New Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center opens Sunday in Watts


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It looks like the Friends of Watts Towers Arts Center are friends again -- with the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, that is.

Last year, the nonprofit organization that seeks to protect the architecturally fragile, city-run Watts Towers was up in arms because Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had presented former Cultural Affairs chief Margie J. Reese with the lovely parting gift of an artwork-on-a-shovel by John Outterbridge, one of 13 shovels designed by Los Angeles artists and commissioned for 2003’s ceremonial groundbreaking for the Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center, named for the jazz master, adjacent to the existing facility. The Friends demanded the return of the artwork to the city for display at Watts Towers.


The gift turned out to be a big ‘oops’ on the part of all involved, and Reese obligingly dug the city out of its PR hole by returning the shovel. And on Sunday morning, Friends of Watts Towers Arts Center president Rudy Barbee will join Mayor V., current Cultural Affairs chief Olga Garay and a host of other special guests for the grand opening of the youth center.

The event will kick off the Charles Mingus-Son of Watts-Musical Caravan, funded by a $70,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, a nine-month Cultural Affairs program that includes concerts, art exhibitions and the like. The caravan is part of the 27th Annual Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival and the 32nd Annual Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival -- which ought to be enough mention of the phrase ‘Watts Towers’ in a single event to keep the Friends friendly for quite awhile.

--Diane Haithman