My Top Ten Puppet Festival Moments 2014

This past Sunday was my first time attending the Skirball’s annual Puppet Festival, and as soon as I reached the parking lot, it was obvious that everyone in attendance was filled with excitement and anticipation. Moms, dads, friends, and relatives were actively engaged in conversation while their children—many dressed in colorful costumes—were skipping with joy at the thought of seeing the myriad of puppets. Throughout the day, I observed many memorable moments; fortunately, talented photographer Peter Turman was there to capture some of them with his camera. The Puppet Festival was a full day of celebrating families, friends, and puppets! Click through the slideshow below to catch a glimpse of the day as seen through my favorite ten of Peter’s photographs.

1. My day at the Puppet Festival began in the craft room, where toilet paper and paper towel rolls were miraculously transformed into marionettes. The crafting materials afforded adults and children alike with a wide array of puppet possibilities, from a simple snake to a more complex elephant or giraffe. Most of the children designed their own imaginary creatures. The little girl in this photograph used buttons for eyes and an assortment of yarn for colorful hair. It is obvious from her mother’s expression that she is proud of her daughter’s original creation.

1. My day at the Puppet Festival began in the craft room, where toilet paper and paper towel rolls were miraculously transformed into marionettes. The crafting materials afforded adults and children alike with a wide array of puppet possibilities, from a simple snake to a more complex elephant or giraffe. Most of the children designed their own imaginary creatures. The little girl in this photograph used buttons for eyes and an assortment of yarn for colorful hair. It is obvious from her mother’s expression that she is proud of her daughter’s original creation.

2.	These puppets based on Stravinsky's ballet <i>The Firebird</i> were stunning. Their expressive, watercolored faces and colorful, billowing fabric bodies made their larger-than-life presence a true showstopper. I loved seeing the <i>Firebird</i> puppets interact with the children. Kids who were not intimidated by their giant stature would approach the puppets and then run away, giggling as if playing a game of tag.

2. These puppets based on Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird were stunning. Their expressive, watercolored faces and colorful, billowing fabric bodies made their larger-than-life presence a true showstopper. I loved seeing the Firebird puppets interact with the children. Kids who were not intimidated by their giant stature would approach the puppets and then run away, giggling as if playing a game of tag.

3.	Puppet Festival is for families! The event creates lifelong memories of spending time with little ones, listening to music, attending puppet shows, exploring Noah’s Ark, and catching up on the latest exhibitions at the Skirball. I particularly enjoyed watching the children munching on snacks as their faces lit up with awe. I haven’t seen so much kiddy food since grade school. Mini mac and cheese and granola bars for everyone!

3. Puppet Festival is for families! The event creates lifelong memories of spending time with little ones, listening to music, attending puppet shows, exploring Noah’s Ark, and catching up on the latest exhibitions at the Skirball. I particularly enjoyed watching the children munching on snacks as their faces lit up with awe. I haven’t seen so much kiddy food since grade school. Mini mac and cheese and granola bars for everyone!

4.	The expressions on the faces of the children in this photograph are absolutely priceless! There is something about puppets that keeps little ones completely engaged.

4. The expressions on the faces of the children in this photograph are absolutely priceless! There is something about puppets that keeps little ones completely engaged.

5.	The giant bird puppet created by Leslie K. Gray is always a real hit. Although it takes three people to guide the immense creature, the puppet appears to be almost weightless.

5. The giant bird puppet created by Leslie K. Gray is always a real hit. Although it takes three people to guide the immense creature, the puppet appears to be almost weightless.

6.	There’s something on your shoulder! At first I thought it was a parrot, but soon came to realize the object getting all the attention was a small puppet critter. The puppeteer laughed as visitors tried to interact with this strange yet absolutely adorable furry creation. All of the puppeteers at the event were enthusiastic about showing off their puppet friends.

6. There’s something on your shoulder! At first I thought it was a parrot, but soon came to realize the object getting all the attention was a small puppet critter. The puppeteer laughed as visitors tried to interact with this strange yet absolutely adorable furry creation. All of the puppeteers at the event were enthusiastic about showing off their puppet friends.

7.	This puppeteer on stilts, also known as Captain Tall Tale, navigated the Skirball grounds with ease. While his head seemed to reach the clouds, every now and then he would lean over to greet a much smaller visitor.

7. This puppeteer on stilts, also known as Captain Tall Tale, navigated the Skirball grounds with ease. While his head seemed to reach the clouds, every now and then he would lean over to greet a much smaller visitor.

8.	This drummer announced the entrance of the gigantic natural-elements puppets that gathered above the Taper Courtyard. Once they were in place, the puppets swayed to the beat of the drums as the audience joined in with the dance.

8. This drummer announced the entrance of the gigantic natural-elements puppets that gathered above the Taper Courtyard. Once they were in place, the puppets swayed to the beat of the drums as the audience joined in with the dance.

9.	In between shows, Captain Tall Tale and his friends brought out a jump rope. They were immediately swarmed by children who wanted to join in on the fun. This photograph captures a boy who appears to be part kangaroo!

9. In between shows, Captain Tall Tale and his friends brought out a jump rope. They were immediately swarmed by children who wanted to join in on the fun. This photograph captures a boy who appears to be part kangaroo!

10.	As the event neared an end, I looked around the crowd and it was obvious that the joy I had observed throughout the day had not diminished. Parents were still chatting, puppeteers continued to entertain, and children were happily playing. Suddenly, this small <i>Firebird</i> puppet whizzed over the children’s heads after the completion of its final performance. The children chased the puppet, reaching for the sky as if nothing could hold them down. The third annual Skirball Puppet Festival was indeed a day filled with laughter, excitement, and love.

10. As the event neared an end, I looked around the crowd and it was obvious that the joy I had observed throughout the day had not diminished. Parents were still chatting, puppeteers continued to entertain, and children were happily playing. Suddenly, this small Firebird puppet whizzed over the children’s heads after the completion of its final performance. The children chased the puppet, reaching for the sky as if nothing could hold them down. The third annual Skirball Puppet Festival was indeed a day filled with laughter, excitement, and love.

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1. My day at the Puppet Festival began in the craft room, where toilet paper and paper towel rolls were miraculously transformed into marionettes. The crafting materials afforded adults and children alike with a wide array of puppet possibilities, from a simple snake to a more complex elephant or giraffe. Most of the children designed their own imaginary creatures. The little girl in this photograph used buttons for eyes and an assortment of yarn for colorful hair. It is obvious from her mother’s expression that she is proud of her daughter’s original creation.2.	These puppets based on Stravinsky's ballet The Firebird were stunning. Their expressive, watercolored faces and colorful, billowing fabric bodies made their larger-than-life presence a true showstopper. I loved seeing the Firebird puppets interact with the children. Kids who were not intimidated by their giant stature would approach the puppets and then run away, giggling as if playing a game of tag.3.	Puppet Festival is for families! The event creates lifelong memories of spending time with little ones, listening to music, attending puppet shows, exploring Noah’s Ark, and catching up on the latest exhibitions at the Skirball. I particularly enjoyed watching the children munching on snacks as their faces lit up with awe. I haven’t seen so much kiddy food since grade school. Mini mac and cheese and granola bars for everyone!4.	The expressions on the faces of the children in this photograph are absolutely priceless! There is something about puppets that keeps little ones completely engaged.5.	The giant bird puppet created by Leslie K. Gray is always a real hit. Although it takes three people to guide the immense creature, the puppet appears to be almost weightless.6.	There’s something on your shoulder! At first I thought it was a parrot, but soon came to realize the object getting all the attention was a small puppet critter. The puppeteer laughed as visitors tried to interact with this strange yet absolutely adorable furry creation. All of the puppeteers at the event were enthusiastic about showing off their puppet friends.7.	This puppeteer on stilts, also known as Captain Tall Tale, navigated the Skirball grounds with ease. While his head seemed to reach the clouds, every now and then he would lean over to greet a much smaller visitor.8.	This drummer announced the entrance of the gigantic natural-elements puppets that gathered above the Taper Courtyard. Once they were in place, the puppets swayed to the beat of the drums as the audience joined in with the dance.9.	In between shows, Captain Tall Tale and his friends brought out a jump rope. They were immediately swarmed by children who wanted to join in on the fun. This photograph captures a boy who appears to be part kangaroo!.

All photos by Peter Turman

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Water World

Photo by Bebe Jacobs.

Photo by Bebe Jacobs.

When the rain is coming down during winter in L.A. (like it is today, finally!), the Skirball takes on my favorite look: wet. Much has been made of Moshe Safdie’s signature materials—glass, steel, and water—and how they reflect the sun, sky, and mountains. [To learn more about Safdie’s design aesthetic, visit Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie.] Those of us who live/work in one of his environments know the special secrets of how the concrete walls look wet, the patterns of raindrops on the pond, the sound of a storm against the glass, and the occasional leaf floating in a puddle.

It is with these moments in mind that I decided to create a spotify playlist—a soundtrack, if you will, for those stormy days, when the archaeology dig is closed and the buildings’ exteriors take on a mellowed hue. I invite you to pick up an umbrella and admire the Skirball in the rain with your headphones tuned to this playlist.

The Taper Courtyard.

The Taper Courtyard.

“Hljómalind” by Sigur Rós from Hvarf/Heim
The organ at the beginning always reminds me of a church organ, but the song is anything but a hymn. It’s written in Hopelandic, the imaginary Icelandic-like language the band has invented to focus their listeners on sounds rather than words, I frequently think that Jónsi is singing “you saw the light” and “you shine on us.” At the same time, for me the nonsense syllables call to mind the interplay of wet flagstone and sky in the Taper Courtyard. The final moments of the song remind me of a toy piano. Follow along with the Hopelandic lyrics, here.

“Eple” by Röyksopp from Melody A.M. (but I most prefer the Black Strobe remix off their Eple 12″ EP)
In Beaux Art architecture, in order to create a successful fountain, one needed to ensure that anyone strolling by would hear the sound of water on water, water on stone, and water on metal. Certainly on a rainy day one can hear that all of that at the Skirball. “Eple” seems to reflect the romance of falling water in at least all three of those states, plus the drama of grey skies. I think here at the base of the mountains and Mulholland Drive we benefit from a very special climate. If you’ve ever watched the clouds roll into the mountains here and become fog, you know what I am talking about. See the Röyksopp music video, here.

“Tinseltown in the Rain” by The Blue Nile
The classic but defunct indie band The Blue Nile knew a thing or two about rain: their home base was Glasgow, Scotland, a city that receives nearly fifty inches annually. While their song is not about Los Angeles but the impermanence of love, I love comparing the idea of the wet Victorian buildings (ubiquitous in Glasgow) to the Skirball’s rain-streaked modern architecture. Plus the song showcases Paul Buchanan’s plaintive voice to brilliant effect. I often sing the song to myself while I walk out the Skirball’s front door towards a rainy Sepulveda Blvd. The repetition of lyrics is a nice accompaniment to watching windshield wipers of cars stopped at the traffic light. Watch it performed live, hereContinue reading

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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

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Do It Yourself at diy days

diy days @ the Skirball is inspired by Moshe Safdie’s design strategies for the future of the global city. Here is one of his proposals for quality, affordable housing for the new millennia. The scale model is on view in the exhibition Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie. Habitat of the Future, A-Frame Habitat. View of project and surrounding landscape. Image courtesy of Safdie Architects.

diy days @ the Skirball is inspired by Moshe Safdie’s design strategies for the future of the global city. Here is one of his proposals for quality, affordable housing for the new millennia. The scale model is on view in the exhibition Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie. Habitat of the Future, A-Frame Habitat. View of project and surrounding landscape. Image courtesy of Safdie Architects.

I first met Moshe Safdie around 1990 when the Skirball Museum staff began to work in earnest on the planning of this cultural center. Over the years of our collaboration with him, he would mention in passing his work in Canada, Israel, and India, and I was always amazed at how he could juggle so many projects at once—no doubt due to the talented team he has assembled.

As I prepared for the opening of Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdiea recent Domus story describes the exhibition and Safdie’s architecture very well—I began to consider how to address topics at the heart of his design philosophy. [Moshe Safdie’s “first principles” include Humanizing the Megascale, Building Responsibly, and Responding to the Essence of Place.] I didn’t want to offer yet another lecture course on architectural history. Instead I wanted to engage our audiences Continue reading

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President’s Greeting: Nov/Dec 2013

This November 28, we mark a once-in-a-lifetime coincidence in Jewish and American life: Hanukkah begins on the same day as Thanksgiving. Actually, that’s once in many thousands of lifetimes. It won’t happen again for 80,000 years!

This year’s calendar can help us appreciate the meanings of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving. Both holidays are occasions of gratitude, and both are celebrations of freedom.

In the original proclamation of George Washington, dating to 1789, Thanksgiving Day is set aside to appreciate “the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed.” In 1863, in the midst of the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving for “continuance of years with large increase of freedom.”

Hanukkah is the Jewish echo of American ideals: the courage to resist tyranny, the struggle for religious liberty, the dedication (which is the meaning of the word “Hanukkah”) Continue reading

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Moshe Safdie: Rain or Shine

Designed by Moshe Safdie, the National Gallery of Canada was the first venue for Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie. Updated to include some of Safdie’s many recent projects, the exhibition makes its U.S. debut at the Skirball today. Image by Timothy Hursley.

Designed by Moshe Safdie, the National Gallery of Canada was the first venue for Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie. Updated to include some of Safdie’s many recent projects, the exhibition makes its U.S. debut at the Skirball today. Image by Timothy Hursley.

About three years ago I woke up in Ottawa, Canada, to a driving rainstorm. It was the morning after the gala opening of the exhibition Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie at the National Gallery of Canada. I was there to represent the Skirball, where the exhibition would be traveling next, and I had plenty of company—not only museum colleagues, but donors, press, media, and government leaders and dignitaries from throughout Canada. The gala was a major event, and today’s lecture by Moshe Safdie seemed like an afterthought. It was scheduled for Friday midday, not a great time for a public program in any case, and certainly not when the rain was lashing the streets and sidewalks. I lamented the poor planning and the unlucky weather. It would be embarrassing, after such a triumphant opening, for Safdie to address an empty hall.

The wind was whipping the rain sideways. By the time I turned the corner, my umbrella was inside out and I was drenched. So were the people I suddenly noticed queued up in front of me, standing patiently, if wetly, in a line stretching for blocks. I couldn’t believe it. There must have been 500 people standing in the rain, an hour before the lecture, waiting to hear Moshe Safdie. The hall wasn’t empty; it was sold out. These people were waiting to get in. Not all of them did. They watched the lecture instead on a video screen outside. In the rain.

No rain here! Lucky ticketholders for Moshe Safdie’s sold-out lecture at the Skirball this past Sunday queued up in the sunshine with a view of autumn leaves.

No rain here! Lucky ticket holders for Moshe Safdie’s sold-out lecture at the Skirball this past Sunday queued up in the sunshine with a view of autumn leaves.

By the way, it was worth it. Moshe Safdie is a gifted, dynamic speaker with a rare combination of humility, humor, and grace. But I knew that. What I had failed to appreciate, Continue reading

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Bring on the Buses!

How do we mark the passage of seasons here at the Skirball? Well, as this is Los Angeles, there are few, if any, golden autumn leaves to be found on our campus. But the color gold abounds every fall nonetheless—in the form of public school buses that line our main entrance each and every weekday morning.

These buses carry some of the Skirball’s most precious visitors: students in pre-K through twelfth grade and their teachers, from more than thirty districts across Los Angeles. They come to participate in any one of the number of school tours and performance programs we offer throughout the school year. While we’re proud to be providing content-rich programs that are fun and engaging, I am also struck by how much the students give back to us. Their enthusiasm and curiosity bring the Skirball to life and remind me why I love what we do here.

Recently, I cleared my calendar of meetings and snuck down to our galleries to observe a morning of school programs in action. Here are some snapshots from that day.

We welcomed four classes of students on this particular day. That’s pretty typical for us, and our team has it down to a science (really, an art). Here comes a class of kindergarteners from Yorkdale Elementary in northeast Los Angeles. Darn, they’re cute!

We welcomed four classes of students on this particular day. That’s pretty typical for us, and our team has it down to a science (really, an art). Here comes a class of kindergarteners from Yorkdale Elementary. Darn, they’re cute!

These five- and six-year-olds from Yorkdale Elementary have come to experience Noah’s Ark, our award-winning, hands-on destination inspired by the ancient flood tale. The two young Noahs-in-training pictured here are helpfully conveying a pair of monkeys onto a giant floor-to-ceiling wooden ark made of Douglas fir.

These five- and six-year-olds from Yorkdale Elementary have come to experience Noah’s Ark, our award-winning, hands-on destination inspired by the ancient flood tale. The two young Noahs-in-training pictured here are helpfully conveying a pair of monkeys onto a giant floor-to-ceiling wooden ark made of Douglas fir.

Meanwhile, back in our core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, a class of third-graders from Estrella Elementary sits around a table set for the Jewish holidays. For this program, “At Home in Los Angeles,” the students learn about Shabbat, the weekly day of rest in Jewish tradition when families refrain from work and spend time together. Our Skirball educator is inviting the students to discuss the holidays and customs they observe with their own families. One of the girls mentions eating homemade tamales every Christmas Eve with her family, who comes from Mexico.

Meanwhile, in our core exhibition, Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America, a class of third-graders from Estrella Elementary sits around a table set for the Jewish holidays. For this program, “At Home in Los Angeles,” the students learn about Shabbat, the weekly day of rest in Jewish tradition when families refrain from work and spend time together. Our Skirball educator is inviting the students to discuss the holidays and customs they observe with their own families. One of the girls mentions eating homemade tamales every Christmas Eve with her family, who comes from Mexico.

At the Skirball, students learn through doing and experiencing things together. Here’s a jubilant young guy and his fellow classmates learning a traditional Jewish song.

At the Skirball, students learn through doing and experiencing things together. Here’s a jubilant young guy and his fellow classmates learning a traditional Jewish song.

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Love Letters to Gary Baseman

Skirball_Gary Baseman - The Door Is Always Open - Skirball Cultural CenteWhile it is quite difficult for all of us here at the Skirball to close the door, literally and figuratively, on the exhibition Gary Baseman: The Door Is Always Open, this Sunday will be the last day it will be on view in our gallery.

Over the past four months, it has been a joy to have one more whimsical place within the Skirball to welcome our visitors and encourage them to let their imaginations run wild. And it is no small perk that the artist is local. Gary Baseman’s regular presence in the gallery made for a unique experience and everyone from our two-year-old guests to the security staff has been won over by his playfulness and his talent. PicMonkey CollageVisitors did not waste any chance to interact with Gary, whether face to face, or via the multiple options made available throughout the exhibition. I thought I’d take this chance to share a few that came across my desk.

Upon admission, visitors were offered a postcard to fill out and drop in Gary’s mailbox at the “front door” to the exhibition. The Skirball collected them and, playing mailman, is delivering them to the artist himself. This is just a small sample (click on the images to get a closer look):hotchachacha postcardtoby postcard collagebuckingham warrior postcard collage
In Gary Baseman’s studio space at the Skirball, sketchbooks were left out for visitors to unlock their creativity, show their artistic talents, and share their love for Gary. Here are a few examples I found (click on the images to get a closer look):Sketchbook Collage

We also received many pictures of people posing in the exhibition on social media with the hashtag #basemanshome Continue reading

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Rhythm Is Gonna Get You

The mission of music group Rhythm Child has always been to get people of all ages up and moving. For the past six years Rhythm Child founder, Norm Jones, has been inspiring young drummers and their families to get up and move as part of the Skirball’s Family Amphitheater Performances series. If you’ve been to any of the group’s last six performances, you know that once Jones passes out his instruments and lays down a beat, the Amphitheater comes thumping to life! I’ve always loved the energy and enthusiasm of Rhythm Child, so I thought it would be interesting to find out more about this fun and feisty musical collective as they plan for their Amphitheater performance on July 21st.

How did you get started in performance?
I grew up being inspired by the performance of others (my brother’s band, choirs in church, supper club shows that my mom took me to). I watched how these singers moved the audience with style, humor, and emotion. For years I practiced at the mirror in my basement before I ever took the stage and performed for people.

What part of performing for live audiences do you enjoy the most?
I love the immediate feedback that you get from a live audience. There is an exchange of energy that is unquestionable. There is a feeling of being out there on the edge without much of a safety net and usually the audience is open and willing to go for the ride. What I hope for is that everyone walks away feeling connected and inspired.

What is the most memorable moment from your career?
I must say that performing at the White House was pretty cool. I got to have my family with me on stage for one of the greatest days of my career.

What music or artist inspires you? Continue reading

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