Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment
Every Sunday since 1997, Afrobeat musician Najite Agindotan has summoned his drummer friends — and anyone else who wants to show up and make some noise — to the Leimert Park Drum Circle for collective grooving. Founded in remembrance of Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, the drum circle (or "drum church," as some call it) has evolved into an L.A. tradition all its own, appropriately located in the city's historic hub for African-American arts and culture. Running from from 2 p.m. to sunset, it features professionals and amateurs alike jamming on instruments ranging from djembes and maracas to cowbells. Onlookers beat imaginary congas in the air, kids bounce their basketballs to the beat, and others dance joyously at the circle's center. The atmosphere is especially festive during the Leimert Park Art Walk on the last Sunday of every month, when vendors sell wares and crafts on the grass. —Daina Beth Solomon
Leimert Plaza Park, 4395 S. Leimert Blvd., Leimert Park, 90008. (323) 472-0607.
In just two years, Christian Chavez has created an oasis of chill under the Sunset Boulevard bridge in Echo Park. Echoes Under Sunset is nothing like the Laugh Factory or the Comedy Store. No comic's friends laughing too much at his lame jokes, no two-drink minimum, no limits on obscenity or political incorrectness. Instead you'll find free entry, cheap drinks and an ethereal decor that feels like a sort of voodoo taqueria. The space used to be a Korean clothing business until Chavez rented it in 2012 and converted it, almost entirely with his own hands, into an art space. He experimented with an open-mic night, and local comics loved the intimate vibe so much that they started hanging out there all the time. Now there's an open-mic every weekday, among other high-profile comedy acts. "Comics like it because there's no rules," Chavez says. "Do whatever you want, just don't light my place on fire." —Isaac Simpson
1310 Glendale Blvd., Echo Park, 90026. (213) 446-5466, echoesundersunset.com.
If someone had told you 10 years ago that the brightest and funniest minds of our generation soon would be offering up free radio shows every week — which you could hear on your phone whenever you wanted — would you have believed him? In our opinion, the best podcast going is The Champs, hosted by Chappelle's Show co-creator Neal Brennan and comedian Moshe Kasher. The premise is a bit un-PC: The pair, who are white, interview almost exclusively black guests, drawn largely from the realms of television, movies, music and sports. But what could be an hour of face-palms almost always turns into something poignant, revealing and downright inspirational. The guests are often famous (Chris Rock, Blake Griffin, Questlove), but Brennan and Kasher frequently steal the show with their personal insights. Before your ears, Brennan comes to terms with the fact that he's an asshole, and Kasher realizes that his insane childhood has probably scarred him for life. It's as cathartic as it is funny. —Ben Westhoff
Located in an industrial area of Glassell Park, this unassuming-looking building originally housed a liquor distributor in the 1950s and '60s. It also functioned as a haberdashery, a fine-furniture distribution hub and a rental facility for production companies before becoming Keystone Art Space, which has been around for about two years. The 50,000-square-foot area is a collection of 60 rented artist studios for those working in numerous creative disciplines, from watercolorists, video-game designers and jewelers to woodworkers, welders, sculptors and collage artists. The massive building features classrooms, membership-based workshops for hobbyists, a full-scale gallery and even a decent-sized film/photography shooting space, complete with makeup and wardrobe areas. Already nearly all the workspaces are occupied, enabling the building's artists to practice, teach and exhibit their art in a communal setting. Keystone also is the headquarters of the Create L.A. nonprofit, which hosts free classes for community youth, priming the proverbial canvas for future generations of budding artists. —Tanja M. Laden
On a tree-lined hillside west of Santa Monica Airport, one resident has been dealing out of her garage — dealing art, that is. Emma Gray is a curator, editor and impresario who adores unconventional spaces, most recently Five Car Garage, an accurately named, surprisingly well-appointed structure in her alleyway. Previously belonging to a classic car aficionado, it's tricked out like a Chelsea gallery, with sealed concrete floors and wide roll-up doors. Gray doesn't so much represent artists as produce projects with them, joking, "I'm a gallery in denial, happy to provide a platform. Fuck convention." Her crew includes Hammer and Whitney Biennial artists and emerging talent, whom Gray asks for "impossible" ideas — fanciful, site-specific visions a proper gallery couldn't sell. The in-crowd has gotten with the program of afternoon receptions for shows such as David Hendren's elaborate, inconvenient mechanical sculptures, and Megan Daalder's upcoming small-audience "performance-sculpture." Address provided by appointment, and for events. —Shana Nys Dambrot
Santa Monica, 90405. (310) 497-6895, emmagrayhq.com.
We didn't know we needed one until it came here. Velveteria is a velvet-painting museum curated by Caren Anderson and Carl Baldwin, who relocated from Portland, Oregon, to open their new space in Chinatown late last year. This storefront gallery displays about 500 paintings — Baldwin likes to say "about 420 wink wink" — cherry-picked from the couple's 3,000-piece collection, bringing a welcome note of eccentricity to the growing hip-ification of the neighborhood. "See the '60s on velvet: black power, JFK, Beatles, Stones, rock 'n' roll, Vietnam and tiki," screams the website, and it's all true — plus a plethora of unicorns, religious icons, Liberace and the Hall of Elvis. More than a hobby, Velveteria purports to make a serious study of the genre as interpreted around the world. Best of all is a special blacklight room, packed floor to ceiling with glowing works of art, where cushions are provided for your hanging-out pleasure, upholstered in (of course) zebra velvet. —Suzy Beal
711 New High St., Chinatown, 90012. (503) 309-9299, velveteria.com.