Los Angeles is a city of “yes,” home to “America’s most powerful export” and a city that is a crucible of media and technology.
Those were some of the key themes discussed Friday at the Creative Culture Salon, a half-day event held at the Hammer Museum as part of the LA3C festival taking place this weekend at Los Angeles State Historic Park.
“L.A.’s a beautiful hot mess – that’s what makes it special,” said Cesar Garcia, founder of the Mistake Room nonprofit art space in downtown. Garcia made the case that L.A.’s arts and culture scene needs to get over its insecurity about comparisons to New York.
“We need to stop trying to catch up with what people are telling us we need to be,” Garcia said, suggesting that L.A.’s avant-garde scene needs to “embrace that uncertainty and discomfort.” He added, “The best work we’ve done as an arts organization is the work we did whenever everyone told us we were wrong.”
Garcia was one of nearly a dozen speakers who offered 10-minute sessions at the salon, moderated by former CNN White House correspondent Jessica Yellin, who now runs digital media startup News Not Noise. The salon was capped by the presentation of the inaugural LA3C Awards to people and organizations that reflect the festival’s themes of celebrating the culture, creativity and global diversity found in Los Angeles.
Honorees included legendary anthropologist Jane Goodall, former LA Opinion publisher Monica Lozano, famed chef Alice Waters, K-pop stars Seventeen and Bang Si-Hyuk, chairman of South Korean entertainment conglomerate HYBE.
Yellin opened the gathering in the Hammer auditorium by detailing her L.A. bona fides as a native and daughter of the late developer Ira Yellin, who was noted for rescuing and restoring historic downtown structures such as the Bradbury Building and Million Dollar Theater. Jessica Yellin told the crowd she returned to her hometown to launch the company after working as a journalist on the east coast because in her experience, “L.A. is a city of ‘yes’” for entrepreneurs, compared to the more skeptical here’s-why-that-won’t-work environment in New York.
Julia Boorstin, CNBC’s senior media and tech correspondent and author of the new nonfiction book “When Women Lead,” extolled the influence that Hollywood wields around the world.
“Hollywood is America’s most powerful export,” she said. “Not only does it reach people around the world, the narratives they tell and the archetypes they create drive social change.”
Boorstin began covering social media in its nascent phase. She quickly realized that there were benefits to being in Los Angeles rather than directly in Silcon Valley. “Being in L.A. gives me great perspective on what kind of technology people actually use,” she said.
The sessions covered a gamut of topics from sustainability and the organic food movement (Common Table Creative’s Oliver English) to service and advocacy for the LGBTQ community (journalist Zach Stafford and LA LGBT Center’s Phillip Picardi) to proactive philanthropy (Helena project founder Henry Elkus). Singer-songwriter Anjulie provided a musical interlude of three songs with acoustic guitar accompaniment.
John Szabo, L.A. City librarian, spoke of the institution’s success at turning one of its biggest challenges – the spike in the number of unhoused people seeking shelter in the downtown main library – into “wrap-around” services for its patrons that amounts to a human rights success story. Library leaders made a push to bring representatives and resources from L.A.s’ many social service agencies together on a regular basis at the downtown library, allowing for one-stop shopping for those who want help getting off the streets.
Josh Kun, author and interim dean of USC Annenberg Thornton School of Music, painted a poignant picture of what he called “the most important place to hear music in L.A.” His site was not the Disney Hall or Hollywood Bowl or Dolby Theater but “the corner of Commercial Street and Alameda” in downtown L.A. It’s directly across from the county’s 10-story men’s central jail. Kun detailed the phenomenon of families bringing musicians out to play on the corner to reach the ears of those behind bars.
Jason Foster, president and chief operating officer of Destination Crenshaw, impressed the room with his rundown of the plans for the 1.3-mile redevelopment project that is targeting the heart of Crenshaw Boulevard in South Los Angeles, a central hub of Black-owned businesses for decades. The effort has been brewing since 2011, when funding was approved to build a train to Los Angeles International Airport that will originate in the Crenshaw district.
Foster sees Destination Crenshaw’s mission as nothing less than achieving “spacial justice for Black people in Los Angeles” after decades of systemic disinvestment in the community by the city, state and private businesses. The plan includes planting more than 800 trees along the north-south thoroughfare to address the inequity in greenspace and air pollution compared to the region’s more affluent neighborhoods.
There’s also a strong focus on nurturing small businesses and offering alternatives to Hollywood and Beverly Hills to Black creatives who are rising in the entertainment industry. Foster noted that Black creatives have “high intrinsic value” to the city, more so than ever. “Ultimately, the chief export is Black creative capital from that community” and there is a need to “capture that value so we don’t lose the essence of what we create in Black Los Angeles.”
Later in the evening, Goodall spoke with spoke with passion about the urgent need for coordinated action to address the fallout of climate change on poorer countries and communities in the U.S. She urged the crowd to do more to promote the values of conservation and sustainability among youth. The famed primatologist who is renowned for her studies of chimpanzees, was feted with the Culture of Hope kudo.
“I see our species at the mouth of a very long and very dark tunnel,” Goodall said. “At the end of that tunnel is a little star shining — and that’s hope.”
(Pictured top: Jason Foster of Destination Crenshaw)