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Monterey Park Art + Film Lab: A Travelogue from the LACMA9 Outpost

Musico | Photo: Rafael Cardenas.

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

Somewhere past where Cesar Chavez Avenue becomes Avenida Cesar Chavez, past where the Jalisco markets, cemeteries, and Brooklyn Hardware yield to boba and buck-fifty Daiso shops, lies Monterey Park. The fourth stop of LACMA's traveling Art+Film Lab and just seven miles from downtown L.A., Monterey Park holds the largest Chinese-American population of any U.S. city. Taiwanese potato and flower farmers first settled here in 1920, followed by an overseas-born professional class that financed massive commercial development in the 1980s. The third influx came from South L.A. working-class families of Vietnamese, Taiwanese, and Chinese descent. A site of nativist tension in past decades, Monterey Park, along with nearby Alhambra and San Gabriel, now form a beloved cultural corridor many Asian Angelenos call home.

Since last June, the LACMA9 Art+Film Lab -- a traveling film and video workshop, cinema, and oral history project -- has been tracing the historic movement of Latino, African American, and Asian American families from south to east of LA. Like a travelling troupe, the Lab's teaching artists, film programmers, and projectionists mobilized westward, hoping to bring locals diverse offerings of film culture. We started off in a high-desert depot on the University of Redlands campus, then moved onto San Bernardino's Perris Hill Park, where a whole march of life transpired: family reunions, protests over the Treyvon Martin verdict and housing inequities, birthday parties, angry suburban youth playing freeze tag in pitch darkness. The San Bernardinans gave us an outpouring of oral histories. One vet shared about his struggles with PTSD. Two kids extolled the virtues of Splash Kingdom, a water park off the I-10. Two boys, consoling one another with hugs and kisses, shared about their grandpa's recent passing. As part of her LACMA9 video series "Believing is Seeing,"artist Nicole Miller created this portrait of San Bernardinan Emilio Amaya. In this excerpt, Emilio strums corrido music and talks about his political asylum work with the women of Juarez, Mexico.

Excerpt from Believing is Seeing (2013) by Nicole Miller from LACMA on Vimeo.

Next, we traveled to Altadena, at the base of the San Gabriel foothills just north of Pasadena. Altadena gave us a taste of old L.A. with its slower pace, mom n' pop stores, and decidedly non-institutional vibe. Love of family emerged as an oral history theme, perhaps not surprising given Altadenans are often three- to five-generations deep.

Through February 9, we're encamped on the East Los Angeles College (ELAC) campus in Monterey Park, at the corner of Collegian Avenue and Avenida Cesar Chavez. The Lab, a trailer outfitted in bright sherbert, lives tucked between two grey monoliths: the Vincent Price Art Museum and the Recital Hall of ELAC's new Visual and Performing Arts Complex.

The Monterey Park Art+Film Lab is housed on the East Los Angeles College (ELAC), a place synonymous with Chicano consciousness and activism in the 1960s and 1970s. Oscar Valeriano, ELAC's Vice President of Student Services, told me how the likes of educator Sal Castro, land and labor activist Bert Corona, and student organizers such as Moctesuma Esparza forever changed Latino identity in the U.S. The then ELAC student body orchestrated classroom walkouts in 1968, and also organized the 1970 Chicano Moratorium, an anti-Vietnam War and social- justice demonstration which led nearly 30,000 protestors through East Los Angeles streets. Claiming former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, councilwoman Gloria Molina, and actor Edward James Olmos among its alum, ELAC has emerged, in recent years, as a dominant, regional training ground for professional artists.

Photo: Rafael Cardenas

Our Opening Night celebration kicked off with an amazing live musical set by local luminaries Buyepongo. Buyepongo's repertoire channels an array of music traditions, including Afro-Caribbean roots music, Central and South American beats, hip-hop, merengue, punta, and cumbia. The audience danced until they were sore.

Screenings happen in the Recital Hall on a gorgeous, state-of-the-art theater stage. Our full line-up of free film screenings, film and video making workshops, and oral history hours can be found here.

Monterey Park Art+Film Lab highlights include upcoming Mini Docs and Composition workshops, as well as all-day oral history sessions.

On January 31, check out the LACMA9 shorts program, an all-ages friendly screening featuring experimental works by Chick Strand, D.A. Pennebaker, and the Echo Park Film Center.

February 7, we screen Charles Burnett's short The Horse, followed by Tommy Lee Jones' Tex-Mex border drama, "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada."

Then on February 8, catch legendary actress Gong Li in a sweeping Chinese cultural epic and love story, "To Live."

One of the more exciting developments of the series is our partnership with Self-Help Graphics & Art, the venerable East Side visual arts nonprofit that marked its 40th anniversary last year. Self Help and LACMA9 staff will be facilitating oral history sessions for Self Help-affiliated artists. Selected excerpts will appear in coming months on LACMA's YouTube channel.

Golden Girls | Photo: Juan Escobedo

Self Help, perhaps more than any other organization, placed Chicano art on the map of American art. Over the years, Self Help Graphics has sustained the careers of hundreds of Latino visual artists while enabling community access to artmaking. They house professional printmaking, silk screening, and ceramic facilities; run ateliers; and produce, exhibit, and archive Chicano art.

An upcoming exhibition at LACMA, "Fútbol: The Beautiful Game," will feature limited-edition serigraphs by Self Help print artists Carolyn Castaño, Nery Gabriel Lemus, Amitis Motevalli, Ana Serrano, and Dewey Tafoya. The exhibition runs February 2-July 10, 2014.

For communities and youth, Self Help offers an Open Printmaking Studio, public art workshops, and no- to low-cost visual arts workshops. In addition to printmaking, silk screening, and ceramics, Self Help's repertoire includes digital media, aerosol art, Mexican folk art, and T-shirt making.

First and Boyle | Photo: Rafael Cardenas

One of the most enduring contributions of Self Help Graphics is their annual Dia de Los Muertos event, a celebration of the ancient Mexican holiday honoring the duality of life and death. Self Help's East First Street facilities is also the site of the East Los Angeles Film Festival, programmed by TELA SOFA, the East Los Angeles Society for Film & Arts. Showcasing short films from around the world, with emphasis on Latino voices, this year's Festival runs from September 13 through late October.

While visiting the Lab, be sure to check out the Vincent Price Art Museum (VPAM). A "young museum with an old soul," according to director Karen Rapp, VPAM champions contemporary sculpture, ceramics, painting, video, and photography by regional and West Coast artists. Karen tells me their curatorial focus is on artists who, for different reasons, haven't received the exposure they deserve: artists deemed too avant-garde or traditional, mid-career artists, or underrepresented artists of color. A schedule of upcoming exhibitions and programs, including Rafa Esparza's on- and off-site solo performance show (February 8-April 25), can be found at VPAM's website.

Skater on Indiana | Photo: Rafael Cardenas

LACMA9's next stop is Hacienda Heights Art+Film Lab. Along with an open house, the Lab hosts a live performance by Chicano Batman and a screening of a remarkable documentary, These Birds Walk, by Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq on Friday, February 21.

We end with a nod to Self Help-affiliated photographer Rafael Cardenas, who's spent decades documenting East Los and Boyle Heights. His black-and-white photographs, featured here, bring to life a remarkable region. Maybe you can hear and feel the street life and an old and new Los Angeles, colliding together.

Photo: Rafael Cardenas
Dosdeasada | Photo: Rafael Cardenas
Photo: Rafael Cardenas
Photo: Rafael Cardenas
Photo: Rafael Cardenas
Photo: Rafael Cardenas
Rain hoodie | Photo: Rafael Cardenas
Trickledown | Photo: Rafael Cardenas
Chicano Batman | Photo: Rafael Cardenas

The LACMA9 Art+Film Lab thanks Dean Vi Ly of East Los Angeles College, the East Los Angeles College Foundation Board, and The James Irvine Foundation for enabling the Monterey Park Art+Film Lab. We would also like to thank ELAC Vice President Oscar Valeriano; Vincent Price Art Museum Director Karen Rapp; artists Rafael Cardenas, Nicole Miller, and Duncan Cheng; Buyepongo; and Juan Escobedo of TELA SOFA for their contributions to this blog. Additional source material provided by the November 2, 2013 issue of La Calavera Pocha, Strangers from a Different Shore by Ronald Takaki, The First Suburban Chinatown by Timothy Fong, the City of Monterey Park, and Wikipedia.

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