House Party with Noura

Noura and me at the party in Timbuktu.

Noura Mint Seymali comes from Mauritanian music royalty. Her father was the first person to apply written notation to folk music in Mauritania. Her stepmother is Dimi Mint Abba, one of the few Mauritanian singers to achieve a degree of fame outside her home country. And Noura herself is a master of the ardine, a harp-like instrument containing about fifteen strings and built from a calabash base and two cylindrical wooden rods. But these impressive facts do nothing to prepare you for Noura’s voice—an instrument of such power, control, and resonance that it seems to fundamentally rearrange the DNA of the listener. Like Umm Kulthum (Egypt), Sussan Deyhim (Iran), and Fairuz (Lebanon) before her, Noura takes the root sounds of her homeland and transforms them into something new and ecstatic.

Umm Kulthum performing “Baeed Anak” in Paris, November 1967.

I first met Noura in Timbuktu, Mali, in January 2012. Like me (and thousands of others), she had come to Timbuktu for the twelfth edition of Mali’s famed Festival au Désert. Unfortunately, geopolitical events had recently forced the festival’s organizers to abandon their longstanding location in the rural commune of Essakane. As a result, the festival instead took place within walking distance of Timbuktu’s city limits. One evening, as the festival was winding down, I received word of a house concert being held by my hosts in Timbuktu in their private compound just across from my quarters. Noura was scheduled to perform with her band at the festival the following day, but that evening we were treated to an intimate command performance that ran late into the night. Continue reading

LA Teens Weave Their Own Stories into the American Fabric

I’m the artistic director of artworxLA, a nonprofit arts organization that combats the high school dropout crisis by re-engaging students in their high school education through long-term sequential arts programming. Formerly called the HeArt Project, artworxLA has spent the last twenty-two years bringing professional artists into continuation and alternative high school classrooms to inspire students to embrace their own creativity, challenge their preconceived notions, and create a space for their creative voices. Our success as an organization rides on the amazing artists that live and work in Los Angeles and the fabulous cultural institutions with which we partner every year.

This school year we partnered with the Skirball Cultural Center. Inspired by objects in the Skirball’s core exhibition Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, 550 students were invited to explore their identities as individuals and community members and to draw parallels to the American Jewish experience. Over the course of ten weeks, students from twenty-five schools worked with teaching artists to explore the immigrant experience across cultures, connect the past to the present, and celebrate their unique American identities as a collection of cultures and heritages. For a minimum of two hours each week, students, teaching artists, and workshop coordinators diligently collaborated to find a creative pathway to explore these concepts. The resulting projects included performance pieces, music mash-ups, short films, poems, and visual artworks.

Above left: A sampling of the range of student artwork from Pocket Portraits completed by students at Hollywood Media Arts Academy with Teaching Artist Lluvia Higuera. Above right: A three-dimensional Poet-Tree conceived by Teaching Artist Marissa Sykes. Photos by Rachel Bernstein Stark and Paul Ulukpo.

Above left: A sampling of the range of student artwork from Pocket Portraits completed by students at Hollywood Media Arts Academy with Teaching Artist Lluvia Higuera. Above right: A three-dimensional Poet-Tree conceived by Teaching Artist Marissa Sykes. Photos by Rachel Bernstein Stark and Paul Ulukpo.

Each of the three series of ten-week workshops culminated with a public presentation at the Skirball, where students presented their artwork to one another and to members of the community. Continue reading

A Taxonomy of Dads

I’ve been to quite a few events at the Skirball’s Family Amphitheater Performances (kicking off June 21); it’s a great place to introduce your kids (and yourself) to everything from live marimba music to live porcupines. Most of the time when I’m there, my attention is devoted to my daughter—watching her delight in the day’s programming, chasing her up and down the amphitheater stairs (i.e., cardio for parents), trying to dredge up a box of raisins from the very bottom of the toddler utility tote (because of course that is the place where the thing you want will be), etc. Still, the casual observations I’ve made of my fellow parents in attendance have led me to the very scientific hypothesis that, tucked away in the catch-all descriptor of “dad,” there are various distinct subcategories of dads—a broad array of phyla in the kingdom of dads, if you will. I’m pretty sure I could fill a Birds of America-sized book with all of these dad types, but I won’t pretend that wouldn’t be kind of tedious for everybody concerned. Still, I feel that it’s my duty as a fellow dad and an armchair anthropologist to present a small sampling of dads in honor of Flag Day. I mean, Father’s Day.

Bjorn Again dad, you're living the dream, and feeling the burn (in your shoulders and back, from all the weight strapped to your torso), and waving your dad flag high. Now, some people might look at you and think, "He can't be enjoying that. Can he?" He can, unencumbered bystander, he can.

Bjorn Again Dad, you’re living the dream, and feeling the burn (in your shoulders
and back, from all the weight strapped to your torso), and waving your dad flag
high. Now, some people might look at you and think, “He can’t be enjoying that.
Can he?” He can, unencumbered bystander, he can.

Skirball_Audience Participation Dad_Family Amphitheater

Whoa there, Audience Participation Dad—the vigor with which you strut your stuff is, um, admirable, but maybe keep your weirdest dance moves under wraps.
And if you can’t put a lid on it for your own sake, then please think of the children.
Specifically, your own children. Watching you do the Funky Warthog, or the
“Duke of Weselton,” or whatever you call that number, with no regard for how it
reflects on them.

Continue reading

A Teacher Becomes Part of the Family

Getting to know the animals at Noah’s Ark at the Skirball, including this adolescent mountain gorilla. Photo by Kristin Welch Zurek.

Getting to know the animals at Noah’s Ark at the Skirball, including this adolescent mountain gorilla. Photo courtesy of Kristin Welch Zurek, pictured here.

I lived in Los Angeles for fourteen years before I discovered the Skirball Cultural Center. I don’t know what took me so long, but I’m so happy I finally found my way to this gem of a museum.

As an LAUSD kindergarten teacher, I am always searching for ways to integrate more art into my curriculum. Last summer I saw a listing for the teacher professional development program Teaching Through Storytelling at the Skirball and took a gamble. It has paid off in ways I never could’ve predicted.

The day began with a story, told by one of the Skirball educators, that illustrated many of the theatrical, musical, and physical techniques we would learn over the course of the next three days. Photo by Bebe Jacobs.

Storytime at the Skirball. Photo by Bebe Jacobs.

When I arrived at the Skirball last July, I felt like a new student as I waited on the amphitheater steps for the workshop to begin. The day began with a story, told by one of the Skirball educators, that illustrated many of the theatrical, musical, and physical techniques we would learn over the course of the next three days. How could I predict that I would find Noah’s Ark to be so exquisite, or that I would be thoroughly enchanted by the storytellers who work there? Wow. How could I predict how helpful this professional development program would be? In my eighteen years of teaching, this is in the top three learning experiences this student has had.

By lunch, I felt like a very welcome houseguest. I ate quickly so that I could visit the exhibition Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open. I went back to the exhibition three more times during my three-day visit, and each time I read more about Gary’s life and discovered new details in the art and objects on display.

Gary’s dining table in last summer's exhibition, Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open. Photo by Kristin Welch Zurek.

Gary’s dining table in last summer’s exhibition, Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open. Photo by Kristin Welch Zurek.

By the end of the first day I felt like family. I was immediately welcomed into this community, like a newfound relative you meet and bond with effortlessly. We were given passes to come back to Noah’s Ark with our real family, and I couldn’t wait to share this experience with my kids.

Over the course of the three-day workshop we explored many different modes of storytelling that used music, movement, Continue reading

Ezra Jack Keats’s Bestie

In celebration of the opening of The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats this week, the head of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, Laura Pope, shared the following note and essay from her father with us. Their words speak for themselves and help express the true joy the Skirball feels in presenting this wonderful exhibition.

In celebration of the opening of The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats this week, Deborah Pope, head of the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation, shared the following essay by her father, Martin Pope, with us. Martin and Deborah’s heartfelt words help express the true joy the Skirball feels in presenting this wonderful exhibition.

Because my father and Ezra Jack Keats were best friends, I grew up thinking Ezra was my uncle. He had not yet written The Snowy Day when I was of an age to read picture books and so when he did, I couldn’t really grasp the magnitude of his accomplishment. Nor could I, as a child, understand the fact that my father, Martin Pope, was a world-renowned scientist. For me, these two men were present as playfellows, co-conspirators, and cheerleaders.

The essay below was written by my father  for the opening of The Snowy Day and the Art of Ezra Jack Keats at The Jewish Museum in New York City, now at the Skirball. I would like to add a few words to his. The experience of poverty and prejudice might have hardened my father’s and Ezra’s hearts; instead, it made each of them, in his own way, determined to work against the perpetuation of such injustice. Their deep affection for and belief in one another fed their resolve to escape from deprived childhoods and realize their dreams, one in science and one in art. Integral to their plans was marking their path—the path of books, friendship, and imagination—to help coming generations of children find their way to better lives. Even now, at the age of 95, I think you will hear in my father’s words the depth of his continuing dedication to their shared childhood dreams.

Ezra Jack Keats (left) and my father, Martin Pope (right). Different men, kindred souls.

Ezra Jack Keats (left) and my father, Martin Pope (right). Different paths, same road.

My story with Ezra began eighty-one years ago, in the East New York section of Brooklyn, so often pictured in his books. We met in summer school; he was fourteen and I was twelve. Ezra had failed algebra because he wasn’t interested in math, I failed because I corrected my teacher. Our bond as friends was cemented that summer. Continue reading

Intersections between Architecture, Math, and Science

When I look at anything, I see mathematics in it. There is not an object or natural phenomenon that does not seem mathematical in nature to me. According to cosmologist Max Tegmark—as quoted in the July 2008 Discover story Is the Universe Actually Made of Math?—”There is only mathematics; that is all that exists.” Though the way I see the world may be strange to some, I am not the only one who sees it this way!

Taper Courtyard pond at the Skirball. What principles of geometry apply here? Photo by Thomas Amiya.

Taper Courtyard pond at the Skirball. What principles of geometry apply here? Photo by Thomas Amiya.

Every exterior and interior of every structure at the Skirball Cultural Center has a mathematical aspect, as well as a cultural purpose—from the geometry of the slate tiles in the Taper Courtyard (where music fans gather for Sunset Concerts and other programming) to the “tent of welcome” in the Ziegler Amphitheater.

Recently, I’ve been working to create a Math Trail through the Skirball, a walking tour in which students and teachers use the sights and sounds of the campus to complete mathematical challenges. The project is inspired by the Skirball’s current exhibition, Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie. One example of math in architecture that we’ll be using on the Skirball Math Trail can be found in the Ziegler Amphitheater.

Ziegler Amphitheater, on the south side of the Skirball campus. Photo by Thomas Amiya.

Ziegler Amphitheater, on the south side of the Skirball campus. Photo by Thomas Amiya.

Slope = rise/run = change in height divided by distance moved forward = 5.5 in/12.5 in = 0.44 = 44/100 = 11/25

Slope = rise/run = change in height divided by distance moved forward = 5.5 in/12.5 in =
0.44 = 44/100 = 11/25

Problem: Begin at the stage and measure the height and depth of a stair step. Estimate the slope of the stairs. Describe your process. Continue reading

My Summertime Jams

BelleBrigadeTN038Summer is coming to an end, and with it some of my favorite things about being in Los Angeles at this time of year, like the outdoor summer concerts that take advantage of the clear, crisp nights of the city. The best part about a majority of these concerts is that they are inexpensive and often free! What most attracts me to these summertime music events is reaffirmed each time I attend one: that music has the profound ability to bring people from all different backgrounds and ages together. It builds a sense of community, which is no easy task in a city as extensive as Los Angeles. Music reminds us to celebrate our lives, the people around us, and the beautiful city we are given the opportunity to live in. While there are many free summer offerings all over Los Angeles, each one offers a unique type of experience from the other.

Last year, as part of my Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Internship at the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, I was able to watch a Grand Performances: Lunch Box Noon Concert featuring the pop-folk band The Belle Brigade. The downtown Los Angeles atmosphere, with its tall, gleaming buildings that enclosed the outdoor concert, provided a feeling of togetherness and acted as an oasis to the chaotic and constant flux of its metropolitan surroundings. Set up next to an outdoor fountain, the small amphitheater allowed audience members to congregate in a more intimate space, where children, teens, and adults alike could sing along and dance all while enjoying their lunch boxes, which were handed out to audience members prior to the show. Set appropriately at noon, the performance took advantage of the perpetual sunshine this city is known for.

BelleBrigade_Sunset Concerts_SkirballIt was awesome to see my summer music experience come full-circle, when, while working as the Getty Multicultural Undergraduate Intern at the Skirball this summer, The Belle Brigade kicked off their Sunset Concerts series on July 25. As this was my first Sunset Concerts experience, I really did not know what to expect from this outdoor, all-ages music event. Unsurprisingly, in a similar way to their performance at last year’s Grand Performances concert, The Belle Brigade was able to make audience members dance and smile with their infectious melodies and catchy lyrics. The warm, starry night enveloped the attendees, providing a comforting and carefree vibe. The Taper courtyard filled with people of all backgrounds and ages: a family with four kids, racing each other from the parking lot to the venue; a young couple with their own picnic; and even local band Harriet, Continue reading

Sunset Concerts Math

Sunset Concerts math - titleSunset Concerts Math - equation 1Sunset Concerts Math - equation 2Sunset Concerts Math - equation 3Thank you, Erik Shveima, for sharing your “Sunset Concerts Math” with us. We hope our SkirBlog readers come see for yourselves how these equations add up. Click here for tips on how to make Sunset Concerts a great night out! And we hope to see you tonight for Sierra Leone’s Refugee All-Stars!

Erik Shveima is a Los Angeles–based artist with a fondness for illustrated blogs, so much so that he is responsible for two: Mixed Media Daily and, most recently, Or Best Offer.

Thanks for the Memories, Allan Sherman!

It was with a young girl’s excitement that I learned the Skirball would be presenting The Hits, the Life, and the Lost Lyrics of Allan Sherman, a conversation between author Mark Cohen and journalist/film producer Tom Teicholz about the legacy of song parodist and comedian Allan Sherman. Mark Cohen has written the first biography of Allan Sherman and I am excited to learn more about this voice that had such an impact on my childhood. I still remember listening to Allan Sherman’s songs when they were released. We had a record player in the room I shared with my sister, and that’s where we listened to his records. I don’t remember how many albums we had, but we played the songs over and over and laughed ourselves silly—including my parents. Of course, the song I remember most is from the homesick kid at sleepaway camp: “Hello Muddah, hello Faddah, here I am at Camp Granada …”

Listen to Sherman’s “Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah” here:

We really appreciated this humor for at least two reasons: First, I went away to a girl scout camp and was so homesick and unhappy, Continue reading

A Note from Sina Grace

rackcard_art

My super panel of graphic novelists.

Ever since I made the decision to leave the security of a paid day job to be a full-time graphic novelist, my goal has been this: to pursue what I love.

When Jordan Peimer, Vice President and Director of Programs at the Skirball Cultural Center, asked me to work on moderating a panel about graphic novels—a subject that aligns perfectly with the current exhibition Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open—my first thought was, “Cool, I’m completely not cut out for this.” But after some deliberation, and considering the heavy-handed Who’s the Lars von Trier of Comics approach, I concluded I’d do what I have done my whole career: follow my heart. This has always led me down the path of success, and undoubtedly would not fail me now.

There is a Los Angeles pride in me that has always considered the Skirball to be a hallmark of L.A. arts and culture for the past decade. I knew each member of this panel had to be an Angeleno. Continue reading