Signal Hill has long been a communications point on the Southern California landscape. In an earlier era, Native Americans signaled their brethren with fire and smoke, from Santa Catalina Island to the foothills of the Coastal Range bordering what is now L.A.

Today the signals are electronic, connecting us--at the click of a mouse--to vast, new worldwide networks.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Active Arts of the L.A. Music Center Poised to Step Up for Downtown's Renaissance

The Los Angeles Music Center is poised to take a big step in support of L.A.'s Downtown Renaissance. We learned recently in an LA Times article that the Music Center's president, Stephen Roundtree, is in early discussions to take over management and programming of the 12 acre Civic Park, once its major makeover is completed.

This is good news for the arts, for L.A., and for the Music Center. As attendance drops and as communities become increasingly disenchanted with the "citadel on the hill" as the civic icon for music presentation, performing arts centers are looking for new paradigms for success.

In response, with leadership from its Active Arts program, the Music Center is broadening its mission and is re-thinking the architectural persona it presents to its community. It is transforming itself from a performing arts center to a civic cultural center.

And it is about to embark upon a redesign of its own plaza, with its iconic Joseph Lipchitz "Peace On Earth Fountain," in conjunction with the redesign of the Civic Park across Grand Avenue, both seen in the photo of a model of the site above.

Plaza re-designers will be challenged to make the structural links to the park that are necessary for embracing the community, since the Music Center is built upon a "hill" on top of an existing structure that provides essential parking, but serves to distance itself from the community. If the Music Center were built from scratch today, it is likely it would follow the path taken more recently by the Newark Performing Arts Center, keeping entryways at street level, and creating pathways that connect visitors with the city as part of their musical performance experience.

But, despite the architectural challenges, it is encouraging to note that, if handed the reins, the Music Center's Active Arts program would overcome these physical limitations for integration of the site with the community, through its unique management and programming.

(Click on "Active Arts" in "Labels" for this post below for previous posts on related topics.)



  1. Good job, my friend. I hope all yours presentation in this blog.

  2. Richard -

    Your article and the related article from the LA Times suggest I was right 50 years ago when I declared LA an urban disaster and wrong when I determined it was beyond redemption.

    I was the product of the forests and rivers of Oregon and was lusting for an urban mecca. Rather, I encountered the smog, the sprawl, and the social isolation of sprawl while attending Pomona College in Claremont. The highlight of each semester was an all too brief escape via a cheap air flight to San Francisco.

    On one rare occasion we scrounged a car to drive to attend the San Francisco Opera in Los Angeles - in an utterly nondescript structure that could well be mistaken for an Atlas Van Lines storage building.

    Of course, I knew there was more. I subscribed to the now defunct but still honored Arts and Architecture magazine which focused on design in Southern California. But the design innovations were in private structures - and I, being carless, and Los Angeles being without decent public transit, my only experience of good design was in print, not in person. Better to stay in Claremont and read architecture magazines in the library.

    The one elevating experience in all my time in the Los Angeles area occurred four years after graduation when I was passing thru and took time to visit the Watts Towers. In my mind, at least, that was about the only interesting public building in all of Southern California.

    And now? Now I am pulled in every direction by the wealth of design in Southern California. Yes, much of it is in the private sphere. But the emergence of outstanding public design proves again the foolishness of youth. I just hope I have enough age left in me to enjoy it all.

    Jerry Parker
    Olympia WA

  3. Thanks you, Jerry, for your witty and informed remarks.

    As Michael Govan, the new director of the Los Angeles County Museum of arts says in a recent LA Times Patt Morrison interview, we are a new city. But in the ephemeral arts, we have always been an experimental city. Witness the attraction of John Cage's expansive notion of music and today Redcat Theater, attached to the Disney Hall, and run by renegades from Cal Institute of the Arts.

    And now this venerable institution--the LA Music Center--is exploring a new mission for itself. Not merely providing a "public service," but at its very roots, questioning its role in "musicking," exploring new a understanding of the meaning of music, itself. This is West Coast artistic innovation at its finest; rooted not in the "work" but in the broader activity of musicking.