Change isn’t easy. This experimental beach concert brought me calm — and courage

Murray Hidary plays a keyboard inside a piano on the beach in a field of sunflowers.
Murray Hidary performs a live-to-headphones “silent” piano concert meditation on Santa Monica Beach.
(Ona Photography)

A shift in focus

Hello, Essential Arts readers. I hope you’re well, post hurriquake. I’m Deborah Vankin, filling in for Carolina A. Miranda this week, and as long as we’re talking about shaking things up, I have some exciting personal news to share.

I’ve been covering the ballooning L.A. arts scene for more than a decade and I’ve loved (mostly) every minute of it. From traveling with LACMA’s “big rock” in 2012 … to barrelling through the Barstow desert on Doug Aitken’s 2013 “art train” … to touring so many museum construction sites that I now own my own (Van Gogh-inspired) hard hat — it’s been deeply rewarding. (Getting kicked off of Shia LaBeouf’s 2020 theater set? Not so much.)

I’ve considered it a privilege touring artists’ studios, a fragile, private space filled with works-in-progress, where artists such as Catherine Opie, Alison Saar, Robert Irwin, Helen Pashgian and others have shared their creative processes and their life stories with me. I’ve tagged along with street artists, chronicled the city’s gallery expansion, and reported from art fairs, countless museum galas and institutional openings. Among other things!

LACMA's rock arriving at the museum.
LACMA’s “big rock,” now part of the sculpture “Levitated Mass,” being inspected at the museum in 2012 after a nearly 105-mile journey. I rode with the boulder, on and off, for 11 nights.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

But nothing has been a constant in journalism as much as change, especially in the last decade, and I crave new challenges. What I love about working at the Los Angeles Times is that it’s a place for reporters to chase their passions and evolving curiosities. And right now, I’m curious about Wellness.

Come October, I’ll be writing about the $4-trillion world of Wellness from a California perspective. I’m thrilled about the move — it’s something I’ve wanted to write about for years and the transition has been months in discussion. We’re thinking of Wellness as mind/body/spirit, which is about as broad a swath as it gets. Think food and nutrition; fitness and outdoor adventures; yoga, mindfulness and meditation; sleep science, self-care and aging; the weird and the alternative. I hope to cover Wellness as a subculture in L.A., exploring the emerging trends, diverse characters and lesser-known enclaves in the city in narrative features, explainers and analyses as well as useful guides. This is L.A. — there’s no shortage of cutting-edge content to write about.

I’m also interested in Arts-meets-Wellness. I’ve written about it before: remember Ellen Reid’s immersive Griffith Park Soundwalk? Or the former Long Beach space, Compound, where Glenn Kaino debuted his bioluminescent algae installation?

This week I attended a live-to-headphones “silent” piano concert meditation on Santa Monica Beach. The recurring MindTravel event (the next one is Sept. 9) is the brainchild of experimental music composer and mindfulness teacher Murray Hidary, whose 60-speaker sound installation premiered at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art earlier this year.

The word COURAGE is illuminated with lights on the beach beside the shape of a heart.
The theme of Murray Hidary’s piano concert earlier this week? “Courage.”
(Allison McGourty)

The scene: More than 500 attendees were splayed out on the sand, at sunset, all wearing “silent disco”-style wireless headphones rimmed with aqua lights. As it got darker, a perfectly shaped half-moon illuminated the sea. Audience members shifted their bodies during the concert, the mass of glowing headphones mimicking the ocean’s surface, rippling with choppy waves followed by patches of calm. Hidary performed right there on the sand, on an electronic keyboard inside the sculpture of a grand piano. He describes his improvisation as “a real-time composition” that’s “a fusion of contemporary and classical music in a post-minimalist style.”

Change is not easy for me, I’ll admit, even if it’s a welcome one. So the evening’s theme — “Courage” — resonated. “Are you curious?” Hidary whispered into our ears while performing a light, mellow riff on the keyboard. “Curious of where a different path might lead you? ... Let curiosity carry you into courage.”


Audience members danced on the sand or strolled to the water’s edge (the headphones work up to 1,000 feet away). A toddler scrunched her eyes shut and twirled around a flagpole that featured the intersecting street signs “Here” and “Now.” Helicopter blades cut through the sky, but it oddly added to the music. The evening brought on a sublime calm I hadn’t experienced in a long while. Leaving the event, I felt — if not exactly courageous, then decidedly OK.

Intersecting signs that read Here and Now.
Visitors met at the intersection of Here and Now for a MindTravel concert on Santa Monica Beach.
(Deborah Vankin / Los Angeles Times)

Emerging from the pandemic, a time when people are, perhaps, more readily reexamining their lives and searching for meaning, it feels especially satisfying to be creating content that will help people live their best lives. Because if art has invigorated me all these years, and it has, the wellness practices I’ve cultivated have sustained me.

I’ll still be out and about on the art scene, attending events — just sans the notebook and recorder. (No more chasing people down for quotes — you know who you are!) In the meantime, come visit me over in Wellness. And bring me your story ideas, if you have them. What do you want to read about? I’m open.

And now, here’s what’s happening across the L.A. arts scene.

Will Arbery, wearing glasses, looks straight at the camera.
Playwright Will Arbery, whose “Heroes of the Fourth Turning” is now playing in Los Angeles courtesy of Rogue Machine Theatre at the Matrix.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

On and off the stage

The voices of religious conservatives take center stage in Will Arbery’s drama “Heroes of the Fourth Turning.” The play — which premiered at Playwrights Horizons in 2019 and was a 2020 Pulitzer Prize finalist — dramatizes the reunion of four friends who are celebrating the inauguration of a new president of a conservative Catholic college in Wyoming.

“Re-encountering the play at the Matrix Theatre, where Rogue Machine is presenting the Southern California premiere, I am struck by how prophetic it seems,” writes Times theater critic Charles McNulty. Set in Western Wyoming on Aug. 19, 2017, one week after the Charlottesville riot and two days before the solar eclipse that became known as “the Great American Eclipse,” “Heroes” predates the Jan. 6 insurrection and the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe vs. Wade, yet now seems to anticipate both of these watershed events.”

Eight Republican presidential candidates stand at podiums to debate.
Republican presidential candidates participate in the first debate of the GOP primary season, hosted by Fox News at the Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee on Aug. 23.
(Win McNamee / Getty Images)

McNulty also has a piece on the first 2024 Republican presidential primary debate, held Wednesday night in Milwaukee. The event, he writes, “revealed the moral bankruptcy of an America that no longer values the kind of enlightenment fostered by a liberal arts education.”

Times reporter Ashley Lee has the inside scoop on the “The Untitled, Unauthorized Hunter S. Thompson Musical,” which will soon see it’s world premiere at San Diego’s La Jolla Playhouse. The production stars Tony-winning actor Gabriel Ebert as Thompson.

“Yes, you read that right,” Lee writes. “The esteemed, eccentric, irreverent, intoxicated, gun-wielding godfather of gonzo journalism is the subject of an intriguing new stage show.”

Gabriel Ebert, in yellow aviator sunglasses and a bucket hat with a cigarette in his mouth, as journalist Hunter S. Thompson.
Gabriel Ebert plays journalist Hunter S. Thompson in “The Untitled, Unauthorized Hunter S. Thompson Musical.”
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

In and out of the galleries

Lina Abascal profiles North Hollywood neon glassblower and trans activist Roxy Rose, a.k.a. “the Gender Bender.” The artist aims to support the LGBTQ+ community, particularly trans people, and to question discriminatory beliefs and systems.

“Neon has always been a megaphone for anything that you want to say or idea you want to convey,” Rose told Abascal. “If you say it in neon, [people] will see it, they will think about it, and they will remember it. Neon has given me this amazing platform to say what I feel needs to be said.”

A woman in a cowboy hat stands in front of neon signs.
Neon glassblower and trans activist Roxy Rose in her studio.
(Chris Behroozian / For The Times)

Not-so-fun fact: Close to half of the sidewalks in L.A. are in need of repair, reports Marissa Gluck. Nevertheless, the cracks, graffitied concrete, flattened chewing gum and other issues marring L.A. sidewalks served as inspiration for artist Fiona Connor, whose exhibition, “Continuous Sidewalk,” is on view at Chateau Shatto. The artist re-created 23 different squares of downtown L.A. sidewalk, generating an imagined map of the area in her Glendale studio.

Museums and nonprofits

Times art critic Christopher Knight has a review of an exhibition of James Castle’s drawings at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art Southern California’s first. Many of the artist’s works were made with soot and spit.

Knight writes, Memory “does seem unusually resonant in terms of the artist’s favored material. Soot from a wood stove is residue. Like a memory, it’s what’s left after the fire has died down. In their ritual performance, so are Castle’s resolute drawings.”

A drawing of a road lined with trees, a fence and power lines.
James Castle, “Landscape With Fence-Lined Road,” n.d., soot with wash on found paper.
(Santa Barbara Museum of Art)

Eva Recinos reports in De Los that Self Help Graphics & Art — as it approaches its 50th anniversary — has appointed a new executive director. Jennifer Cuevas, the organization’s communications consultant since 2017, will take her post as of Sept. 5. Cuevas succeeds Betty Avila, who’s helmed the nonprofit since 2018.

When asked about the next 50 years, Cuevas brought up an imminent two-year renovation of SHG’s building on 1st Street in Boyle Heights. “A few years ago, we were able to purchase the building,” Cuevas said. “We’ve been able to pay off the mortgage, and that was under the leadership of former Executive Director Betty Avila, who I worked with very closely over the last several years. And now that we’re in a moment where our team is working remotely and we are about to embark on this renovation, I am thinking about how we are creating a home that will hopefully live for the next 100 years and more.”

LACMA construction, looking north across Wilshire Boulevard.
LACMA’s new building under construction in 2022. The building is now 65% complete.
(Gary Leonard / Museum Associates / LACMA)

A gift of more than $20 million from Los Angeles County Museum of Art trustee Steve Tisch helped push the museum across its fundraising finish line, The Times’ Jessica Gelt reports. LACMA has now exceeded its $750-million fundraising goal for a new building, the David Geffen Galleries, designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. Construction is now more than 65% complete.

In other museum construction news: After debuting a nearly $5-million building upgrade earlier this month — which included, among other things, weatherproofed glass ceiling panels in its atrium — the California African American Museum announced Monday on social media that it would be temporarily closing following issues sustained from Tropical Storm Hilary.

“CAAM is in the midst of assessing how the storm affected our facility,” a museum representative said in a statement to The Times. “Unfortunately, water intrusion occurred in some areas of our building. Experts are helping us determine the impact and next steps, but for the time being the Museum will remain closed to the public.”

Yukhym Prigozhin's portrait and medals.
Yukhym Prigozhin’s portrait and medals at the museum in Zhovti Vody.
(Anastasia Vlasova / For L.A. Times)

A history museum in the city of Zhovti Vody, Ukraine, is named for the late Yukhym Prigozhin, a former mining specialist and local hero. Prigozhin’s great-nephew, Yevgeny Prigozhin, however, is a Russian warlord — the boss of the Wagner paramilitary group, which was instrumental in the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Now there’s a heated controversy, Sabra Ayres reports, over whether or not to rename the museum. The younger Prigozhin is believed to have died in a plane crash this week.

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Architecture and design

Climate change is radically changing not only how we live, but how we design the structures we live in. Times art and design columnist Miranda has a fascinating report on three case studies illuminating how designers are grappling with and preparing for climate change.

One, designed by Brooks + Scarpa, is an affordable housing project, a “court apartment,” in Venice; one is a mixed-use structure, designed by Lever Architecture, in Chinatown, made primarily from wood; the third is a former landfill in Puente Hills that’s being turned into a park. Mia Lehrer’s Studio-MLA is designing the project, working with Los Angeles County’s Department of Parks and Recreation as well as neighboring San Gabriel Valley communities.

A white apartment structure centered around a raised outdoor courtyard.
The Rose Apartments in Venice, designed by Brooks + Scarpa (Angela Brooks and Lawrence Scarpa), bring density, passive ventilation, outdoor space and affordable housing to a small lot in Venice.
(Jeff Durkin / Brooks + Scarpa)


Times classical music critic Mark Swed has a review of the West Coast premiere of Chris Thile’s new mandolin concerto, which he performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, conducted by Teddy Abrams, at the Hollywood Bowl earlier this week. The concerto is aptly titled “Attention! A narrative song cycle for extroverted mandolin and orchestra.”

“Attention-getting goes without saying,” Swed writes.

A man playing the mandolin.
Mandolinist Chris Thile performs “Attention!,” with the L.A. Phil, conducted by Teddy Abrams, at the Hollywood Bowl on Aug. 22.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Anna Braz reports from the Mt. Wilson Observatory in the San Gabriel Mountains, where one Sunday a month there’s a chamber music or jazz concert inside a 1904 telescope dome. “The dome itself looks like a UFO that just touched down on Earth,” Braz writes.

Quetzal members play instruments in the middle of a living room.
Members of East L.A. band Quetzal rehearse.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

The Times’ Reed Johnson calls the Grammy-winning East L.A. band Quetzal “one of the most innovative Chicano rock groups of the last three decades, fusing rock, R&B and regional Mexican music into a style that is alternately poetic and defiant.” The piece is a must-read.


Actors and writers on strike

Johnson also tagged along with actor Edward James Olmos on the WGA/SAG-AFTRA picket line at Warner Bros. studios in Burbank. “Many of the striking actors and writers marching with him were Latinos, showing strength in numbers on a day that more than two dozen Latino arts and advocacy groups had targeted for a big turnout,” Johnson writes.

A woman dancing in front of a crowd with picket signs.
Constance Marie, center, leads the Latinas Acting Up flash mob during the WGAW Latinx Writers Committee and SAG-AFTRA National Latino Committee day at Warner Bros. studios on Aug. 18.
(Albert L. Ortega / Getty Images)

Many Hollywood actors are finding ways to continue to work, reports Lee, without breaking the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. And they’re doing it in pro bono performances to support writers, actors and other entertainment community members affected by the strikes.

Essential happenings

Your “L.A. Goes Out” host, Steven Vargas, never disappoints. His events guide this week is chock-full of happenings to keep you busy. That includes “Congress VIII,” a salon-style platform for dance creators and dance lovers as well as a group show at L.A. Dance Project. And Ingrid Yuzly Mathurin’s solo Afro-pop exhibition, “Black Joy: Healing From the Inside Out,” presented by Sovern L.A. in partnership with SoLA Contemporary.

Three dancers perform on stage, with one mid-air.
“Congress,” a salon-style evening of dance, brings its eighth iteration to L.A. Dance Project.
(The1point8 / Carlos Gonzalez)


San Diego’s Mingei International Museum announced two key staff appointments: Guusje Sanders was named curator and Ariana Torres, assistant curator. “With an extensive background in curatorial practices and a dedication to promoting a wide range of voices in the art world, Sanders and Torres bring a fresh perspective to the Museum’s exhibitions and programs,” the museum said in an announcement.

L.A.‘s Jacqueline Kiyomi Gork was among the 15 artists, from across the U.S., named a 2023 Joan Mitchell Fellow. Each recipient will get $60,000 in unrestricted funding, distributed over five years. The artists will also engage in multi-year, in-person “convenings” as well as “programs that focus on personal finance, legacy planning, and self-advocacy, among other opportunities,” the New York-based Joan Mitchell Foundation said in its announcement.


The L.A.-based Blum & Poe is going through some changes. The gallery’s founders, Jeff Poe and Tim Blum, are parting ways after nearly three decades in business together.

Chris Peluso smiling on stage.
Chris Peluso at the curtain call during the press performance of “Show Boat” at the New London Theatre on April 25, 2016.
(David M. Benett)


Theater actor Chris Peluso, star of Broadway’s “Mamma Mia!” (love interest Sky) and “Wicked” (Fiyero) as well as “Miss Saigon” (male lead Chris) in London’s West End, has died. He was 40.

Peluso also starred in Broadway productions of “Les Misérables and “West Side Story.

And last but not least ...

Find your calm, find your courage. Here’s a clip from a 2022 MindTravel concert in Miami Beach. Enjoy.