An international artist who made a brief home of Santa Monica got to know the city better than most of its local residents.

Maj Hasager, a Danish artist, came to be a visiting artist resident at the 18th Street Art Center by way of the Danish Arts Council. Once her 6-month residency began, she immersed herself in the Pico neighborhood, meeting dozens of community members to learn about the area’s history and identity of POCs, both officially and unofficially recorded.

“My research has been going into unrecognized histories of local communities,” Hasager said, “Looking into landmarks and designations and lack thereof.”

To explore these histories, including the alternatives to official history archives, Hasager collected local stories in the form of interviews, digitizing images, and creating field recordings with the Santa Monica Youth Orchestra (audio and video).

Her work culminated in an exhibit dubbed ‘Iterations’, consisting of video, sound compositions, text and photography. The exhibit is available to view now at the 18th Street Art Center now until April 5th.

To conduct her research, Hasager delved into the past and present of Santa Monica.

Hasager first visited Carolyne Edwards’ Quinn Research Center, a research center which collects and preserves the history of African Americans in Venice, Santa Monica and the Bay Area.

There, Hasager received an oral history of past minority-owned Santa Monica businesses, organizations and buildings, as well as the little-known history of Thelma Terry and her drill team (who were not allowed in White dance studios) and the Philomatheans, who Hasager was able to meet with.

“There are so many stories that are not known here,” Hasager said. “Not having history like this available widespread is a case of concern. If you go to research Santa Monica, the history you get is from one perspective … We’re trying to supplement this history by adding and expanding.”

To further expand the archives of Santa Monica history with culture from the present, Hasager collaborated up with the Santa Monica Youth Orchestra (SMYO)

The two held a series of workshops at Virginia Avenue Park with SMYO students, guiding students to record sounds from the Pico Neighborhood and interpret them using orchestral instruments.

Sounds recorded included skateboard wheels crackling across pavement, rare LA rain drops hitting the earth, and of course, traffic.

Kids from the SMYO would  take these sounds (recorded on phones) and transfer them to an instrument of choice. This allowed the children on SMYO to document their neighborhood, giving them a chance to capture their culture in ember while celebrating it with music.

“The idea was to teach kids to understand music in a new way,” said Shabnam Fasa, Founder & Executive Director of SMYO. “Not just from what is written on a score in front of them, but to listen to their environment and be present.”

Fasa says the collaboration with Hasager allowed her students to “come alive,” actively listening, comparing sounds, making friends with students they typically didn’t interact with as they interacted with their neighborhood.

The collaboration led to a public soundwalk where interested community members could scan QR codes of a noise the children recorded — say, a swing where the WHOOSH of a swing was recorded — and play what the student interpreted the noise to be.

“It gave our kids an opportunity to be artists for a day,” Fasa said. “Something like this hasn’t ever been done here … it was fun for us and I know the students won’t forget it.”

While her residency is up, Hasager will travel back to Denmark. She says she’s digitized much of her research and will work on it while overseas. Her plan is to return to Santa Monica later this year and continue documenting and interviewing with a large-scale installation ready to show in 2021.

These projects are part of Hasager’s dedicated journey to help keep lesser known histories of marginalized people alive.

“There are so many people waiting to tell their stories,” she said. “Some of these people and their stories, histories, are quite aged. It’s time to register who they were.”

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