Sellars is director of Los Angles Festival

The 1990 Los Angeles Festival is about being alive in what is probably America’s most populous city at the end of the most momentous century in history. Taste it. It’s quite a feeling. This is a festival about diversity and reality. It is about being at home with the world, because the world lives here now, and the world is our home.

And there are a lot of people to meet. The range of what is offered to us every day in Southern California is simply staggering, and most of us, by geography, by habit, by training, and by definition, are missing most of it. When I moved to L.A. two years ago, I didn’t know where to begin. Most people I met here did know the direction they were starting in and were living in very specific worlds. But when will these worlds converge and form a city? Los Angeles is a giant beginning. It is a huge world capital that is just starting out. It’s time for the next step--meeting ourselves and each other.

Consider this festival to be a way in, a place to start, and a mode in which to continue; a door to your own neighborhood, or the next neighborhood over. A chance to get out and have a good time with people you know and a lot of other people who you don’t know yet but who you will have the pleasure of getting to know as we try and make the next century happen here.

A festival is a surprise, an unexpected pleasure. It’s the moment in which you suddenly and almost accidently find that your mind has been opened. You see someone differently. It hits you what all the fuss is about. Or you begin to notice a different way of doing things. And the surprise is that something different is completely engaging, and maybe even pleasurable. It’s the moment when something that was far away is suddenly close. It’s an occasion for the discovery of something completely new, or the chance to find something completely familiar with friends in a new setting, in a new context, in a new light, and in the new world.


Our modern lives are ruled by juxtaposition--the wildest and most inane juxtapositions, non sequiturs and anomalies. We listen to Beethoven’s “Eroica” while washing the dishes, the television is showing clips of the great civil-rights marches while we eat potato chips. What is an acceptable dress code in 1990 in the United States of America anyway, and what are the various definitions of obscenity in our national life? A festival is a set of juxtapositions, contrasts and counter arguments that do have a meaning, that do make sense, and that do lead somewhere. There is a thread. There are many threads--in this case, grass skirts and Adidas shorts. There are sparks that ricochet and set each other off. A festival is about making connections, taking a world that is impossibly fragmented and all over the place and beginning to put the pieces together.

It means moving beyond the usual boundaries and labels, and just starting out with as much honesty as we can muster in the direction of direct experience and elementary personal contact. So we shed the blinders. At first, all of the directions, distractions and opportunities are confusing, even overwhelming. But the only thing to do is get over it and move forward. So this festival is about meeting people, finally, outside of their official categories. It’s about giving the avant-garde a tradition, a home, a purpose and a family tree. And it is about tradition that is alive, up-to-the-minute, and to the point. It is about relations across disciplines, across genders, across generations, across ethnic lines and across the street.

And it is also an excuse to finally do something that is not business-as-usual. Let’s face it, in our expanded world, business-as-usual is not an adequate response to the current challenges. We are living in a period that demands new approaches, new perspectives, a flier or two, some lucky breaks, and some basic affection. We are going to have to extend ourselves.

Please have a wonderful time with this festival. Just plunge in. We deliberately set out to have many more events than anyone could possibly comprehend or even get to. No two people will have the same experience of the totality of this festival (rather like Los Angeles itself), but in the meantime there should be plenty to do. My advice is cancel everything in your life for two weeks. A festival is, after all, a total immersion.

And let’s face it: The experience of art is a total immersion. You can hold nothing back and everything that happens to you along the way is part of the process and adds up in the final moments. Some of the most important experiences are things you don’t like, that are boring, or that you are actually moved to hate. Those experiences tell you a lot about yourself and a lot about the rest of the world and fuel great late-night conversations. Other experiences strike you so sharply and so clearly and the connections are so deep that connections are triggered to feelings that you have sensed but never known how to talk about or put your finger on.

Today’s artists are mapping challenging territory like AIDS issues, homelessness and social welfare, racial and ethnic identity, and spiritual inquiry. These are the questions that lie deep in our hearts every day of our lives, but that appear vaguely or even blank on many of the official maps we’re working with. The artists are scout teams that have been sent ahead, introducing us to our future by way of a steady and penetrating regard for the present.

And of course, many artists have different strategies. I think that one surprise for people coming to this festival will be how open-hearted, available and generous most of the work is. Most artists recognize that we are living in a period of apparently unresolvable inner conflict, of inexplicable fears, small, petty coldnesses and a strange dispassion. They are compensating with work that is passionate, warm, intense, courageous and free. The thematic emphasis of this festival is art that concerns itself with the issues of community, and that in itself a healing force.

People always ask me what I would recommend in this huge festival program, what’s the inside scoop? My advice is to pick a few things from our vast list that you simply must see, things that you recognize or that pique your curiosity in some odd or irresistible way. It’s also good to choose people whom you’ve always wanted to meet. After all, that’s how we programmed a lot of this festival. But then, you should also take some long shots. Go for something completely unfamiliar, that you know nothing about or, indeed, already dislike or disagree with. Go, meet it, see it, check it out, just to make sure. Or maybe to be surprised.


Be prepared to have a great time. But I really mean that. Prepare yourself. Not in the sense of doing your homework (although that’s never hurt), but in the sense of getting ready for a big moment in your life. For two weeks, be in the mood for art, let it swamp your life. Feel the emotional and intellectual energy coursing through your system in an atmosphere of stimulation, high spirits, reorientation, and liberation. Make the connections, make the breakthroughs.