YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

LOS ANGELES FESTIVAL : Home Is Where the Art Is : 'Home, Place and Memory' is the theme of this year's event, and its 'Memory Projects' explore all three. 'In a way, the entire festival has been in response to the riots, the full circle of events,' says its program director

August 15, 1993|DIANE HAITHMAN | Diane Haithman is a Times staff writer.

They call him Lemon Man.

Video artist Susan Mogul caught him in the act of stealing a lemon off a tree near Armando's Mexican restaurant in Highland Park. Mogul asked to interview him, but he saw her video camera and thought she was a police officer, presumably out to bust him for grand theft, citrus. The combination of cops and video cameras--both powerful symbols in post-riot Los Angeles--proved too much for Lemon Man. He fled.

No one knows whether Lemon Man will attend the 1993 Los Angeles Festival, or whether he will ever come back to Armando's. But his story has become part of the lore of Armando's--and as such part of the legacy of the Los Angeles Festival's "Memory Projects."

Five Los Angeles artists or arts groups were drafted by the Los Angeles Festival, which begins a monthlong run on Friday. Each will explore one area neighborhood--its history, its traditions and its contemporary folklore. Called "Memory Projects," they are just one of several special performance and visual art series that are part of the festival.

The triennial Los Angeles Festival is an offshoot of the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival, which Robert Fitzpatrick directed, as well as the subsequent 1987 version of the event that celebrated European artists. In 1990, producer-writer-director Peter Sellars took over as artistic director of the 1990 Los Angeles Festival, a $5.6-million extravaganza of Pacific Rim arts that brought in performers from all over the world.

This year's festival concentrates on African, African-American and Middle Eastern arts and culture, but also includes a wide range of cultural events that do not fit neatly under that heading. The "Memory Projects," for example, include such disparate groups as Salvadoran immigrants, homeless gay and lesbian youth and the blend of ethnic groups in the Highland Park area along with two projects on aspects of African-American traditions in Los Angeles.

The 1993 festival began with a $5.2-million budget, but because of fund-raising difficulties, that budget has been slashed to $4 million, so the festival is focusing primarily on L.A. art and will not foot the bill to import artists from other states and countries this year. Some artists from elsewhere will appear in events that are not fully funded by the festival, however. The festival has become a sort of cultural sponge, absorbing all kinds of already-scheduled events and exhibits by other arts organizations into its program, so the local definition remains loose.

The festival will involve numerous projects that attempt to begin dialogues between groups, bringing Latino poets to the Vision Complex in predominantly black Leimert Park, African and Middle Eastern musicians to the very European Getty Museum, or Harmonica Fats and the Jalapenos (both of which the festival describes as performing "a vibrant fusion of rap, hip-hop and doo-wop") to St. Anne Melkite Church in North Hollywood, a place of worship for the Arab community. The "Memory Projects" take the concept of exposing hidden culture even deeper into the city's unknown networks.

"Who is the dominant culture, who gets to speak, and what do they speak about?" says Ernie Lafky, who with Norma Bowles is one of the directors of "Friendly Fire," a stage production written by a group without a neighborhood: homeless gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual young adults. The play is currently in rehearsal at the Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center in Los Angeles. "Here is a group that doesn't even get spoken about. Homeless gay youth? And homeless gay youth of color? Forget it!"

The festival's over-arching theme is "Home, Place and Memory," and the "Memory Projects" delve into all three. The concept of what constitutes a "home" or a "neighborhood" is different for each of the five projects.

For Mogul, who came to Los Angeles from New York 20 years ago, the neighborhood is the surrogate family she has developed in Highland Park, including the Sanchez family, which owns Armando's; the gas station attendant; the sales clerk at the local mini-mart and the people she talks to while leaning out her window overlooking the courtyard of her apartment building. Mogul's very personal video portrait of this predominantly Latino neighborhood in the hills between downtown and South Pasadena is called "Everyday Echo Street."

She calls herself "both an insider and an outsider." "I'm not only Anglo, I'm Jewish, and this is not a Jewish neighborhood," Mogul said. "It's not the kind of neighborhood I grew up in on the East Coast."

Los Angeles Times Articles