Ask other audience members about their GET experiences and you will hear tales about seeing theater and dance companies they had never seen before. Or discovering poets or jazz groups that are now woven into the baric of the City.
Those summer nights represented the best of times for many of the artists who appeared on Barnyards Park’s outdoor stages. For many audience members, the experience was right up there with falling in love for the very first time. As a matter Of fact, many artists and audience members did fall in love for the first time at the Garden Theatre Festival. The number of engagements, affairs and weddings that occurred during the GET defies logic but according to rumor, good times were had by all. The late Helen Young, the Founder of the Lotus Festival, knew everything there was to know about community organizing. She brought together the two factions in the Chinese community, in the Vietnamese community, in the Cambodia community, and in the Korean community.
She persuaded the Indian community to work with a group representing Pakistan, and ten other Asian and Pacific Island communities to work with everybody. When it came to diplomacy, Henry Singer could have taken lessons from Helen. She was everybody role model and nobody’s fool and today’s Lotus Festival is still run by people she trained, shaped, and inspired. Aaron Palely, with his working partner of 23 years Katie Bergen, created Community Arts Resources (CARS) in the late as to perpetuate Los Angels’ festival tradition. Since then, CARS has produced stellar events throughout the region. They’ve created festivals for the Getty, Scribal and Japanese American National Museums.
They’ve produced the Santa Monica Festival, the 1 999 Sacred Music Festival, Wordplay, Hideaways and dozens of other celebrations for dozens of communities. CARS is arguably the best festival organizer in Los Angels. That was true in 1987 when Aaron produced the Fringe Festival and again in 1990 when CARS produced the Open Festival for the Los Angels Festival, the event Peter Sellers envisioned and I ride valiantly to manage. It’s still true today. There were bigger names to wave before the press in 1 990 and Aaron and his partners at Community Arts Resources (Bergen, Jan Liniest, Linda Hiding and Aaron Slaving) probably never got the credit they deserved. Still, the folks in the festival trenches all knew who put butts in the seats.
Peter Sellers’ glorious vision shaped the Festival, Allison Sampson relentless fund raising paid for it, Judy MITOCW and I put out the fires, but CARS’ performances drew the audiences. CARS also sotto it that local artists got a piece of the pie. Hundreds of Los Angels artists participated in an amazing twice-in-lifetime event only because CARS had their backs. Today CARS is the Last Man Standing from those halcyon days of Festival Abundance. Helen Young passed away in the sis. Hope Schneider, Allison Sampson, Warren Christensen, Titus Levi and are long retired from the festival scene. Judy MITOCW still produces The World Festival of Sacred Music and James Burks is still the driving force behind the African Marketplace.
But CARS is the only arts festival producer I know still energetic enough and crazy enough to carry the festival banner all over town. One month they produce an event at the Getty, the next they’re in Exposition Park, Hollywood or Little Tokyo. Aaron Palely… A man with taste and standards who never met a Celebration he didn’t like. Whether or not they know it, festival audiences and artists from the last two decades owe him a debt of gratitude. Sums Hard and Titus Levi definitely represent two sides of the conventional Festival coin. Sums is a detail person whose 5 assets include a profound understanding of the communities with whom she’s worked.
For twelve years she produced festivals for the Cultural Affairs Department but for many ears prior to that she honed her considerable talents on events that typically drew over 50,000 attendees. With good reason, Sums identifies herself and her production company as The Iron Lotus. Anyone who took exception to the ninety pound event organizers Work Plans or Timeliness did so at his own peril. No festival producer in the City has ever had better working relationships with regulatory agencies, the police Department, the Fire Department or the Health Department. On the other hand, the policeman hasn’t been born who would question her planning process.
She is, in short, a Force of Nature. Titus Levi, on the other hand, develops festivals intellectually and with the care and forethought of an economist. Which, by training, he is. He’s been creating festivals since he was a teenager and even then, he was given to playing too long with the pieces of the puzzle. Occasionally, in those early days, his excessive analyses caused delays and dysfunction. But when his programming worked, as it did during the Los Angels Festival, it was something to behold. Even events that appealed to a handful of composers and musicians who considered Phillip Glass hopelessly loadstone’s were distinguished by a hint of genius.
Later festivals helped lure large audiences to many of Long Beach’s hipper and more upscale restaurants and clubs. During the 1 990 Los Angels Festival, he gave the City an embarrassment of riches. He booked Big Bands, World Music legends, traditional “folk” artists, edgy up-and-comers and giants of innovation like Ornate Coleman and Charlie Headed. Today he coaches and mentors other festival producers through Cell’s Festival Encouragement Program and doubtless longs for the days when 6 an audience of fifty people was considered a huge success. Curiously, Titus Levies adult approach to festival reduction is reminiscent of the clear, practical, and analytical system Hope Theosophist Schneider brought to the Olympic Arts Festival.
Hope, first among festival equals, managed a $20 million event in 1984 when a million dollars could buy more than a two-bedroom fixer upper in a marginal community. Although money of that magnitude can guarantee the participation of the world’s best artists, only the talents and intelligence of a producer like Hope can guarantee quality of presentation, the sale of tickets, delighted audiences, and an organization that functions efficiently. As a Festival Producer, Hope was splendid but as a Festival Planner, she has no equal. Her article on Planning should be required reading for every “wannabe” producer in Los Angels County. Including Helen Young, all the talented producers I’ve mentioned have written or inspired articles in many publications, including “About Festivals… Missing in action are James Burks, Allison Sampson, Peter Sellers, Lindsay Shields, Judy MITOCW and the changing roster Of producers who organize events like the Golden Dragon Festival and Parade and Nisei Week. Their views as well as the views and advice of all the writers are worth taking to heart. They may have forgotten more than most people ever knew about community organizing and festival production but on their worst days, each could produce events that make your knees go weak. Take it from an old festival groupie, not one of them ever created a festival that wasn’t knee slapping’, laugh-a-minute-fun. For a really good time, call any one of the Contributing Editors in “About Festivals… ” 7 FESTIVALS: THEIR MEANING AND IMPACT IN THE Call OF ANGELS Titus Levi, Ph.
D 8 Festivals rise up from the fiber of communities to create celebrations of scale, depth, and gravity. Festivals capture the best that immunities create and put forward. They provide extraordinary opportunities for artists to interact. They inspire and enrich audiences with volume and variety of work. The sheer size of a festival can make it magnetic. I doubt that many Angelinos would go to a festival presented by Marshall Islanders, Hawaiian, or Filipinos, but put them in a single festival – and add a gaggle of other Pacific Asian cultures – and you have the Lotus Festival, one of the largest, most successful, and best known festivals in Los Angels.
The sheer size of a festival like this allows it to communicate abundance: an abundance of choices, an abundance of food, an abundance of things to buy, and a great abundance of people to meet, chat with, and bump into. This experience of abundance stimulates all those involved. The experience engages each sense: dance and costumes for the eye, storytelling and music for the ear, the hands of old acquaintances and new friends and the jostling and friction Of bodies for the skin. And no celebration would be complete without food. An abundance of food. The special dishes, looked forward to all year long. The fun dishes. The desserts that wake up the mouth. And the scent of a dozen or two dishes permeating the air like a blessing.
The experience of physicality at a festival gives the ephemeral nature of the celebration substance. The ideas behind the festival – celebration, identity, community – remain free-floating concepts without something to ground them to the physical domain. By giving form to these ideas through art (broadly defined), the ideas of a festival take on a greater force and deeper meaning, while adding the dimension of pleasure. Physicality and abundance always stand out as two key elements of what makes a festival festive. Each provides energy, and when combined, deepen each other. This sort of connection and the relationship between things provides dimension to a festival as an event. SE not just about the music and the costumes and the dancing and the food; it’s about all of them at once. Its about having all of the body and the mind’s “ON” switches flipped at once. Having so many “ON” people in one place at one time makes for an openness that allows all types of communities to connect to people more deeply within and beyond their core constituencies. This creates the conditions for communities and individuals to connect in new ways. Such connection, while rare, is welcome since such interactions animate this city with a richness not often found in other cities. In this way, festivals breathe life into the heart and soul of Los Angels and give support to its better angels. (No pun intended, of course. Through events like the Boon Festival, held at Supernumeraries Buddhist temples throughout Southern California, you can see it in the faces of curious onlookers who suddenly get caught up in the dance. You can feel its essence moving through the shy girl who gets on a table at the African Marketplace to shake, shake, shake to the rhythm. You can ear it in the overheard comments: “I had no idea that I could find something like that in LA… ” Festivals can be the bridges through which we connect to each other. Again and again, and in ever-evolving ways. But sometimes a festival is not about connecting or reaching out, but turning inward in some sense.
Go to a Dalai celebration and you’ll see only a handful of persons who are not South Asian (but if you know the latest and biggest hits from Plywood movies – in Hindi – then you’re welcome to sing-along). Ditto for Northrop and Cool China Time, the New Year celebrations in the Persian and Cambodia communities. These celebrations bring people together, but in ways that reinforce a sense of home, old connections, and reaching back into lands left a lifetime ago. These festivals celebrate culture as family; new acquaintances can come, but will not grasp the full force of the festival’s meaning. Festivals also help communities define themselves. The festival provides a public face for a community as well as a focal point for organizing community resources and energies.
This in itself builds community; from the festival an expression of what the community is emerges from the interaction and engagement of persons in the community. And he intensity of investment makes the festival a showcase for those in the community and beyond. It’s sort of like looking for the tallest building in a city: it says something about what that city values in its culture. (For the District of Columbia, the Washington Monument stands out; in New York, the tallest buildings house the centers of industrial and financial power; in Lass Vegas, the tallest buildings are fantasies of dislocation and indulgence. ) This investment takes on notable aspects in the arts. Festivals concentrate artists, giving them multiple opportunities to interact.
Artists can learn about the work Of others: an Old aster, a young firebrand, a representative of a specialized form. Musicians can jam together, weavers can examine refinements in technique, and dancers can vet the work of apprentices in each others companies. Craftsperson can buy each other’s wares; storytellers can swap yarns. Friendships and collaborations grow out of such interactions. Art grows and deepens on the back of such exchanges. In thinking about festivals in Los Angels, we see examples of festivals that serve all manner of social and cultural functions. Some we almost take for granted: Cinch De Mayo, July 4th, Chinese New Year.
Each Of these celebrations marks an affirmation f identity, and at the same time, provides opportunities to share cultural meaning with persons both inside and outside of that culture. The festivals that Angelinos produce each year make manifest the many aspects of LA that we know, love, and become frustrated with as well. Festivals such as the Israeli Fest, Thai Cultural Day, and the Brazilian Carnivals celebrate the city’s rich and motley diversity.