Video Festival Takes to the Freewaves

How does an arts festival counter Southern California's notorious geographical sprawl? The LA Freewaves festival of independent video art hit on one solution: It took the airwaves to the freeways.

The citywide festival, which concludes Sunday and spotlights alternative work by local video artists, was assembled by 35 grass-roots arts organizations. The backbone of the program is a series of four "Road Shows," 2-hour presentations that have traveled to sites from Santa Barbara to Newport Beach since they first appeared at the AFI Video Festival last month.

"We decided to take these four curated road shows on tour for two weeks after AFI," said Ann Bray, the former video curator at Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, who played a key role in assembling LA Freewaves. "The idea was to show the community a sampling and say, 'If you're interested in any of these areas, there's a full program that goes with each of these tapes.' "

The "Road Shows"--which are also being broadcast on 20 local cable outlets--are augmented by 25 individual exhibitions presented by participating organizations. Other venues--such as the Long Beach Museum of Art and Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions--have aligned their current video art programming with the festival. The Museum of Contemporary Art is featuring the teleplays of Samuel Beckett through Nov. 26.

This weekend, programs are scheduled at Self-Help Graphics in East Los Angeles, EZTV in West Hollywood, Highways in Santa Monica and the Watts Towers Art Center.

Said Bray of the selection process: "Around June and July, we had an open call of work in which 200 tapes came in from Southern Californa video makers. Then we started meeting to create the structure, thinking that the work should determine how we are going to go about doing this.

"We didn't want to say, 'Here's a festival of 25 events and you're doing this.' We wanted to reverse it, (so) that each organization had an effect on the structure."

The $15,000 budget for LA Freewaves was provided by the Los Angeles City Department of Cultural Affairs. But the major impetus came from volunteer efforts by the participating organizations and artists looking to foster citywide exposure for independent works. Many of the LA Freewaves events are free and those with admission charges generally fall in the $3-$5 range.

"Technically and conceptually, the works are on the sophisticated side because we live in media by living here," said Bray. "Because alternative points of view are emphasized, no one in the show is attempting mainstream ideas or visuals.

"Interracial works seem more common here--you can be mixing cultures within your tape. In visual art, with Post-Modernism, it's a collage of styles working side by side. Here, in interesting (video) works, it's a collage of cultures."

The cross-cultural mix is one characteristic that O.Funmilayo Makarah said is true of her work. Makarah is involved with In Visible Colors, a loose cooperative of film and video makers that formed around the time she arrived in Los Angeles for postgraduate work at UCLA in 1974. She returned here last year after a decade in Europe and wound up curating the In Visible Colors program featured at the Black Gallery Saturday.

"My thing is to encourage more people to take the chance," declared Makarah, whose work was featured at the Woman's Building last weekend. "Sometimes, it's a risk to allow yourself to look at something coming from a different perspective. But it's real important that we allow ourselves to be open enough to let other people express what they wish to express the way they want to express it."

Bray sees LA Freewaves as a spur to future collaborative work by local organizations.

"I think the media community is seriously learning to work together in a very positive way," Bray said. "Very few people had worked together before--all of us knew some of the players, but no one knew everyone else.

"Our secondary goal was to expand audiences for everyone involved. Long-range, I'd hope for people to understand that there is a true community of independent and alternative work being done in the shadow of Hollywood."

Makarah is optimistic that LA Freewaves will succeed on both counts and become an annual event providing an important outlet for local video artists.

"I think the response indicates that people want to see this type of work," she said. "They are willing to approach video so that video is different from what someone else programs for you when you turn on the television. The only thing that crosses my mind is that (if) this is so huge this year, what's going to happen next year?"

LA Freewaves information: (213) 657-6558.

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