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How to make the city shine / What would finally civilize
L.A.?

Feed -- and fund -- the 'ferals'

December 26, 2007|BY MARGARET WERTHEIM | Margaret Wertheim is the author of "Pythagoras' Trousers: God, Physics and the Gender Wars."

Last weekend in a former theater just off Adams Boulevard, I found myself at the North Pole. Around me, the sea gleamed bleakly, pierced by shards of ice. Auroral curtains swept down from the stratosphere. Without the aid of digital effects, I was transported to the ends of the Earth.

I was visiting the new 360-degree painting-cum-arctic-spectacle known as the Velaslavasay Panorama, one of dozens of new L.A. hybrid organizations bubbling up from our city's infamous primordial ooze. Down in the mud, far from the towers of Culture Proper (the LACMAs, MOCAs and Gettys), the hybrids operate as radical, inspiring alternatives crossing boundaries between disparate fields including art, science, technology, architecture and sociology. "Feral institutions" we might call them -- individually and collectively they produce experiences layered with beauty, whimsy and oftentimes jaw-dropping strangeness.

Among this group are the self-proclaimed "urban agriculture fairies" Fallen Fruits; Echo Park's Machine Project, ground zero for DIY techno-happenings; the anthropologically inflected Shed Research Institute; and Silver Lake's tiny museum of the built environment, Materials and Architecture, plus many more. As co-founder of another feral, the Institute for Figuring, it seems to me that there is no city in America where the cultural compost is more productive than L.A. today.

All these ferals operate on shoestrings. With this much creativity on virtually no money, imagine what might blossom with more financial help. How to enrich the cultural life of L.A.? Fund the ferals!

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