When South L.A. does arts festivals, it does them right.
Their efforts at community-building and/or place-making are almost always rooted in the history of the area and the experience of its people. And, as part of that experience includes the lack of traditional outlets for expression, both the events and the works are often infused with an urgency and a sincerity that helps attendees feel they are participating in an important communicative process.
Tonight, for example, Community Coalition (a social justice-oriented non-profit) caps off a week of events with the South L.A. Art Festival. Last weekend, they played host to an event commemorating the life and death of Trayvon Martin (the African-American teen shot to death in a “stand your ground” case in Florida). Tuesday, their “Artivist Forum” brought together artists, community organizers, and community members to dialogue on creative solutions to the incarceration of black and brown youth, among other issues.
Tonight, they invite the community to come out for a family-oriented street fair beginning at 5 p.m. The fair will feature art, food, music, and other community resources and will take place in front of their headquarters, at 8101 S. Vermont Ave. For more information, click here.
Tomorrow, the Central Avenue Jazz Festival kicks off its 19th year in the historic section of Central Ave. around 11 a.m. (one of the future hubs of December’s CicLAvia). Local youth will be the first of the performers, with both long-standing greats and scene-stealing up-and-comers soon to follow.
The festival spotlights the corridor which was central to African-American arts and culture in the early 20th century. The Dunbar Hotel — the newly reborn anchor site of the festival, located at 42nd and Central — was the only major hotel in the city that welcomed African-Americans for decades. A hub for dignitaries, intellectuals, and writers, including W.E.B Du Bois and Langston Hughes, its jazz club became world-famous and the anchor of a vibrant scene along Central in the 1930s and ’40s, attracting greats like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Lena Horne, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, and Ray Charles.
The festival is easily accessible via the Blue Line (at the Vernon stop) and runs both Saturday and Sunday, between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. along Central Ave. between 43rd and King Blvd. More information about it and performance schedules can be found here.
Finally, Leimert Park Village (the other CicLAvia hub) will be hosting its monthly artwalk between 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Sunday, July 27th.
On the last Sunday of every month, Leimert Park plays host to an eclectic festival of art, drumming, music, spoken word, food, and family. It’s one of my favorite regular events, as it effectively and consistently uses public space to put the focus on unity and community. You can perhaps feel that best in the drum circle, where the young, the old, the homeless, and the well-heeled celebrate music and dance together. Or in the warm and hearty handshakes with which community members greet each other in the streets. It is also evident in the art, which collectively often depicts a celebration of community, heritage, and empowerment.
With new arts venues popping up and Leimert Park’s proposal for a People St. Plaza being approved to enter the design phase, the community is on the move. Come see what is new at 43rd Pl. and Leimert Blvd. For more information on the event and other happenings in the area, please click here.