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Engage

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In 1968 Shifra Goldman, in her early 40s, took the young Chicano filmmaker Jesus Trevino to the rooftop of an Olvera Street building to look into the past and future of L.A. Chicano art.

They stared at an art-archeological artifact, the shadow-like remains of America Tropical, a mural painted by Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros 36 years earlier. The mural's anti-imperialist message was too much for city leaders. Think of it this way, what if the owners of the Orsini luxury apartments in downtown L.A. commissioned an artist who painted a large mural about gentrification.

Goldman, the art scholar, and Treviño, the filmmaker, vowed to fight to restore or conserve the mural in some way. A few weeks ago the Getty and the City of L.A. announced that in several years an interactive visitor center will open on site. The center will tell the story of Siqueiros, L.A. as a hotbed of political ideas in 1932, and the whitewashing of the mural.

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In the last four decades, in essays for newspapers and art journals, and teaching Goldman championed art that depicted and was committed to portraying the struggles of working class people. She's written about the soul-searching earth art of Cuban American artist Ana Mendieta, dissident art in Chile after the 1973 military coup, and Mexican muralism. Dimensions of the Americas: Art and Social Change in Latin America and the United States is a good collection of her most significant writing.

The conservation of America Tropical wasn't her life's work but it did embody many of her ideas about paying attention to art that challenges injustice, arte comprometido, as they say in Latin America. Goldman couldn't attend the unveiling of the visitor center plans at L.A.'s Central Library. She's currently ailing with advanced Alzheimer's. Her son tells me doctors are surprised she's held on until now.

I'd interviewed Shifra Goldman a few times for art stories here and there. My favorite was about her despair after moving from New York City to L.A. with her family in the 1940s and realizing that the only public modern art museum was the Natural History Museum in Exposition Park.

When I found out she wasn't doing well I started talking to some poets about organizing tribute in life. I found people who were grateful she'd given Chicano art academic legitimacy. Others fed off her razor-sharp intellect. I also found people she'd worked with for years and who had falling outs that caused them not to speak to Goldman again. Some of those fraught relationships, Goldman told me several years ago, led to her decision to leave her vast archives to U.C. Santa Barbara and not to her alma mater, UCLA.

Shifra Goldman was a tough broad, as her son Eric Garcia says. So tomorrow at Avenue 50 Studio in Highland Park, the poets are gathering to celebrate that side of Shifra Goldman as well as her activism, scholarship, along with the relationship between poetry and visual. And along the way we hope to push her ideas further along into the 21st

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