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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My Sukkot Traditions

My sukkah, set for a potluck lunch with friends—old and new.

My sukkah, set for a potluck lunch with friends—old and new.

Next to Passover, Sukkot is my favorite holiday. I think it always was, but it became even more so when, sixteen years ago, I invited a gentleman named Burt to join me and my family for dinner in my sukkah. I don’t think it was the brisket or homemade round challah, but later that year we were married and Burt has joyfully been building that sukkah ever since. A win-win.

My tradition of building a sukkah began forty years ago when my youngest daughter, a student in a local day school, said she would like to invite her classmates to enjoy some juice and cookies in our sukkah. Didn’t I think that was a great idea, she asked? I agreed, but surely she must have noticed that we didn’t actually have a sukkah. Not a problem. She quickly and enthusiastically suggested that it would be great fun to build one. She was right, and so began a wonderful and very meaningful tradition.

We designed it, according to Jewish law, in the shape of one of the Hebrew letters found in “Sukkot.” We selected the “hey,” a square letter that is wide open on one side. Oh, the symbolism! A trip to the hardware store to buy the decorative wooden lattice sides, a talk with the gardener to request some palm fronds, and a call to my synagogue to order a lulav (closed palm frond) and an etrog (citrus fruit), Continue reading

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Reading the The New Guard: Twenty-First-Century American Jewish Fiction

I met Taly Ravid when I enrolled in her course “Anne Frank Redux,” offered earlier this year through the Skirball’s Learning for Life program. In that course, Taly led fascinating sessions that combined engaging lectures and discussions about Anne Frank’s original diary as well as other literary treatments of the book. Taly, who is completing a PhD in English at UCLA specializing in contemporary American literature, created a stimulating environment that produced dynamic, meaningful conversations no one wanted to end. In fact, due to the students’ enthusiastic response to the course, an additional session was added!

The line-up for Taly Ravid's upcoming course at the Skirball.

The line-up for Taly Ravid’s upcoming course at the Skirball.

I have no doubt that Taly’s new course, “The New Guard: Twenty-First-Century American Jewish Fiction”—beginning next Wednesday, September 25—will offer an equally enriching experience. Read Taly’s interview below to learn more about what inspired her to create this course and to get a sense of her innovative thinking and breadth of knowledge, which are matched only by her contagious passion for American literature. There is still time to sign up! You can register here…

What inspired you to develop this course?
A few years ago, the New Yorker published its “20 under 40” list—a much-buzzed-about group of promising, notable writers under the age of 40 who are at the top of the American literary scene. About a third of the writers on the list are Jewish, yet David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker, insisted (in a New York Times interview) that the writers have nothing much in common, and the press paid little, if any, attention to these writers’ affiliation with Judaism. That struck me as a big cultural shift. Just a few short generations ago, the literary world bound writers like Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow, and Philip Roth to their Taly Ravid's bookshelfJewishness. Those writers were presented to readers not as American writers, but as American Jewish writers. This latest New Yorker list seemed to be doing the opposite. Continue reading

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Family Photo Comes to Life

Ever had a picture come to life before your eyes? Recently, while sitting at the admissions desk, I had the opportunity to speak with a mother and daughter visiting from New Jersey. After several questions about our Visions and Values: Jewish Life from Antiquity to America exhibition and the docent tour, I came to understand that these ladies had journeyed a long way to see a particular photograph on display. It was precious to them because they are the descendants of the family captured in the image.

Karen (left) and Ann (right) join in their family photo.

Karen (left) and Ann (right) join in their family photo.

If you’ve ever visited the Liberty Gallery in Visions and Values, you’ve probably seen this photo reproduction near the Statue of Liberty torch. And, like most of us, you’ve probably wondered about this family. I asked Karen Humphreys and Ann Riley, great-great-granddaughter and great-granddaughter of matriarch and patriarch Sylvia and William Mirkin (seated in front of the bride and groom), to pose in front of the photo and it really brought it to life! Ann’s grandparents, Jacob and Sarah Schneper, or “Bubbie and Pop,” stand to the bride’s right-hand side. Karen’s strong family resemblance to her great-grandmother Sarah and great-aunt Bertha (peeking her head through between the bride and groom) is almost magical.

Pulling in our docent coordinator Noga Sherman to capture as much of the family story as possible, we learned that six of the Mirkin children are included in the wedding picture of son Jacob (Jack) and his bride, Anna (née Danzig), taken June 13, 1911. All had recently arrived from Russia (a seventh child stayed behind), and they were celebrating this marriage in the new land in high style. Note William’s traditional skullcap and the younger men’s top hats, accessorizing the family’s already grand fashions.

Skirball_FirstWedding_painting

The 1911 wedding photo and this related painting, First Wedding in the New Land by Marlene Zimmerman (also on view in the gallery), were donated to the Skirball by Harry and Ida Mirkin’s grandchildren—Howdy Kabrins, Ron Kabrins, and Sandy Bayley—in 1996.

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President’s Greeting: Sep/Oct 2013

Main Lobby_Skirball_

Skirball Main Lobby. Photo by Timothy Hursley.

Upon entering the Skirball’s main lobby, visitors step into a light-filled greeting area. Its skylights afford views of the expansive sky. The architecture of this entryway is reminiscent of ancient sukkot (plural of sukkah), the temporary booths inhabited by our ancestors on their journey to the Promised Land. The holiday of Sukkot—the Jewish harvest and thanksgiving festival that takes place during this time of year— reminds us that those who came before us lived in the most simple of dwellings where the spirit of welcome was ever-present. Across our campus are many such warm and hospitable gathering spaces.

This fall, we pay tribute to our architect, Moshe Safdie, whose design for the Skirball gave form to our mission to engage and embrace all who visit. The first exhibition to be mounted in all of our changing galleries, Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie is an insightful retrospective spanning more than four decades of Moshe’s distinguished career.

Moshe Safdie and I surveying the Skirball site from the construction trailer.

Moshe Safdie and I surveying the Skirball site from a trailer during the early years of construction.

Upon first meeting Moshe in the mid-1970s Continue reading

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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

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Sunset Concerts at the Skirball Week 6: Dendê & Band

Dende2The Skirball’s Sunset Concerts—FREE Thursday night performances of the best in American and world music—finish up this week with Dendê & Band, rhythm-heavy Afro-Brazilian music led by master percussionist and composer Dendê Macêdo. Throughout the season, SkirBlog has featured a preview of the week’s upcoming performer written by a member of our Programs department. Read about this year’s final performance below, then make your way here on Thursday to watch the show in our magnificent outdoor courtyard. Dendê & Band, this Thursday, August 29, at 8:00 p.m.

When I walked into New York’s famed S.O.B.’s (Sounds of Brazil) and first saw Dendê & Band, I immediately knew that the mixture of African percussion and Brazilian melodies would make for a perfect addition to Sunset Concerts. Bahia-born bandleader Dendê currently splits his time between the Brazilian state and New York City, and along the way he has collaborated with some of the world’s great musicians, including David Byrne, Zakir Hussain, and Vinicius Cantuária. He has been performing since he was a young teenager, and while he leads a number of combos with slightly different focuses, all his music is about percussion and has been a hit from the Kennedy Center to Lincoln Center and at festivals around the world.

As a bandleader, Dendê exudes the charisma to create deep audience connections and his music easily cajoles even the most reticent onto the dance floor. The sound is a wonderful mixture of traditional Brazilian melodies and Afrobeat with added flavors of reggae, merengue, and other tropical sounds that will sweep you onto your feet. Time Out New York says the music “ought to delight fans of Afrobeat and psych-tinged funk.” Rest assured, when Dendê & Band start playing, you will be out of your seat and on the dance floor.

Watch the official video for “Cafézinho” by Dendê & Band:

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Angelenos, Come to The Wild Side

Hunter Hunted at the last Into the Night event in July. Photo by Lindsey Best.

Hunter Hunted at our last Into the Night event in July. Photo by Lindsey Best.

Local bands Jenny O., In the Valley Below, and Body Parts as well as sets by KCRW DJ Travis Holcombe, oversized games, live wild animals, cocktails, craft making, a balloon artist, nighttime activities in Noah’s Ark, and screenings of Dr. Seuss’ The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T—that is what we can offer if you join us Friday, August 30 for our end-of-the-summer extravaganza, Into the Night: The Wild Side! For a little insight into the three local bands who will be performing, members of our Programs Department discuss the band they’re most excited about bringing to the Skirball:

JennyObyMelanieBellomo

Photo by Melanie Bellomo.

When I saw Jenny O. perform at The Echo back in March of this year, along with Harriet (who performed at the Skirball on July 12), the chatting, mingling audience (including myself) was immediately captivated. Jenny has a surprisingly demure yet powerful stage presence, and her band has a warm, old-timey sound that is reminiscent of The Beach Boys and Harry Nilsson, whom Jenny O. cites as her greatest influences. Her latest album, Automechanic (featuring accompaniment by Jake Blanton of The Killers), is full of deeply personal lyrics and interesting harmonies that are a testament to her artistic growth since her 2011 EP, Home. I’m really excited to see the band perform at the Skirball, and am looking forward to hearing some of my favorites like “Automechanic” and “Well OK Honey” live!
—Kasia Gondek, Program Coordinator

InTheValleyBelow_1I cannot remember how I found In the Valley Below. It might have been one of those Bands-You-Ought-to-Have-Heard lists, or maybe a friend or colleague recommended them. But ever since I played their first EP, I’ve been describing them as my new favorite band. Continue reading

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Sunset Concerts at the Skirball Week 5: Maria Muldaur and The Campbell Brothers

Muldaur-Cover-courtesy-of-F

Courtesy of Folklore Productions

The Skirball’s Sunset Concerts—FREE Thursday night performances of the best in American and world music—continue this week with a world-premiere collaboration between Maria Muldaur, singer of the megahit “Midnight at the Oasis,” and the rock gospel ensemble The Campbell Brothers. Each week, SkirBlog will feature a preview of the upcoming performer written by a member of our Programs department. Read about the band, view photos and videos … then make your way here on Thursday to watch the show in our magnificent outdoor courtyard. Maria Muldaur and The Campbell Brothers, this Thursday, August 22, at 8:00 p.m.

Nearly anyone familiar with American folk music from the 1960s will think fondly of Maria Muldaur. Since her early days in Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band, Muldaur has been a major voice in American music. She is best-known for “Midnight at the Oasis,” but throughout her career Muldaur has worked with some of the most important names in music including Bob Dylan, John Sebastian, and The Grateful Dead. She has always approached traditional Americana with complete reverence, even when sounds like country and western music were out of fashion, so it comes as little surprise that in recent years she has become one of the leading female voices singing the blues. Continue reading

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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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