Imitating Life: Celebrating a year of local artists– and a vibrant cultural scene

Photos courtesy Cory Bilicko My pal Jenn Harding and me in front of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center before a concert by the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra

Photos courtesy Cory Bilicko

My pal Jenn Harding and me in front of the Long Beach Performing Arts Center before a concert by the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra

Cory Bilicko
Managing Editor

About two years ago, my quite sophisticated and globe-trotting close friend was visiting here from Seattle when she referred to Long Beach as “a cultural dead zone.”
Don’t worry– I was quick to correct her.

I explained that, first of all, the city is not what it had been when she resided here in the mid to late ‘90s. There has been a palpable renaissance throughout the area.

Also, as an artist myself who works for a newspaper at which I profile a different local artist each week and review local theatre productions, I’m well aware of the countless cultural events that take place here all the time. It seems that every weekend there is an art exhibit or play opening.

Those artists I profile could be Exhibit A in making a case for Long Beach’s cultural presence. To date, I’ve profiled about 200 different local artists. (I’ve featured some of the ones I wrote about this year on this week’s front page. To read about more of your creative neighbors, visit signaltribunenewspaper.com/?cat=575 .)

The Museum of Latin American Art (molaa.org), the Long Beach Museum (lbma.org) and the Pacific Island Ethnic Art Museum (pieam.org) host their permanent collections as well as rotating exhibits that feature local artists and others from around the world. And all venues continuously offer lectures, concerts and family-oriented events.

There is an art walk in Bixby Knolls (firstfridayslongbeach.com) on the first Friday of each month and one downtown (artwalklb.com) on the second Saturday of each month. (There’s even one near the border of Long Beach and Lakewood, in Lakewood Village, for which I recently saw a sign but haven’t yet had a chance to check out.)
There are two open-studio tours (lbopenstudiotour.com and midcitystudiotour.com) that allow the public to visit artists in their work spaces and purchase pieces directly from them.
Heck, we even have our own arts council (artslb.org) that implements the A LOT Initiative with projects that engage local neighborhoods in visual and performing arts. The Arts Council for Long Beach also offers a free artist registry, grants for various projects and numerous arts-education undertakings.
I interviewed the Arts Council’s new executive director, Victoria Bryan, earlier this year during her first few days on the job. Just in her first weekend in that position, she’d attended a studio-warming, the Green Prize Festival in Bixby Park, a performance by the musical-theatrical group Riot Stage at the MADhouse, and the exhibit Distant Parallels at The Collaborative gallery.
Then there’s Long Beach Arts, Inc. (longbeachart.org), which was founded in 1924 and is located in the 9th council district. Their activities include several jurored exhibitions throughout the year, including an annual membership show. The organization also presents classes in drawing, sketching, painting, quilting and other artistic skill sets.
The ArtExchange (artexchangelb.org) is a visual-arts center in downtown that features creative programming, artist studios, galleries and special events.
A Google search of “Long Beach galleries” yields dozens of results, and the city’s restaurants, coffee shops and stores often open their doors to artists and musicians for the public to enjoy.
There’s also Retro Row (4thstreetlongbeach.com), which is one of my personal favorites and the first area of the city I lived in after moving here from New Orleans. I can easily spend an afternoon grabbing a coffee from Portfolio and then sauntering west down 4th Street in and out of the thrift shops and vintage stores, looking for cool shirts, unique furniture and who-knows-what-else. There are wine bars and several restaurants, including Lola’s Mexican Cuisine, which boasts a parklet that was the first of its kind in Southern California, and, of course, the Art Theatre, which has also been around since 1924.

The Long Beach Lesbian & Gay Pride Festival & Parade has become the third-largest in the nation, now attracting over 80,000 participants during the two-day celebration. More than 200 marching groups and floats comprise the parade each year, representing a variety of religious, human-service, governmental and social organizations. This is one of many festivals in Long Beach; others include the Long Beach Fine Art Festival, the Sea Festival, the BBQ Festival, the Crawfish Festival and quite a few film fests.

For live theatre, there are Long Beach Playhouse, Musical Theatre West, Cal Rep, International City Theatre, The Carpenter Center, The Richard Goad Theatre, The Garage Theatre, The Found Theatre, and the Expo Theatre. There’s also the Long Beach Performing Arts Center, where you can take in concerts by the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra or shows by Long Beach Opera.

Another musical group is the Long Beach Camerata Singers, which was founded in 1967 by Frank Allen as the Vocal Arts Ensemble and served as the resident chorus for the Long Beach Bach Festival, which he founded in 1973.
This year, we elected Robert Garcia as the city’s first gay mayor, the first Latino mayor and the first mayor to be fluent in Spanish and English. (For decades, the City of Signal Hill has had several openly gay councilmembers, who take turns serving as mayor.)

Me during the opening of the exhibit Relative Aperture at Greenly Art Space in Signal Hill

Me during the opening of the exhibit Relative Aperture at Greenly Art Space in Signal Hill

We have a community college and a university here that both provide cultural offerings in the forms of musical performances, theatre and visual art. (A few years back, I was thrilled to attend a CSULB-hosted lecture by Brian Eno, of Roxy Music fame, whose own compositions and recordings have been heavily influential on electronic music. It was a precursor to his highly innovative light-and-sound installation 77 Million Paintings, which was exhibited in the university’s art museum.)

Another highlight of my time at the Signal Tribune has been my writing about the Forgotten Images traveling exhibit (signaltribunenewspaper.com/?p=3508). It includes artifacts that reflect African-American culture through the decades, as well as white depictions of that culture, like cheerful salt-and-pepper shakers in the form of black children eating watermelon. There is even a Ku Klux Klan uniform, hovering above the tables of memorabilia like a deflated white phantom– now lifeless, but still menacing. Signal Hill residents David and Sharon McLucas are the collectors who have amassed the accumulation of fascinating objects. He began with music– collecting old vinyl records, and she started with pictorial images, like movie posters featuring Sidney Poitier and Lena Horne, that she hung on her walls.
Speaking of Signal Hill… let’s not forget its own contributions to the local arts scene.
I have to begin with Greenly Art Space (greenlyartspace.com), which is a nonprofit gallery dedicated to contemplative art shows, bringing art to local schools and providing a space for art making, mentoring and art therapy. I think “contemplation” is the key word with Greenly. I’ve gotten lost in thought and emotion viewing several of their exhibits, which dig deep into the human condition and allow the artists a true freedom of expression that is unique compared to other galleries. Former shows at Greenly have focused on the transformative nature of the creative process and artistic tributes to loved ones who have passed. The gallery recently hosted a show that celebrated Long Beach’s large Cambodian population.

The City of Signal Hill (cityofsignalhill.org) hosts family art-making workshops, concerts in the park, author lectures and various library events. Friends of Signal Hill Cultural Arts hosts their annual Show & Sell art event. And, of course, Signal Hill’s magnificent trails are highlighted by the city’s public art, including Cindy Jackson’s one-ton statue “Tribute to the Roughnecks,” Patrick Vogel’s 9/11 monument and Jon Cicchetti’s “Earth Upon Water.”

So, for those of you who think there isn’t much going on around you, clip this out, put it on your fridge, and revisit it the next time you’re feeling bored.

And to my snobby, but formerly misinformed, friend: “You were wrong in your assessment of Long Beach… now hurry up and come back to visit so we can see a play, hear the symphony, buy some art and get some good grub… in this culturally ‘alive’ zone.”

If you know of any Long Beach or Signal Hill artists whom you think would make interesting subjects for this weekly column, please email newspaper@signaltribune.com .

Artists featured in the front-page topper this week, from top left, clockwise, are: Isaac Arambul, Lara Odell, Dawn Quinones, Lara Meintjes, Jade Mosier, Eric Almanza, Leslie Lay, Danelle Wulc, Alex Garcia, Cara Nilsen, Stuart Hamilton, Mackenzie Woolvett and Melanie Gottlieb.

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