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L.A. Letters Year in Review, 2014

There's no question 2014 has been an extremely eventful year. In the midst of the roller coaster of activities, there's been an equal mix of highs and lows. This week L.A. Letters reviews many of the key developments of 2014 and also looks ahead at emerging trends for 2015. Key themes include artist-activists and the celebration of neighborhoods.

One of the first items of note is that KCET celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2014. Angelenos like my dad and DJ Waldie remember the early days of the station; the recent 50 Year Anniversary show highlighted KCET's great history. My own childhood in 1980s included countless nights at my grandparents' house watching Huell Howser, Charlie Rose, or the Macneil-Lehrer Newshour among many other shows on KCET. Halfway through the year, the KCET columnist and archivist Elson Trinidad asked me to write a poem commemorating the anniversary. Three key lines from the poem include: "Public affairs programming committed to educating the community/ameliorated the vast wasteland of contemporary television/young filmmakers in the streets, unifying a city afraid of itself." KCET remains committed to this mission; it's great to see that the foundational principles that built the station remain in place.

The spirit of committed citizens unifying the city is a theme I observed over and over again in 2014. Back in February I was deeply moved by the spirit of a group of student-activists at Cal State L.A. I was on my way to the library to finish my Masters' Thesis when I ran into about 60 students protesting for more Ethnic Studies on campus. I happened to walk by when a student was reading a poem about her educational experience. After hearing her poem, the group was chanting, "What do we want!?" "Ethnic Studies." "When do we want it!?" "Now!" I soon found out the campus was deadlocked in a battle with administrators for more Ethnic Studies and greater diversity in the courses offered. It turns out the student's effort paid off, and after a series of meetings Cal State L.A. ended up adding more Ethnic Studies classes to their schedule. Many of these same students a few months later devoted their time to preserving the history of the Boyle Heights site, Wyvernwood.

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Photo: Student protest over ethnic studies, at Cal State L.A. | Timmy Truong/University Times

Throughout the year many other schools and California cities have decided to add Ethnic Studies to their curriculum. Most recently both L.A. Unified and San Francisco Unified School Districts voted to require these courses for their high school students. The L.A. Times columnist Sandy Banks wrote a series of articles praising these new developments. Authors like Jeff Chang and the poet Bao Phi have addressed this topic in their books as well.

The great Los Angeles writer Luis Rodriguez was named the new Los Angeles Poet Laureate at the end of October. Earlier in the year he had announced his candidacy for California Governor. Among the many events he organized over the last year include his Poetry Locomotive across the Eastside on the Gold Line.

A few weeks before the Rodriguez announcement, West Hollywood appointed Steven Reigns as its first City Poet. Over the years Reigns has built bridges between three generations of West Hollywood residents. He was an excellent choice for WeHo's first Poet Laureate. In April I highlighted many of the city's poetic venues.

Over the course of the year the venerated poets Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou passed. I also celebrated artists like Richard Wyatt and Timothy Washington. Another column spotlighted the legacy of the great California author, John Steinbeck. In addition, I also learned a lot about the history of the Woman's Building from Writers at Work founder, Terry Wolverton.

Portrait of Amiri Baraka by Billy Burgos
Portrait of Amiri Baraka by Billy Burgos

The Leimert Park Hip Hop institution Project Blowed celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2014. In addition to several previous events, one of their biggest events commemorating this takes place on Sunday December 28. The all-day event in Leimert Park will be in conjunction with the monthly Art Walk and feature a set by the legendary Los Angeles M.C. Abstract Rude as well a whole host of the city's best underground voices. DJs will be spinning in the park and local boutiques will be selling art work and hand-crafted merchandise.

The Architecture and Design Museum just announced that they will be leaving their Miracle Mile location for the Arts District in early 2015. Their move is necessary because their current site is where the future Metro Station for the forthcoming Fairfax and Wilshire Station will be located. As much as they loved their space across from LACMA, they are excited about their future in the Arts District. In the meantime they have a stellar one-man exhibit of the L.A.-based sculptor Peter Shire's public and private architectural commissions that remains on display until the end of January. "In these site-specific works Shire seamlessly melds the formal principles of twentieth-century art and architecture with his interrogations of popular culture and the vocabulary of visual design. Plying graphic forms and structural geometry with radically saturated color, the resultant architectural constructions are high-voltage improvisations of artistic legacy and traditional architectural platforms," writes Jo Lauria, the exhibit's curator.

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Shire has over 40 years of studio work dating back to the 1984 Olympics. This exhibit "highlights architectural scale models and sculptural elements, ideation sketches, finished drawings and paintings, and varied objects of inspiration that have functioned as source material and propelled Shire's exuberant, imagistic installations." Shire's interdisciplinary approach is on full display and the show reveals his expertise in ceramics, furniture, sculpture, drawing, painting, architecture and design. Go see it before it's over and the museum relocates.

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The Donut Hole in La Puente | Photo: Paul Narvaez/Flickr/Creative Commons

Over the last year I covered city and neighborhood histories like Burbank, Laguna Beach, Bixby Knolls in Long Beach, Boyle Heights, Artesia, La Puente, San Pedro, Culver City and Inglewood. In 2015 I will be covering many more pockets of Southern California. There's no shortage of dynamic landscapes in Southern California.

Throughout the year artists and activists across the city devoted themselves to raising civic awareness and inspiring their fellow citizens. During the summer, Writ Large Press organized 90 literary readings over 90 days, most of them taking place at the watering hole, Traxx in Union Station.

In November a group of poets paid tribute to the journalist James Foley who was executed earlier in the year by ISIS. The event was held at Avenue 50 in Highland Park.

These are just a few examples of the many powerful acts Angelenos engaged in over 2014 in the quest to uplift the city. In spite of several tragedies throughout the year, countless groups of committed citizens across the city have banded together to do their part to make thing better. 2014 was indeed a year of collective action. Look for 2015 to build on this momentum and take this spirit even further. Salute to the citizens of Los Angeles and Happy New Year. Together we comprise the magical urbanism of L.A. Letters.

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