This week, fringe culture comes to the masses with a week-long movie festival honoring the spacey Uranius Brotherhood, followed by the graphic-novel-obsessed Long Beach Comic Expo. Go underground (literally) with a tour of train station art, or head to ZERO DOWN and check out the work of L.A.'s hippest artists in - where else? - a former VW dealership. Prefer your art in a museum? The Annenberg Space for Photography's new exhibit, Country: Portraits of an American Sound, has got you covered.
5. Join the Brotherhood
The Unarius Brotherhood is a fringe society whose tenets involve extraterrestrial intelligence, reincarnation and the channeling of interplanetary life forms. The denomination's ideology is so outlandish that one of its late founders, Ruth Norman, aka Archangel Uriel, opted to transmit her quirky cult's eccentric belief system nationwide via public-access cable television during the 1980s, using dazzling garments and showy backdrops to share messages concerning energy, karma and the imminent arrival of flying saucers on Earth. Jodi Wille, co-curator of "The Visionary Experience: St. Francis to Finster" at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore (and co-director of the documentary The Source Family), brings her knowledge of the unorthodox subculture to Cinefamily for a weekendlong, intensive Welcome Space Brothers: The Films of the Unarius Brotherhood, which kicks off with live appearances by practicing Unariuns, along with a back-patio costume exhibit and a Tesla coil demo. It's followed by a sampling of Unarius' greatest moments on public-access TV, as well as the big-screen debut of The Arrival (1979), a weird hybrid of documentary and sci-fi filmmaking. There's also a two-part Unarius-themed workshop series about past lives and clairvoyance. So bust out your crazy threads, climb into your airbrushed spaceship, and get ready for some out-of-this-world experiences with one of the most far-out faiths around. Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre, 611 N. Fairfax Ave., Beverly Grove; Fri., May 30-Sun., June 1; screenings $12, free for members; workshops $10 (on-site donation only). (323) 655-2510, cinefamily.org. ? - Tanja M. Laden
3. Party with Artists
Artists taking over unoccupied industrial sites on the edges of American cities is always a fascinating idea, if not a new one. And when it comes to that trend of culturally reclamatory real estate here in Los Angeles, what more heartily symbolic properties to rehab than car dealerships and public storage? The sister sites of Beacon Arts Building and the 1019West studio complex understand both the irony and the opportunity in abundance. Over the last three years, these Inglewood locations both have blossomed into hives of working artists' studios, also producing the occasional public art event. For example, check out the second annual ZERO DOWN at 1019West - a one-night special event featuring open studios of its more than 35 occupants, guest artists from the Beacon Arts Building and a roster of invited performance artists popping up throughout the campus. Look forward to new and exciting work from artists you know (performance artists Tiffany Trenda, Amy Kaps and Nick Durand; 1019West regulars Rives Granade, Rachel Kaster, Tony de Los Reyes, Kiki Seror and Scott Grieger; and Beacon Arts' Brian Biedul and Kara Liebowitz) and many more you are about to discover. Besides, with the ladies of Gallery Girls as your hostesses - as well as plentiful food and drink - there's no risk in taking your evening out for a test drive. 1019West Studios, 1019 W. Manchester Blvd., Inglewood; Sat., May 31, 5-9 p.m.; free. (310) 576-3543, 1019west.com. - Shana Nys Dambrot
4. Get Graphic
Stop moaning that comic book conventions are about everything but the books. At Long Beach Comic Expo, it's those time-honored stories with pictures that take center stage. Once a small, one-day offshoot of the annual fall Long Beach Comic-Con, this springtime fest has mushroomed into a larger, weekendlong gathering of creators and fans. This year's guests range from Wolverine creator Len Wein and The Punisher co-creator Gerry Conway to web-comic sensation Paige "Rampaige" Halsey Warren (Busty Girl Comics). Graphic designer and illustrator Pierre Bernard Jr., best known for his work on Late Night With Conan O'Brien, will be making art live on Saturday evening. Prepare to spend time, and cash, in the artist alley, where you can pick up enough reading material to last for months. Long Beach Comic Expo is a great place to discover up-and-coming, local talent. Here you'll find plenty of titles that won't turn up on store shelves, from punk-looking zines to slick hardcovers. Aspiring comics creators, take note: Writer and editor Barbara Randall Kesel, who has worked with renowned publishers including DC, Marvel, Image and Dark Horse, will be on hand for portfolio reviews. Long Beach Convention Center, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach; Sat., May 31, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun., June 1, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; $20 weekend pass, $15 Saturday only, $10 Sunday only, children under 10 free. longbeachcomic?expo.com. - Liz Ohanesian
Turn the page for for more arty events. Bonus: these two are 100 percent free.
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2. Experience Country
With more than 100 striking shots of some of the biggest, most beauteous country stars who ever plucked a guitar string, Country: Portraits of an American Sound is an irresistible proposition from the get-go. But thanks to the co-sponsoring Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, there's much more here than just a photography exhibition. Along with intensely memorable portraits snapped by a horde of notable Nashville photographers (such as Grand Ole Opry house shutterbug Les Leverett and the great Raeanne Rubenstein), there are also several elucidating mini-documentary films providing background and context, and plenty of additional memorabilia, including musical instruments, some of them there sequin-spangled Nudie suits and assorted wardrobe items, displayed alongside vintage sheet music, movie poster and album art, even a jukebox loaded up with plenty of rare hillbilly ear-pleasers. The opening reception is Saturday, but the show runs all summer. Whether you're a devout fan or a stone non-believer, the joys of immersing in this sweet vortex of stellar C&W culture come in a Tammy Wynette bouffant - sized scale. Annenberg Space for Photography, 2000 Avenue of the Stars, Century City; Tue.-Fri., 11 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; through Sept. 28; free. (213) 403-3000, annenberg?spacefor?photography.org. - Jonny Whiteside
1. Take the Train
There are more than 75 operational subway stations in the sprawling Los Angeles Metro system. All of them have been touched by the hands of artists whose goal was to make interminable delays and frequent TAP-card checkpoints worthwhile - or at least aesthetically pleasing. Without looking at a station sign, a regular passenger knows where he is simply by looking at art such as the vibrant tile work at Hollywood and Western; the supposedly flying dreamers (they are not falling!) at the Civic Center; and the sky-blue film canister ceiling of Hollywood & Vine. The commissioned works started 25 years ago, and Metro proudly holds tours of them. In June, July and August, on the first Thursday of each month, Metro will offer Summer Tours focused on three downtown stations. The docent-led journeys depart from Union Station and end at Seventh & Metro, crossroads of the ever-expanding railway. Now, when out-of-towner friends mock our public transportation system, you can point out the unique artworks rather than the locations of celebrity arrests. Tours begin at the station's information kiosk, just inside the Alameda Street entrance. Union Station, 800 N. Alameda Blvd., dwntwn.; Thu., June 5, 5:30 p.m.; free. (213) 922-2738, metro.net. - Sean J. O'Connell
See also: 30 Free Things to Do in L.A. Any Time