In January, Santa Monica Daily Press editor Kevin Herrera reported that, “The League of California Cities and the California City Manager Foundation are featuring Santa Monica in their ongoing ‘Strong Cities | Strong State’ campaign highlighting local government success stories across California.”
Santa Monica is nicknamed “Silicon Beach” thanks to the tech industries that have set up shop here; we offer free citywide Wi-Fi in public hot zones. TV and film are well served by the post-production houses that thrive in our midst. We are a tourist magnet; everyone knows our iconic Santa Monica Pier. And we can proudly say we’re home to America’s best Farmers’ Markets.
But Santa Monica is also an arts success story. With such world-class venues as the Santa Monica College Performing Arts Center’s architectural jewel The Broad Stage, and Bergamot Station with numerous art galleries and the Santa Monica Museum of Art, our seaside burg boasts big-city sophistication in a small city setting. There are small theaters of note, such as the Ruskin Group, Powerhouse and the Edgemar Complex, and Jacaranda: Music at the Edge puts top-flight contemporary classical music right in our backyard.
This is the first in a series of weekly columns featuring Santa Monica-based arts and culture, performances, exhibits and other special events, and some local out-of-town recommendations as well. I hope it will be a useful guide.
It’s a great week to be starting this feature since Los Angeles just launched the fourth annual Discover the Arts L.A. campaign, a three-month opportunity for you to discover history, culture, science and more at 50 of L.A.’s top cultural institutions at deep discounts. Get the details on dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, car culture at Peterson Automotive, women surrealists at LACMA, L.A. artists at MOCA or Chinese-American architecture at El Pueblo National Historic Monument, and many more, all welcoming you through March with special offers at discoverlosangeles.com/thearts.
Close to home, you’d be remiss to miss the stunning, stripped-down, spare production — just like the playwright intended it — of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town.” Far too long mired in syrupy community theater revivals, I can attest that this critically acclaimed production of the quintessential American play tells it like it is — that life should be lived, here and now. Helen Hunt takes the traditionally male role of “Stage Manager” in this import from New York City’s Barrow Street Theatre, directed by David Cromer. It’s at The Broad Stage, but hurry: it closes Feb. 12. (Check out the Daily Press’ review at smdp.com: “Review: ‘Our Town’ comes alive at The Broad.”)
Part of the citywide arts celebration Pacific Standard Time is the multimedia group exhibit “Breaking in Two: Provocative Visions of Motherhood.” Artist and curator Bruria Finkel has organized the work of artists who not only are mothers, but whose work focuses on motherhood. Opening on Feb. 11 at Arena 1 Gallery (a project of Santa Monica Art Studios at the Santa Monica Airport) works by nearly 40 artists are connected through the maternal experience, examining the relationship to the body, the child, the family and society at large. Four generations of locally and internationally recognized artist-mothers will be represented by paintings, drawings, sculptures, collage, photography, film/video and poetry/writing. Lita Albuquerque, Betye Saar, the late June Wayne and Miriam Wosk are just a few artists whose works will be on view. Feb. 11 — April 14. Click on “Arena 1” at www.santamonicaartstudios.com or (310) 397-7456.
City Hall itself is a strong supporter and presenter of arts and culture. One example: Fireside at the Miles Memorial Playhouse puts on performances in a classic Spanish Revival building, designed by architect John Byers, replete with iron chandeliers, Mission-style beams, and a beautiful arched hearth fireplace. On Friday, Feb. 10 there’s an a capella sing-off with Joshua Silverstein, and on Saturday, Feb. 11, enjoy Valentine-themed solos and duets by choreographer Amanda Hart. Shows are at 8 p.m., tickets are only $10 for adults, $5 for students and seniors; Reserve by calling (310) 458-8634 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Details and dates here — www.smgov.net/milesfireside.aspx.
There aren’t too many musical presenters as bold and brave as Jacaranda: Music at the Edge. Featuring art music of the 20th and 21st centuries, Jacaranda’s concerts take place at the First Presbyterian Church of Santa Monica, a setting whose acoustics and stained glass windows remind us that music can be sacred and challenging at the same time. Coming up on Feb. 18, a Russian themed evening, “Matryoshka Dolls: Music of Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Schnittke.” Like “matryoshka dolls,” which nest one inside the other, getting ever smaller with each doll, Schnittke’s composition, Homage to Stravinsky, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, requires six hands — with all three pianists sharing a single bench! Bonus points for those who knew Stravinsky actually worked for a time in the film industry, lived in Beverly Hills and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of fame — jacarandamusic.org.
And finally, in memoriam: While you still have the opportunity, go see “Under the Big Black Sun California Art 1974-1981” at the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown L.A., which features work by game-changing multi-media artist Mike Kelley, who died from an apparent suicide on Jan. 31 at the age of 57. The accolades have been pouring in; pay your own tribute through Feb. 13 — www.moca.org/black_sun.
Sarah Spitz is a former freelance arts producer for National Public Radio and a producer for public radio station KCRW-Santa Monica. She reviews theatre for LAOpeningNights.com