A redefinition of activism and ideation has taken root in Los Angeles’s historic Leimert Park neighborhood. Standing alongside theaters, homes, and parks that once housed names as famous as Ray Charles and Ella Fitzgerald, Art + Practice (A+P) has erected a groundbreaking hub for innovation through art, research, and social engagement. One year ago artist Mark Bradford, philanthropist Eileen Harris Norton, and social activist Allan DiCastro launched the A+P Foundation while aspiring to unite the intangible with the concrete, and abstract creation with logistic practicality.
Specifically, A+P focuses on providing educational and professional development for youth in the foster care system while simultaneously promoting the arts as agents of social change. Last Saturday a public showcase of the organization’s inaugural year was displayed at its 4339 Leimert Boulevard campus.
Visitors attending the reception were first presented with A+P’s public gallery space that exhibited a piece titled Librettos: Manuel de Falla/Stokely Carmichael, by Charles Gaines -- a conceptual artist based in LA. Famously known for his work with grids, systems, and patterns, Gaines has constructed a spontaneous social commentary via two distinct sources: Spanish composer Manuel de Falla’s 1904 opera La vida breve, and a speech written and delivered by Stokely Carmichael in 1967.
Carmichael’s fervent and moving speech, which called for a refusal of African American involvement in the Vietnam War, is presented in a series of transcriptions displayed in conjunction with de Falla’s score. The visual blend of notation and diction from both the opera and the manuscript gives rise to many provoking coincidences – a trademark of Gaines’s work. The musical composition, written by de Falla, details the story of a romance doomed by contradictory social dynamics. The score is then harmoniously joined with lines from Carmichael’s impassioned protest. By obscuring the distinction between the auditory and enumerated expressions regarding both racism and classism, Gaines emphasizes the universality of these issues.
As well as exhibiting critically renowned works, A+P provides resources and studio residencies to developing and emerging artists in the LA area. During Saturday’s opening reception, local artist Sandy Rodriguez opened her on-campus studio and shared over thirty paintings that she has created within the last seven months. As told by Rodriguez herself, the pieces on view largely focus on the shifting influence of fire, fog, and tear gas, with subject matter ranging from burning effigies in the heart of Mexico to police standoffs with civilians and journalists in Ferguson. The artist herself will speak on site in Leimert Park on Wednesday, March 18th at 7:30pm along with Isabelle Lutterodt of the Angels Gate Cultural Center in San Pedro.
In order to tangibly promote and encourage the connections between innovative creation and personal growth, the newly established A+P campus also hosts a research lab and educational space. By partnering with the Rightway Foundation, A+P provides developmental classes and mentorships for the notable population of foster youth in the Leimert Park area. These opportunities enable young adults and children in the foster system to transition more smoothly into vocational independence by assisting with career building, counseling, and more. In 2014, the organization has had a remarkable impact on LA’s foster youth, resulting in an increase in the number of individuals attending a four year university and achieving employment status following exiting the foster system. According to the foundation’s website, 36% of participants attended college in the past year, versus only 1% of the general California foster population. Additionally, 74% of participants were able to achieve employment within four years emancipation from the foster system, versus 49% of the general California foster population (therightwayfoundation.org).
Art + Practice’s gallery is located at 4339 Leimert Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90008 and is open with free admission from 12:00-6:00pm, Tuesday through Saturday.
By Christian Bumala
Art Section Editor