Newsletter: Essential Arts: Institutions talk diversity, but Latino representation remains weak
That giant smacking sound you hear is me slowly working my way through The Times’ list of where to eat outside in L.A. right now, compiled by food scribes Bill Addison and Jenn Harris. At this time, I’d like to announce that I’ll be leaving my husband for this chicharrón at Broken Spanish. I’m Carolina A. Miranda, arts and urban design columnist at the Los Angeles Times, and I’m here with all the chicharrones and essential culture news:
First, the good news
It is Pulitzer season, and The Times has racked up some impressive wins! Editorial writer Robert Greene took home the prize for a series of editorials related to criminal justice reform, while Brittny Mejia and Jack Dolan were named finalists for an investigation into the L.A. County medical system.
Even closer to our heart: Times classical music critic Mark Swed was named a finalist in the category of criticism — and we could not be more thrilled! His series of essays about deep listening, published during the pandemic, were just terrific and introduced me to all kinds of music. (If you did not take my advice the first time around: Download Machaut’s “Notre Dame,” one of the pieces recommended by Swed, and listen to it while you stew in the hottest of baths. I promise a spiritual cleansing.)
Felicitaciones to Mark! I raise my bourbon glass to you from across town.
In other Pulitzer news: some of the other awards presented were in recognition of underrepresented histories.
Novelist Louise Erdrich won in fiction for her novel “The Night Watchman,” inspired by Indigenous histories of the 1950s. In the category of nonfiction, David Zucchino won for his book “Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and the Rise of White Supremacy,” about violence at the tail end of Reconstruction in North Carolina. Plus, journalist Les Payne won for biography for “The Dead Are Arising: The Life of Malcolm X.”
The Times’ Danielle Broadway rounds up the winners and finalists.
Now, about that Latino culture gap
Recently, a friend emailed me a press announcement from the American Academy of Arts and Letters announcing a new class of members. The announcement brings a diverse group of artists and academics to the academy’s ranks, including critic Hilton Als, poet Joy Harjo, artists Mark Bradford and Betye Saar, and Bay Area landscape architect Walter Hood. Of the 29 new inductees, two were artists with Latin American roots: composer Roberto Sierra, who was born in Puerto Rico, and novelist Sigrid Nunez, whose father hails from Panama.
It is good news that the academy, which recognizes extraordinary achievement, is diversifying its ranks. The bad news: Latinos remain wildly underrepresented.
Of the 255 members, only a handful are linked with the Caribbean and Latin America. Among them: composer Tania León (born in Cuba) and novelists Isabel Allende (Chilean), Edwidge Danticat (Haitian American) and Junot Díaz (Dominican). Moreover, the organization was unable to verify whether it has ever had a Mexican American member — though it has had foreign honorary members from Mexico in the past, including artists Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo and architect Luis Barragán. (The list did not include any Mexican women.)
The organization’s executive director Cody Upton told me via email that the organization is “actively trying to increase” Latino membership. I certainly hope so. And it may want to start in Former Mexico (a.k.a. the Southwest).
This situation, however, is hardly unique to the academy. As I have written in the past, the lack of Latino representation is a phenomenon that seems to span all areas of culture. And this week, a team of reporters at The Times — including myself — are turning our attention to Hollywood.
In a major package landing Sunday, we are diving into the Latino culture gap.
The short of it: As other groups begin to make important gains, the Latino presence is still a flat line. But in this extensive series of stories, we do much more than simply recount the numbers — which are recounted, it seems, to no avail, every time a new representation study is issued. We look at the history of representation and the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which Latino creators are often faced with jamming their own stories into Hollywood’s white box.
First out of the gate is a story by Times TV reporter Yvonne Villarreal, who has a positively explosive piece about the struggles faced by showrunners of Latino-themed television programs. This includes some incredible reporting about the challenges faced by the team that produced Netflix’s “Selena: The Series.” They describe working on limited budgets for a show that hit the streaming platform’s top-10 charts in 23 countries.
Quote that resonated with me: “Half of my job is explaining.”
You’ll be able to find our stories at latimes.com/latinogap starting Sunday morning. Please tune in! I watched a lot of TV for this.
Como un sueñito
“In the Heights,” Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning Broadway musical about a largely Dominican neighborhood in New York reckoning with inexorable change, has landed in theaters and on HBO Max. It is directed by Jon M. Chu, of “Crazy Rich Asians,” and it is all kinds of extra.
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“To call this movie assertive would be an understatement; to describe it as small would be a lie,” writes Times film critic Justin Chang in his review. “At nearly two-and-a-half hours and with a terrific ensemble of actors singing, rapping, dancing and practically bursting out of the frame, ‘In the Heights’ is a brash and invigorating entertainment, a movie of tender, delicate moments that nonetheless revels unabashedly in its own size and scale.”
I join my colleagues Daniel Hernandez and Suzy Exposito for a highly informal convo about the film. “The first minute of this movie,” writes Exposito, “I could just smell the burnt bodega coffee, which is a good sign.”
Lily Janiak at the San Francisco Chronicle has a good interview with Miranda about passing the torch to Anthony Ramos for the lead role of Usnavi. (Miranda played Usnavi on Broadway.) Miranda also tells the story of how he came to play el piraguero in the movie as a tribute to his late grandfather.
And, since too much Lin-Manuel is never enough: Here’s the trailer for his upcoming film, “Tick, Tick ... Boom!”
Michael Ritchie, the Center Theatre Group’s longtime artistic director — who has overseen 266 productions and 49 world premieres — has announced plans to retire at the end of the year. Some of the more noteworthy works that Ritchie helped launch in the U.S. include the Tony-winning musical “The Drowsy Chaperone” and playwright David Henry Hwang’s wild political work, “Soft Power.” Ritchie told The Times’ Jessica Gelt that it was time to make room for new creative voices. “It’s time for me to stop, and it’s time to make space for other people.”
Times theater critic Charles McNulty reflects on the CTG’s history — but also looks to the post-Ritchie future. When Ritchie was appointed artistic director, he followed on the heels of Gordon Davidson, the famously visionary producer who helped found the Taper. “What [the board] wanted was a compliant partner — someone with discerning taste and New York knowhow who could steer an old cruise ship into safe waters,” writes McNulty. “What was not sought was an idealistic captain determined to chart a bold new course. If the board makes this choice again, CTG will go from diminished to irrelevant.”
Pulitzer finalist Mark Swed had a look at Philip Glass’ latest opera, “Circus Days and Nights,” staged by Malmö Opera in Sweden and streamed in collaboration with that city’s Cirkus Cirkör. Swed reports that it’s not the first opera to be set in a circus (think: “I Pagliacci”), but it’s thought to be the first opera specifically written for one — a production that “miraculously elevates the circus to godliness.”
San Franciscans have made a return to live theater with the opening of “Hold These Truths” at the San Francisco Playhouse. “I’m going to have to cry now,” the Playhouse’s Susi Damilano told the assembled viewers. “It’s great to have real human beings here again.”
Last Sunday, Angelenos did the same, when the Music Center opened its doors for the first time in nearly 15 months — with a performance by L.A. Opera. Swed says the musical selection couldn’t have been more appropriate: “It chose Stravinsky’s plague-infested opera-oratorio, ‘Oedipus Rex,’ which harps on the futility of it all.” But the show went down with restrictions in place: Vaccinated theater-goers occupied the orchestra seats and the show was performed, but not staged.
Art and about
Museums may have been battered by the pandemic, but their endowments were not. In fact, many have seen double-digit increases of up to 40%. The Times’ Christopher Knight says museums should deploy this financial boon to bolster budgets instead of selling off art. “With the pandemic dividend, millions of dollars would be on hand for museums to use as they see fit, without a raid on the collection,” he writes. “It could be spent toward: hazard pay or straight remuneration for beleaguered or furloughed staff, conservation or purchases of art, upgrades in gallery ventilation systems or expanded digital infrastructure for online programming.”
Plus, Deborah Vankin reports that Hauser & Wirth will open a new gallery space in West Hollywood. But will it have chickens?
Culture reporter Makeda Easter has a look at National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of 11 most endangered historic places — which include the Trujillo Adobe in Riverside, the Oljato Trading Post in Utah (an important hub for Navajo communities) and the Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home in Georgia, an important birthing site for Black mothers during the terrors of Jim Crow-era segregation. The list, which focuses on sites related to the histories of people of color, comes in the wake of last year’s uprisings for Black lives. (There’s some interesting back and forth in the story about how overt the National Trust wants to be about the latter part.)
Matt Cooper has the nine best events to check out for weekend culture, which include a show by Weezer with the L.A. Phil and a performance by Heidi Duckler Dance at Los Angeles State Historic Park.
Cooper also rounds up all of the museums shows to see in L.A. and Orange County over June — 28 of them! This includes an exhibition inspired by spirituality at the California African American Museum and a show of L.A. photography at the Getty Center. So much to do!
Plus, last week I caught an inspiring show of paintings by Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe at Roberts Projects in Culver City. The son of a twin, the Ghana-born Quaicoe devotes his current exhibition to duos: single canvases and diptychs that feature pairings of men and women. The poses, the settings and the ensembles his figures wear tend toward the informal. But there is nonetheless a grandness to the works: They are not only relatively large in scale, they crackle with energy. On each person’s skin, the artist carves a looping design that feels elegant and otherworldly. Do not miss.
Otis Kwame Kye Quaicoe, “One But Two (Haadzii),” is on view at Roberts Projects through July 2. Find more information on the artist at robertsprojects.la.
Fred Dewey, the former executive director of the Venice literary arts center Beyond Baroque, whose alums include musician Tom Waits, writer Dennis Cooper and poets Amy Gerstler and Wanda Coleman, has died at 63. “He believed in art and poetry and painting,” artist Lucas Reiner tells The Times’ Dorany Pineda. “He believed that artists and people could really make a difference in the world.”
Stuart Silver, the design director of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in the ‘60s and ‘70s, who “turned the presentation of art into a gasp-inducing genre of theater,” has died at 84.
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Clarence Williams III, a Tony-nominated stage actor who played Prince’s father in “Purple Rain” and the undercover officer Linc Hayes in “The Mod Squad,” is dead at 83.
Violetta Elvin, a Soviet-trained ballerina who danced with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet in London, and influenced a generation of dancers, including Margot Fonteyn, has died at 97.
I listed her death previously but just want to highlight New York Times writer Penelope Green’s wonderful obit for landscape architect Cornelia Hahn Oberlander. Be sure to read all the way to the devastating kicker.
In other news
— Playing Philip Glass in the fermentation room: A fascinating conversation with chef Rene Redzepi that uses music as a way of discussing his approach to food.
— Speaking of convos, I enjoyed this episode of “Design Matters” with artists Nick Cave and Bob Faust.
— The Metropolitan Museum of Art will return two Benin bronzes to Nigeria. (Christopher Knight has written about similar bronzes held in L.A. museum collections.)
— Paying a visit to the new Leonora Carrington house museum in Mexico City. I cannot wait to see this.
— “Often people celebrate ‘first Black …' appointments while failing to consider the internal dynamics.” Curator and writer LaTanya Autry writes about her experience working in an all-white museum space.
— Scholar Veronica Terriquez has been named director of UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center. She replaces Chon Noriega, who recently retired from the post after 19 years.
— Henry Grabar has a good piece on Thomas Heatherwick’s Little Island — the Barry Diller-funded, sort-of-public park in New York.
— Curbed’s Alissa Walker reports on how cities can better support food vendors. One of the issues at hand in L.A. is cart design: All of the rules regulating carts make them too big and heavy for a sidewalk. (This sounds like a good challenge for students at Otis and ArtCenter.)
— My colleague Nita Lelyveld profiles L.A.'s most important transit authority: Kenny Uong.
— Have you seen Barry Jenkins’ “The Gaze”? You absolutely should.
And last but not least ...
Since I’m all in a Latin groove, here’s a blazing performance by Cimafunk with Miami’s Nu Deco Ensemble. Pour yourself some rum and enjoy.
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