When I first discovered the power and inspiration that come from experiencing spoken word, I was hooked. As a woman of color, I take pride in being able to provide a platform for diverse voices to be heard. In curating the upcoming program March Forth! A Spoken Word Celebration of Female Empowerment—taking place on Friday, March 4th, of course—I reflected upon that initial moment I fell in love with this art form the best way I knew how: through poetry….
Sitting in a dorm room waiting for the future to begin
Def Poets jam and snap back letting the truth seep in
Words walk on air while a mystical reality fills every nook and cranny
Mics open up for voices to be amplified
Learned behavior is flipped upside down on its grammatical head to push frivolity aside
Bringing justice in and kicking exclusivity out
It’s come one come all in the scholarly excavation of our thoughts
A woman’s worth is what her soul defines.
I saw this in Gina Loring the first time I watched her perform on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam. Taken aback by her smooth yet strong verbal play, she was a poet I could never forget. She has performed her music and poetry in over ten countries as guest artist of the American Embassy. She also works as a professor in the Los Angeles community college school district and volunteers with Inside Out Writers, working with incarcerated teens. Her strength and impact extend far beyond her words.
Pre-packaged cookie-cutter shapes carved out by a media-driven society are not worth her time.Continue reading →
“There is more than one story to be told,” says Stephen, a senior at Canoga Park High School in Los Angeles, after spending nine weeks in a partnership program with the Skirball Education Department. Indeed, there were many stories told and discovered by eleventh and twelfth grade students who were inspired by the Skirball exhibitions Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams and Citizen 13660: The Art of Miné Okubo (on view now through February 21, 2016). From considering how to improve the quality of school food, to addressing bullying and disrespect in the classroom, to sharing the personal experience of spending time in juvenile hall, the students’ stories gave insight into their daily lives and offered a unique view into what it means to grow up in Los Angeles.
Each year, the Skirball presents an in-school residency program, designed to transform students from observers of art and culture into creators of their own work, inspiring their self-confidence and imagination. Developing a residency is a layered process. Once the Skirball Education and Museum Departments have conceived of a project, our next step is to find a teaching artist to collaborate with. We look for individuals who are experienced in their field, passionate and skilled educators, and excited to use the arts and cultural history to guide students through a creative process. We found a great partner in George Lavender, an award-winning independent radio and print journalist. George’s enthusiasm, natural curiosity, and supportive teaching style were essential in making this project a meaningful experience for the students.
In this year’s residency, students in Kelly Herrera’s Introduction to Art and Photography class worked closely with George and Skirball educators to create audio-stories and photo-essays exploring some of the issues that they and their peers are experiencing.
Through field trips to the Skirball to view the exhibitions, regular in-class sessions with George to learn the basics of audio production, and Skype interviews with other talented radio personalities like Al Letson and Nancy Lopez, this group of students was able to produce and present finished stories to an audience of their peers during a public presentation at the Skirball.
Inside the new exhibition at the Skirball, A Path Appears: Actions for a Better World, recycled CDs glisten as the backdrop to the “jobs” pavilion. Visitors can listen to stories from organizations like Chrysalis, which helps people like Darius Coffey (pictured above) find jobs and turn their lives around.
The Skirball’s newest exhibition, A Path Appears: Actions for a Better World, is uniquely ambitious: it seeks to connect exhibition to action, word to deed, individual to community. It is both a gallery installation and a laboratory for social change. Its subject is the welfare of humanity, and its object is to move hearts and minds to improve the plight of those in need. These aspirations are not typical of museum shows. But they are essential to the Skirball Cultural Center.
The entrance to Manzanar. Photo by Keren Lieberman.
“We have the road to ourselves!” exclaims Keren Lieberman as she surges ahead on Highway 395, recently paved and smooth as silk, traversing Inyo County’s rugged landscape with barely a car in sight. We continue through High Desert, the Sierras rising precipitously on our left. Keren, Merkie Rowan, and I are headed to Manzanar in the Owens Valley, approximately 218 miles northeast of Los Angeles near Lone Pine. Four more docents will be meeting us at the Manzanar Interpretive Center tomorrow morning. All of us have been intensely curious about the site since the exhibition Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams opened at the Skirball.
This is a land of extremes. The snow-capped Sierras are home to the tallest mountain in the continental United States, while Death Valley boasts its lowest elevation and hottest temperatures. The relentless dust, intense heat, and bone-chilling winters of the Owens Valley serve as a metaphor for the barrage on civil rights that occurred here and at nine other camps during World War II, when Japanese Americans were incarcerated for more than three years without due process. Over two-thirds were American citizens!
The desolate Owens Valley. Photo by Keren Lieberman.
After a pleasant night in Lone Pine, we continue to the former incarceration camp. Comprising one square mile, Manzanar National Historic Site is a poignant monument to 10,000 brave souls who chose to make the best of their adversity. Park Ranger Patricia Biggs provides an overview: “There were 504 wood and tar paper barracks, plus assorted auxiliary buildings such as latrines and mess halls, with fire breaks every two blocks.” Beyond the barbed-wire perimeter and guard towers with searchlights and machine guns, 440 agricultural acres were worked by the detainees. “The winds here are fierce,” she says. “They can reach 100 miles on mountain crests. The dust penetrated the barracks through holes in the roofs and gaps in the walls.”
One of the most exciting things about working as a designer at the Skirball is receiving artwork for new shows. It’s like being granted an all-access pass to view beautiful artwork before it is curated into an exhibition for the public to experience.
I was especially intrigued when I found out that we would be focusing on photography that Ansel Adams shot at the Japanese American incarceration camp in Manzanar during World War II. As I previewed the photography, I saw Adams’s familiar landscapes of majestic mountains and stretching clouds—images that many know and love. But the juxtaposition of these natural forms with barracks and human figures was unsettling. The one photo that I couldn’t look away from or stop thinking about was the portrait of a young man, Yuichi Hirata, staring back at the camera with pride and strength in his eyes. I was elated when that image was chosen as one in a trio of Adams’s work representing the exhibition Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams in banners placed all around Los Angeles.
Born in Los Angeles in 1915, Yuichi Hirata was incarcerated within the Manzanar War Relocation Center in 1942. This image of Hirata appears last in Ansel Adams’s controversial book Born Free and Equal (1944). Ansel Adams, Yuichi Hirata, 1943. Gelatin silver print (printed 1984). Private collection; courtesy of Photographic Traveling Exhibitions.
Not long after the banners were hung, Yuichi Hirata’s grandson Todd Hirata was surprised and excited to see the photo of his grandfather while driving in Los Angeles. Todd was kind enough to speak with us, and it is apparent in his interview that the resilience and strength of his grandfather’s gaze in the portrait are genuine, and that these traits have been passed down through the generations. Continue reading →
My name is Megan Nevels, and I am a self-proclaimed, undeniable My Neighbor Totoro enthusiast. I am a collector of all things Totoro, and I love sharing the beauty of this film any time I get the chance. I watch it regularly and never grow tired of it. But why, you might ask, would an adult feel so strongly about an animated film that she would fill every room in her house and even her desk at work with Totoro-related objects? This question has plagued many people in my life, but it is only ever asked by those who haven’t had the chance to experience the film. A common answer I like to give is that Totoro reminds me that imagination is necessary for life at any age.
Here are just a few items from my collection, currently on view at my desk. I hope the movie inspires some of you to start a collection of your own! If you do, show me! Share you pics on social media with #meganlovestotoro.
Screening at the Skirball on Sunday, December 27, My Neighbor Totoro is an animated storytelling masterpiece by Hayao Miyazaki. The film tells the story of two young sisters who move with their father to a new village in Japan in order to be closer to their sick mother. The youngest daughter, Mei, discovers a creature named Totoro who takes the girls on incredible adventures. One can argue that Totoro acts as a coping mechanism for the girls, or that he represents the excitement for life that adults sometimes lose as they grow up. However you read into Totoro’s existence, he is always magical, kind, and supportive.
Shortly after last year’s Skirball Hanukkah Festival, I came across an article in the Jewish Journal announcing a new Hanukkah song called “Light,” written and performed by Lisa Loeb. As a big fan of Lisa’s music from my days as a twentysomething, I immediately clicked on the link to hear the song, which, of course, I loved. What’s special about Lisa is that she’s an equally cool and soulful performer who appeals to both adults and children. When I heard how beautiful her new song was, I knew she’d be perfect for our next Hanukkah Family Festival.
The song’s themes of light and hope are especially resonant for us here at the Skirball, where we want every visitor not only to have a great time but also to learn meaningful messages. This year’s festival, entitled “Celebrating Our Light,” explores the light of hope, courage, and resilience that shines in each one of us and helps us accomplish amazing things together. We’re thrilled that Lisa will be joining us as a featured performer on December 13. My kids and I are equally excited!
Recently, Lisa took a moment to talk with us about what Hanukkah means to her, as well as some of her favorite musical influences growing up.
Interview has been edited for clarity.
Tell us a little bit about how you celebrate Hanukkah. I love standing around the glowing candles of the menorah with the lights off in the kitchen. My husband and I have made it a tradition to make latkes at least once during the holiday. We try not to eat all of them before the plate gets to the kitchen table for dinner. Over the last few years, we’ve started inviting over some of my daughter’s friends to light the lights with us and share our holiday with people who don’t celebrate Hanukkah. Continue reading →
Kahlil Gibran wrote, “Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life, bringing peace, abolishing strife.” Israeli singer-songwriter David Broza, who joins us at the Skirball for the L.A premiere of his documentary East Jerusalem, West Jerusalem on December 8, has always believed in the power of music to transform political and social realities. For nearly forty years, Broza has used his Spanish guitar and exceptional lyricism to challenge cultural and religious divides. He has carried his message of peace on tour throughout the Middle East, Europe, Latin America, and the United States. Now I do concede that singing about peace and actually brokering it can be two different things, yet with his latest project Mr. Broza has done both. Continue reading →
Bob, hope all is going well. Thanks as always for your work on the Half the Sky exhibit. Sheryl and I have a new book coming out this year, a bit of a follow-up to Half the Sky. Essentially it’s a book about how to make a difference, and how to donate, volunteer or advocate more effectively. It’s a look more broadly at what works and doesn’t work to expand opportunity in the US and abroad. I just thought I would mention it in the off chance that that might again work for an exhibit—a glimpse at the emerging science of making a difference in the world.
This family enjoyed some quiet time at last year’s Hanukkah Family Festival, coloring and reading a book about the Maccabees.
This December, the Skirball presents its twentieth annual Hanukkah Family Festival, a joyous and inclusive occasion for Angelenos of all backgrounds. Over the years, the daylong event has welcomed tens of thousands of families to share in a communal experience—and to feel inspired by the ancient tale of a small band of Jews known as the Maccabees, who battled against tyranny in 165 BCE and prevailed against all odds.
In commemoration of this ancient victory, this year’s Hanukkah Family Festival places special emphasis on the values of courage and fortitude. Just as the greatly outnumbered Maccabees prevailed against their oppressors, so too, in our own day, are we called upon to defend the freedoms we cherish with determination and resolve. Continue reading →