On May 1, 2018, a painter, a writer-performer, a calligrapher and a filmmaker checked into a hotel in Little Tokyo. But this is not a joke. Far from it: This has been the inaugural installation of the Little Tokyo Service Center’s new +LAB Artist Residency.
Susu Attar, Dan Kwong, Tina Takemoto and Kuniharu Yoshida have been living at the culturally significant and architecturally intriguing Daimaru Hotel on North First Street. Working not only in the neighborhood but in deep engagement with its history and its residents, as well as hyper-local community organizations, the four artists each created unique place-making projects on the theme of “Community Control and Self-Determination.”
LTSC chose this theme for the inaugural residency in large part as a response to the economic and cultural pressures on the neighborhood in the face of development, transportation infrastructure and spillover gentrification from the exploding, expensive Arts District, directly across Alameda Street. In many ways, Little Tokyo is mirroring the artist-versus-developer dynamic playing out in the Arts District, with displacement and the erasure of history in the balance — what the organizers diplomatically call “ongoing changes from outside the community.”
In its public statement, the LTSC continued, “Amidst continuing construction of market-rate housing and the new Metro station, and changes in the resident, employee and visitor makeup, these projects use art to reconsider who gets to determine the shape and future of Little Tokyo.”
Using the arts to spark deeper discourse surrounding these issues makes sense for a lot of reasons. Not only to honor the long history of creatives living and working in the neighborhood, but even more so because the arts can often better explore societal paradoxes and the balances between simultaneous but divergent interests in a way that politics and polemics, or worse, raw data, can’t always achieve.
Multimedia artist Susu Attar held open workshops in partnership with the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center to create painted Noren, versions of the ubiquitous Japanese fabrics hung in doorways, as a poetic “reflection on the growing problem of displacement in Los Angeles and its current impact on legacy communities like Little Tokyo.” Filmmaker Tina Takemoto conducted extensive archival research and held filmmaking workshops to create a timeline-based, multimedia “portrait” of First Street to “connect Little Tokyo's pre-war era with its rich histories of Bronzeville, anti-Vietnam War protests, Redress and current struggles for self-determination and community control.”
Takemoto’s project will be featured at Food on First, in a DIY Art + Film Workshop, along with Attar, on Saturday, July 21, from 1 to 3 p.m. at 341 E. First St.
Calligraphy artist Kuniharu Yoshida partnered with Sustainable Little Tokyo to offer a traditional calligraphy program for local seniors with the theme, “What is your message?” intended for display throughout the community, as well as staging calligraphy-based street happenings. “The calligraphy performances are intended to create awareness of the displacement of the [Japanese-American] community by real estate development,” Yoshida said, “as well as [of] the neighborhood’s historical background.”
Yoshida’s pop-up performance also happens on Saturday, July 21, from 1 to 3 p.m. in front of the Japanese American National Museum (100 N. Central Ave.)
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Dan Kwong, a performance artist working with the Japanese American National Museum, has been leading intergenerational “story circles” and culling the results into a theatrical piece. “Little Tokyo is a precious and vibrant community with over 130 years of history,” Kwong said. “Our stories are at the heart of that history, and collectively they become the voice of our community.”
Along with final public presentations by the three other residency artists, Kwong’s project, Tales of Little Tokyo, culminates in a staged reading on Saturday, July 28, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy (100 N. Central Ave.)