By Ted AYALA
The Los Angeles Central Library has been finding creative ways of keeping libraries relevant. One of the ways they have sought to do this is via their ALOUD series and their “This Is Your Library” programs which feature important figures from the region’s cultural movers and shakers. At the recent This Is Your Library program of Thursday night, June 23, guests included artist Chris Kraus, actress and theatre artist Diane Rodriguez and television celebrity Huell Howser of “California’s Gold.”
One of the aims of This Is Your Library is to demonstrate how all these figures from different disciplines and backgrounds interconnect in Southern California and show what the region means for them.
Kraus, who currently teaches at Art Center Pasadena and has written several books for Semiotext(e), came to reside in the Los Angeles area by sheer happenstance.
“My friend who was teaching at Art Center got offered another job so she said to me, ‘Take my house, take my car, take my job,’” recalled Kraus explaining her move to Los Angeles from New York. “So I moved into her place in Eagle Rock and started teaching her classes at Art Center.”
One of the things Kraus praised about Los Angeles was its breezy atmosphere and its refusal to be locked into a caste system.
“Unbelievably, I was teaching writing,” she recounted. “I had not yet written a book, yet I was able to teach writing.”
Kraus, however, came with a strong background in film work, where she had been critically praised.
In her latest book, “Where Art Belongs,” one of her essays explores how the art collective Tiny Creatures was allowed to blossom in Los Angeles. Involving people from all kinds of different backgrounds – none of them visual artists – Tiny Creatures was a partisan for a kind of outsider art.
“They were mostly musicians who did all art, all the time,” said Kraus.
Soon Tiny Creatures became known among art circles and gained much fame and notoriety.
“It’s an L.A. story about the endlessly recycling avant-garde. It was brilliant, lasted for a moment, then fell apart. Another [story] will rise from its ashes,” she said.
Diane Rodriguez demonstrated how Los Angeles has become a cultural beacon for minds from all around the world. Through REDCAT’s RADAR LA, a festival celebrating contemporary theatre, theatre companies from Japan, Ireland, Chile, Australia, as well as other U.S. cities came to Los Angeles from June 14 to June 26 to show off some of their best work.
“It took four years to do [RADAR LA],” said Rodriguez. “I fundraised for a lot of those four years. We brought together five international companies and we were very well represented with Los Angeles companies. We emphasized western states, Latin America, and the Pacific Rim and it was very cool.”
The biggest applause was saved for last when the host of “California’s Gold,” Huell Howser, stepped onto the stage of the Mark Taper Forum.
Against a screen playing a clip of Howser interviewing people greeting the reopening of the Central Library after it went through renovations and repairs after the devastating 1986 fire, Howser beamed his love for Southern California and its people.
“That gets to the heart [of] what we do [on ‘California’s Gold’],” said Howser of the clip. “Now we weren’t interviewing the muckety-mucks. We were interviewing real people. Part of the reason that our program has been so successful is that we don’t interview politicians or movie stars, we interview real people.
When I look at the people on television, I think of your average lady at the grocery store check-out stand and I bet she has a more interesting and compelling story to share with you than all the movie stars promoting their latest movie or books on late night television. That’s the truth.”
“There is something out-of-whack when you can recognize [actress] Lindsay Lohan but not a heart surgeon or a schoolteacher or a kids’ basketball coach or somebody else who’s really doing something to make the world a better place,” he added.
“We try to keep it fun, though,” Howser said about the work he does for Southern California. “But in between of everything we do, we try to make it a learning and growth experience. If all you did was sit at home and watch the TV news – which is pretty bad – the only thing you’d know about Los Angeles is that you would never leave your house – you’d be too afraid to. [But] we never see real life and real people on television. We always see all this phoniness. Television, which is supposed to be a mirror of life, doesn’t show us that at all.”