Last year, the leadership of the L.A. County Music Center and Grand Park launched a new arts festival in the 12-acre Civic Center space. Our L.A. Voices was a half-exhibition, half-performance series, and drew approximately 3,000 people over the course of a weekend.
The festival returns this week with an expanded lineup. It also has two components: On Monday-Friday, April 22-26, the park will play host to a series of workshops that touch on subjects including the business of the performing arts world, intellectual property and even feminist acting. All are free, though reservations are required.
Then, on the weekend, there is a two-day performance and exhibition showcase, with live theater, dance and more, as well as creations from scores of artists.
The Grand Park staff learned a lot in its first year of the festival, according to Interim Director Julia Diamond. She said that unlike art shows and festivals that are spread over multiple weekends and venues, the aim with Our L.A. Voices is to create a dense experience in one spot, where visitors can stumble upon something they might not expect.
“There are more performances and more artists, but it’s a shorter format. If you come and spend an hour or two, you’ll see a half-dozen performances, and see the work of 50-plus visual artists,” Diamond said. “We want people to have a multisensory experience like walking into a spice bazaar. There’s so much swirling around, lots of colors and texture.”
This year’s theme is “Origin Stories,” which Diamond said utilizes a wide canvas. Artists can draw on their own origins as creators, or can springboard off their journey to Los Angeles.
The festival is a multimedia experience. There will be short films focused on dance, portrait installations from photographer Lluvia Higuera, site-specific “flash theater” performances from Playwrights Arena, and other groups.
One of the participating troupes is Viver Brasil, a Hollywood-based dance theater company. It is staging two world premieres, one on Saturday at the splash pad in Grand Park’s fountain, and one on Sunday on the festival’s main stage on the lawn across from City Hall. Company Artistic Director Linda Yudin said that both dances mix traditional Afro-Brazilian movement with more contemporary forms, and both are energetic and joyful.
Yudin said the company will present each piece three times. That allows multiple chances to catch the show, and casual observers might see something they missed the first time while wandering through the festival.
Another component of the weekend is the Jardín del Arte, a marketplace set up between Grand Park’s fountain and central lawn, where paintings, collages, drawings and more will be for sale. Painter Devin B. Johnson, a Los Angeles native now based in New York City, said the open-world nature of the festival makes it accessible and engaging for audiences. People don’t need to be regular museum visitors or be versed in the offerings of art galleries. Instead, they can wander through the park and find something they might not even be looking for.
“When it can be accessed at that level, it can succeed in a way a gallery can’t. When it’s in a park, any onlooker can come in and get informed,” said Johnson, who will be selling a series of small collage-based paintings created in a kind of stream-of-consciousness process. “It’s a different vibe. It’s really interesting, because L.A. culture is so attached to the sun.”
The festival will be open on the weekend from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. each day.
Ahead of the big celebration, the Music Center and Grand Park are hosting five days of workshops where artists can learn new skills outside of their disciplines. On Monday-Friday, the sessions will touch on topics such as how to acquire funding and how to market oneself. Other symposiums include a two-day feminist acting workshop and how to use dance in activism.
Diamond said the workshops are about finding new ways to support artists in the city, helping them hone business and other pragmatic skills.
A workshop on Monday will be run by the Music Center CEO Rachel Moore. Moore, a former dancer with American Ballet Theater, said it will be about helping aspiring artists and performers early in their career understand the business side of the industry, from negotiating contracts to how some arts organizations work and are funded.
“I really feel like young artists, kids in high school and in conservatory, there’s no sort of practical discussion of what it takes to be a performer and navigate the business of showbiz,” Moore said. “This workshop will be about targeting the younger artists and marketing strategy and positioning a personal brand.”
The workshops take place outside in the park, with each one starting at noon. Attendance is free, but an RSVP is required and reservations can be booked through the Grand Park website.
Diamond said that like the festival itself, the workshops represent a different way to activate the park.
“If people want to travel from location to location, they can have that moveable feast,” Diamond said. “If you want to spread out a picnic blanket in one spot, the show will come to you.”
Our L.A. Voices: A Pop-up Arts + Culture Fest runs Monday-Sunday, April 22-28, at Grand Park, 200 N. Grand Ave. or grandparkla.org.