Marching Forth to Sound of Spoken Word: A Curatorial Statement

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

Choose Your Path, Change the World



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.

all the best, nick

This e-mail from Nicholas D. Kristof, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist, arrived some eighteen months ago, in February 2014. It was the moment the Skirball’s newest exhibition, A Path Appears: Actions for a Better World, was born.

The Skirball’s first collaboration with Kristof was the exhibition Women Hold Up Half the Sky in 2011, Continue reading

My Pilgrimage to Manzanar

­­­Over a year ago, I began conducting research for the exhibition Manzanar: The Wartime Photographs of Ansel Adams, which features photographs and other artifacts that depict the treatment of Japanese Americans at the incarceration camp in Manzanar, California, during World War II. Soon after I started, I realized that, in order to gain a true understanding of the material, I had to visit the camp itself.

Photo by Thomas Schirtz.

Photo by Thomas Schirtz.

Manzanar War Relocation Center was one of ten remote camps where approximately 120,000 Japanese American citizens and resident Japanese aliens were incarcerated following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in eastern California’s Owens Valley, about 220 miles northeast of Los Angeles, the town of Manzanar—the Spanish word for “apple orchard”—developed as an agricultural settlement beginning in 1910. Continue reading

“The Lost Tapes”: Things I Learned from Knowing and Remembering Bill Graham

In the exhibition, be sure to stop at the final “Remembering Bill Graham” section. There you’ll hear excerpts of many interviews and well as excerpts from the radio tribute, which I called “Laughter, Love & Memories,” which I produced in 1993.

In the exhibition, be sure to stop at the final “Remembering Bill Graham” section. There you’ll hear excerpts of many interviews as well as excerpts from the radio tribute, which I called “Laughter, Love & Memories,” which I produced in 1993.

When you visit Bill Graham and the Rock & Roll Revolution, you will find a listening station towards the end of the exhibition. If you put on the headphones, you’ll hear excerpts from one-of-a-kind audiotapes that I have loaned to the Skirball for the exhibition, all recorded for my radio show after Bill Graham tragically died in 1991. You’ll listen to John Popper, Blues Traveler frontman, calling me from a payphone off Bleecker Street (in New York City) to share memories of Bill. You’ll hear Richie Havens performing “Dreams” by Stevie Nicks in Bill’s honor while talking to me about the early days with him. You’ll catch the late legendary Phil Ramone telling me how Bill recommended to The Recording Academy that they give Phil an award based on his many accomplishments (that became a reality a decade later when Phil was honored with the GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award). You’ll hear those audio segments and so much more.

Here’s a preview of the clips of John Popper calling me from a payphone in downtown NYC, and of Richie Havens in the studio with me telling me about the first time he met Bill Graham.

I was especially happy to be able to share these treasured tracks because for many years I didn’t know the recordings still existed! Here’s what happened. Continue reading

Happy New Year, Skirball Trees!

Every morning when I come to work, I never take for granted how beautiful this campus is. The Skirball is home to hundreds of gorgeous trees, and I am proud to oversee a crew of expert landscapers from Four Seasons Landscape Services who keep them healthy. In honor of the Jewish holiday of Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish “New Year” for trees, I’m happy to share a few little fun facts about our lovable family of Skirball trees.

Number of Trees on Campus: 270

Number of Species: 40—Just to name a few, the campus grows California pines, London sycamores, Italian cypresses, magnolia trees, Japanese maples, gingko bilobas, jacarandas, plum trees, and cherry trees.

Unofficial Skirball Mascot: Before we broke ground on constructing Herscher Hall and the Guerin Pavilion, construction crews identified the circular driveway outside the north garage as the best place to position a crane. But in order to install it, we had to remove one olive tree that was planted there. I knew I didn’t want any harm to come to this magnificent tree, so we had a crane lift it, box it, and carefully move it to higher ground. From its new hillside spot perched over the construction site, it became our mascot for the duration of the long and involved building process. The crew and I lovingly named him Charlie. Years later, when the new facility was nearing completion, we moved Charlie back to his original spot near the north entrance, where he is thriving. I have a soft spot for Charlie and always say hello to him!

On the left, the orange arrow points to Charlie in his special spot during construction.  On the right, Charlie is the center of a group of olive trees that greet our visitors  at the north entrance to the Skirball. Click on the image for an expanded view.

On the left, the orange arrow points to Charlie in his special spot during construction.
On the right, there’s Charlie in the center of a group of olive trees that greet our visitors
at the north entrance to the Skirball. Click on the image for an expanded view.


Most Exciting Tree Rescue: If you’ve ever been to one of our Sunset Concerts or just hung out in our central Taper Courtyard, then you know that it features eight tall jacaranda trees. Continue reading

Yarn Bombing the Skirball

<i>Forest, For the Trees</i> at the Skirball. Photo by Martha Benedict.

Forest, For the Trees at the Skirball.

On select dates from January 15 through 25, visitors to the Skirball will be able to experience Forest, For the Trees, a unique and beautiful installation by local collective Yarn Bombing Los Angeles (YBLA) and the Arroyo Arts Collective. YBLA have been creating public art with fabric in Los Angeles for a number of years—from community projects to guerilla “bombs”—in locations all over town. Perhaps you’ve seen a parking meter wearing a sweater or a museum façade covered in afghans? I sat down with Carol Zou, YBLA’s self-described “head poncho,” to discuss this whimsical environmental installation that will live (and grow!) in our Family Art Studio for a brief but lively and colorful period.

What exactly is a yarn bomb?
Yarn bombing is a form of self-initiated public art using knitting or crochet. A yarn bomb transforms any item in a dull, drab environment by wrapping it in a colorful crocheted or knitted yarn piece.

What is it about working with yarn, felt, and other fiber-based materials that appeals to people? It seems like, right now, people of all ages and stripes are knitting or doing needlepoint and macramé. Are we just in the midst of a crafty era or is there something about these practices that appeals to people universally?
There’s a couple of answers to this question, and I think it all has to do with the tension between tradition and technology. With the rise of a digital and virtual world, people are starting to become nostalgic for activities that involve working with their hands in a tactile way. Working with traditional technologies such as knitting or crocheting is also a response to the development of new technologies—an individual, handcrafted object becomes really special in this age of mass production. Additionally, people participate in knitting and crocheting in order to connect to past generations. During our workshops, people inevitably start talking about their grandmother or their aunt who did this type of work. If we look at this trend as a larger metaphor, I would say the renewed interest in fiber arts is about people’s ability to find their personal identity in a hyper-digitized world through connecting to their family traditions and handcrafting an individual object.


How did YBLA get started? Continue reading

Light & Noir: Through the Curator’s Lens

Red Carpet Season is well underway, and if you watched the Golden Globes last night, wasn’t it nice to glimpse a bit of classic Hollywood glamour?

Here at the Skirball, we’re approaching the halfway mark of our own homage to the Golden Age of American filmmaking, Light & Noir: Exiles and Emigres in Hollywood, 1933-1950. As KCRW’s Edward Goldman says, “From the get-go, it’s a winner.” With only about seven weeks to go until the proverbial credits roll on the show, I sat down with curator Doris Berger, who conceived of the exhibition and worked tirelessly on it for more than two years before its October “premiere.”

Curator Doris Berger in a vintage dress for the opening of Light and Noir.

Curator Doris Berger in a vintage dress for the opening of Light & Noir.


Is there one particular object in the exhibition that moves you especially deeply?
There are so many objects that move me in this exhibition. It was really hard to decide sometimes what to include and what to leave out. The correspondence of Carl Laemmle, the founder of Universal Pictures, to his extended family in 1938 is incredibly affecting—full of humility and conviction to help others. In a letter to his nephew William Wyler, Laemmle pleads for him to do everything he possibly can to help other refugees. Here’s a quote from that letter: “The Jewish situation in Germany has been getting on my nerves for a long, long time. I feel that these poor, unfortunate people need help the worst way. … If you want to do something really big—something that will give you an immense amount of pleasure—issue one or more affidavits, as many as your means permit. … I feel that every person in America, Jew or non-Jew, with a heart, should do his bit, and thereby get an immense amount of satisfaction and possibly save one or more lives.”

Laemmle also wrote a simple Christmas card to other family members on which he writes, Continue reading

A Show of Love


Now on view in Fallen Fruit of the Skirball: a selection of portraits of people who love each other, all submitted by the public. In making the selection, the artists looked for candid moments that were personal but also spoke to the broader public—smiles, hugs, hand-holding, kisses, and other gestures of affection that everyone understands. Photo by Timothy Norris.

Since May of this year, the Los Angeles art collaborative Fallen Fruit (David Burns and Austin Young) has been in residence creating Fallen Fruit of the Skirball, a multi-phase exhibition exploring the meanings of love and commitment. For the central part of this project, the public was invited to submit photographs of themselves with someone they love. A selection of these would then be displayed salon-style over the custom-designed pomegranate wallpaper covering the walls of the Skirball’s Ruby Gallery. People from Los Angeles and beyond, including several from our own Skirball community, responded to this call for participation.

With the proliferation of smartphones, with which we can take and post snapshots and selfies on social media at any time, we are able to capture moments with loved ones and express ourselves more easily than ever before. But there are also photographs from old family albums and archives, studio shots and wallet-sized prints. Fallen Fruit embraced all kinds of portraiture to explore complex expressions of love—friendships, marriage, familial ties, and nuanced social messages. They carefully sorted the submissions and chose images to construct a collective portrait of a lifetime, from birth and adolescence through adulthood and old age.

Once the portraits started pouring in, so did the amazing stories behind them. The images portray weddings, both recent and long ago; couples celebrating anniversaries; grandparents sharing special moments with their grandchildren; mothers holding newborn babies; a young dad napping with his toddler children; and a gay couple getting married on the day the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was overturned. Continue reading

The Green Room, Merch Table, and More: Behind the Scenes at Sunset Concerts

It’s been a busy summer at the Skirball’s Sunset Concerts! As the Program department’s summer intern this year, it’s been a great experience to learn what it takes to put on one of these concerts each week. Now that I have four of them under my belt, I thought I’d share a little bit of what takes place in the hours before show time. Here’s a glimpse at what took place on August 7 as we prepared to present The Haden Triplets.

1:25 p.m.: I arrive at the Skirball later on concert days since we will be working late into the night. It is a sunny day with a light breeze and I chat with security staff about the perfect weather for tonight. We might even need to put sweaters on later!

1:30 p.m.: I have eight e-mails and a voicemail waiting for me. All except one are regarding last-minute updates to press parking or artist accommodations. I make all the necessary changes to our databases.

Additional-Sunset-Concert-Photos-003 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