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LACMA9: Inglewood Art + Film Lab

Teaching Artist Kate Marks with workshop participants. | Image: Courtesy of Moonlight Media.

In partnership with LACMA9 Art + Film Lab LACMA9 Art + Film Lab, in residence in nine communities, offers free art and film workshops, an oral history project, outdoor film screenings, plus a day of free admission to LACMA.

The City of Inglewood, adjacent to LAX and presently the epicenter of a huge artistic movement, showed us. The eighth city of LACMA's traveling Art+Film Lab, Inglewood showed up en fuerza on Opening Night, making us feel, after a long journey's end, that we finally arrived home. A huge contingent of artists, families, and students turned up, transforming the lawn of Inglewood City Hall on Manchester into a dance party / community cinema. The gypsy film caravan had finally "arrived" -- not because of what we've accomplished, but because there was a positive, receptive community who had come out to embrace us.

The perfect night started with a live set by the amazing polyrhythmic fusion band Buyepongo, who promptly inspired a conga line. Artist Michael Massenburg welcomed us, and then shared powerful remarks about the role artists played in transforming Inglewood. Michael then introduced a slideshow of visual artworks from Inglewood. The evening capped with a screening of animated short films, including Trevor Knapp Jones' "The Sasquatch" and the Girl and Jessica Poon's "Origin," featured here.

Through the Lab's five-week run, the city's residents showered tons of love. More than any other partner city, they pro-actively helped spread the word about the Lab. They personally thanked and applauded our audiovisual tech staff after each film screening. They packed our workshops in record numbers and created amazing works.

Peter, a library worker in his sixties, talked about wanting to make films in Burma. Jasmine, a college student so confident she should become the next president, according to teaching artist Kate Marks, said she was going to make films in Vietnam. Aumaha wants to create documentaries, while Sean and Tiffany want to build up the confidence to direct. Beverly and Christine, teachers from LAUSD, came out to create films, as did Delphina, a caseworker who supports people with disabilities.

Some of the fiction films created include: "Hey Tina," a short film where a guy is chatting up a girl he likes on the phone; "Cuckoo Bird," a surreal film where a woman thinks she's a bird; and "The One That Got Away," about an attempted robbery and a she-nerd. Meanwhile, documentary films spanned the birth of jazz, the history of Inglewood, bad cereal choices, teenagers relating to high school, Helen Lundenburg's "The History of Transportation" petroglyph, and the power of art. Comedy and poetry infused many works. Teens, adults, and seniors worked collaboratively to realize group films.

Closeup of editing | Courtesy of Moonlight Media
Closeup of editing. | Image: Courtesy of Moonlight Media.
Hanul Bahm setting up shot for oral history | Courtesy of Moonlight Media
Hanul Bahm setting up shot for oral history. | Image: Courtesy of Moonlight Media.   
Workshop participants filming on streets | Courtesy of Moonlight Media
Workshop participants filming on streets. | Image: Courtesy of Moonlight Media.   

Inglewood residents surprised us with their ease and expressive range on camera. The Beacon Arts Building, a former Bekins storage facility turned artists' workspace, sponsored an artist-themed oral history day. Many artists spoke about their involvement with Inglewood Cultural Arts (ICA), an artists-run nonprofit founded in 1998. Hearing their stories both on- and off-camera, a picture emerges. Inglewood's cultural vitality appears to be a direct result of a community of artists who organized, over time, to generate their own political leverage and opportunities. Waves of artists have been coming in, each one finding one another and creating an artist mecca with their own hands.

Michael Massenburg, a celebrated mixed-media artist who's made Inglewood home since the early 90s, shared some insights on the evolution of Inglewood's art scene.

In the mid 1990s, according to Michael, a community task force created Inglewood's Cultural Master Plan. An outgrowth from the Plan was Inglewood Cultural Arts, a grassroots arts organization that generated festivals, performances, programming for youth, exhibitions, and cultural tours of Inglewood. Then came a successful people's movement to restore "History of Transportation," Helen Lundenberg's WPA petrachrome mural formerly on Florence near Centinela; it was rededicated in its new location in Grevillea Art Park. A gallery on South La Brea briefly flourished, then folded.

Nine years ago, Otis alum and artists Renee Fox and Kenneth Ober moved to Inglewood and founded Inglewood Open Studios, an annual festival for artists to open up their private workspaces and showcase their art. As Open Studios grew, it united more and more arts contingents within Inglewood, from Crenshaw Blvd. to Hyde Park, by literally placing them on a map together.

Michael expresses that there's a lot of different art -- "figurative, abstraction, and conceptual type work. A little bit of food for everyone, no matter what their taste is." Asked if there's a defining characteristic to the arts in Inglewood, Michael explains, "There's no thing that binds aesthetically. There's different people, levels of education, some are self-taught, some are MFAs. But what bonds us is a is a sense of openness toward sharing and having a dialogue, basically an open dialogue with whoever comes into the studio." He emphasizes the artists featured are "working, professional artists -- seriously into the craft of creating." They are exhibiting, working on commissions, teaching at local universities, employed at non-profits or as architects.

This year's Open Studios will feature dozens of emerging and established artists and take place on Saturday, November 8 and Sunday, November 9. A printable map of studio locations can soon be found here.

The Beacon Arts Building and 1019West, both creative complexes with studio spaces located in Inglewood, emerged after Open Studios. According to Inglewood artist and journalist Anne Cheek LaRose, a third Inglewood arts complex is underway.

Massenburg, aware of the cycle that may come to be, shared his hopes for incoming artists, stating he'd love the newer ones to feel more invested in community. "Maybe go ahead and purchase property. Some of the artists live just outside of the community. 'Now that I work here, I want to live here.' When they live and work in the community, they can have a say in what the future can be...and see that the community is well kept, well run, and that the services are there. I don't want what happens historically to artists, where they come into a community that's neglected, then they get priced out and can no longer live it's like now, they become history. Like me, I own a house... we have artists who went into spaces that were not going to be used, and created dynamic spaces. A number of artists will continue to be a part of {Inglewood} and feel invested in it."

In Michael's own works, he describes the intention as being as spontaneous and free flowing as possible, leaving ample space for the element of surprise.

"I like the journey of things, even through I may have an idea or concept in the beginning. I like to gather and collect stuff, and then I like to play and experiment with it. I use mixed medium, collage, assemblage, and see other artists... It allows me to not be worried about failure, allows me to change. I want to create a sense of freedom when I'm working."

Michael's art, a breathtaking range of assemblage, painting, photography, and design, draws source inspiration from history, the now, the future, as well as Michael's colleagues and family. He enjoys collaborating with other artists, including with choreographer Pat Taylor, and sometimes creates "live works" based on what's happening on stage with poets and musicians. "I'm always like a gumbo of different ingredients. The work I do now is like my personality. If I were to choose one music form that closely relates to how I work, it'd be be-bop. Dizzy Gillespie, Parker, Miles Davis. The same song would be completely different the following gig, depending on who was in the band and where they were playing."

Michael Massenburg, "Still I Rise" | Photo: Hanul Bahm
Michael Massenburg, "Still I Rise." | Photo: Hanul Bahm. 

As of this writing, the extended road trip and heaping physicality of pulling off the Lab is drawing toward its end. We've been displaced strangers in high desert outposts, the native lands for many First Nation tribes. We've set up camp in base of the San Gabriel Mountains and San Bernardino foothills. We've gone deep in East Los, in the "Heights," and in South Los Angeles. And now, we're within earshot the longshoremen and warehouse workers of the Port of Los Angeles. One thing I've learned: through all the road-weariness, when you meet your match, you feel brand new. The Lab taught me not to be afraid to go wide. We live in a remarkable region, layered with history, culture, people's movements, and the stories of natives and migrants, way beyond what a blog could cover, and what even excellent journalism can't completely describe. Some of the most compelling communities we encountered or heard about, never even made mention into these pages. So, they are yours now to discover. In that discovery, you may find home.

You can listen to some of the amazing people we encountered along the route on our freshly launched LACMA9 oral history channel. In a month, we'll launch a channel of community-made video works, on LACMA9's website.

The Inglewood Art+Film Lab required the support and care of many partners. We'd like to thank: Sabrina Barnes, Director of Inglewood Parks, Recreation and Library Services; the Inglewood Arts Commission; Frances Tract and Joel Rane of the Inglewood Public Library; artists Michael Massenburg and Deborah Lambert of the Beacon Arts Building; Anne Cheek LaRose of Inglewood Today; and arts consultant Helen Lessick. The LACMA9 Art+Film Lab is supported by a grant from the James Irvine Foundation.

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