Art in L.A.: The Perfect Cross-Cultural Bridge


We Angelenos come from a variety of cultures and practice a daily diversity of identities. We work if we can find it. We frolic at the beach or the parks and hills. We pat our pets on the head. Some of us are active in our neighborhoods. Some volunteer for causes or movements.

We are second-generation Russian-Polish-Jewish immigrants, transplanted from New York in 1973. Joan works for the state Department of Corrections; Paul is in the telecommunications field. Unusually, we are proud to own a home near Downtown in a Latino-Filipino-Korean neighborhood. We live with the stress of less-educated and poorer immigrant families. We are active in organizing our neighborhood to create a higher quality of life, and active in the arts because our souls so compel us.

Into our lives and those of the city come Peter Sellars and the triennial Los Angeles Festival. This year, we volunteered to help with 22 events at 15 venues throughout the city, as varied in theme as Iranian cinema before and after the Ayatollah Khomeini, and Harmonica (Henry) Fats and the Blues Players. We have assisted the honorees and sat front row on opening night with former Mayor Tom Bradley for a gospel revival at the Vision complex, an amazingly wonderful place.

Los Angeles works best as a volunteer town. The best way to do the festival is to volunteer. It’s not just that it’s free that way; most of the events are already free. But on the inside track, life in Los Angeles can be full of pleasant surprises.


The first night, as we drove south, we sensed the effects of a state and city fiscal crisis on the arts in general and the festival in particular.

We half-expected frustration around 43rd Street and Crenshaw Boulevard to eat our white faces up. But we walked the area with impunity, sampled homemade bread at Jimmy’s, enjoyed Ken’s photography and the art at the Leimert Park galleries. The strength and integrity of the gospel performances were amazing.

Art in this city transcends politics and teaches tolerance.

Many of the events we assisted with were films. Lori Fontanes and Meena Nanji, festival film organizers, have kept the theme of “home, place and memory” alive for the peoples of North Africa and the Middle East, be they secular Arab, Muslim or Jew. All are united in reverence for perfection of body and soul made in Hollywood’s dream factory. All sublimate war to art and share cultural differences in film viewing and debating. As Angelenos watch film, they develop an appreciation for the viewpoints of others. This appreciation allows us to share neighborhoods and to cooperate to improve the common community.


Without cross-cultural education, communication in this city breaks down. Art as a teaching tool is vital to the survival of Los Angeles.

“Chickpeas” gave us a comedic mainstream look at three Armenian boys from bombed-out Beirut who emigrated to East Hollywood, and a Raffi who appropriated and converted a motorcycle to cans of garbanzo beans and eventually became a successful Armenian grocer. The tracing of custom, language and daily Armenian life in Los Angeles was a joy to behold and answers questions of immigration and differences between, say, Salvadorans and Armenians.

The events we went to were all well attended. Obviously, word of mouth works well in this town. Let’s learn to make L.A. work by sharing the responsibility.

Music at the Getty was presented in the reflection of statues in the fountain pool and evoked all of the spirit of a sultan’s ambrosia. It would be wonderful if more Angelenos of color visited this venue.


Let’s create the “halo-halo,” the “insalata mixta,” the cross-pollinating of tolerance and education that is required for responsible democracy to work in this town.