Christy Roberts Berkowitz (she/her/they/them/multitudes) is a cross-disciplinary artist whose radical creative practice centers around empathy and risk-taking in the service of community well-being. Her intuitive and intentional turns at performance-based experiences, curatorial narratives, music and production, poetry, filmmaking, arts education, collective organizing, and unflinching historical review all flow to and from her abiding love for Los Angeles, its troubles and its triumphs, its contestations and compassions, its magic and its margins. Berkowitz has had an incredible month, with her appointment to a year-long residency as Creative Strategist with the L.A. County Department of Human Resources, her receipt of a Creative Corps grant to develop a storytelling project for the Inland Empire exploring shared legacies of displacement, and rounding off a year in residency with her organization KCHUNG Radio at MOCA. We caught up with her on her way to Brooklyn for a reading of her original writing—since it sounds like she’ll be pretty busy when she gets back!
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
CHRISTY ROBERTS BERKOWITZ: I don’t remember ever not making art, but I have three “moments of clarity.”
1. I won a national Crayola competition when I was 5, but I think I just thought of it as a skill.
2. In 6th grade I remember being teased for the way I thought and that, to me, was when I understood that the way I saw the world was different than most people I knew and that, for me, is at the crux of being an artist.
3. I was about to go to law school, had worked in firms for years, had good pre-law degrees, had taken the LSAT and was accepted to some of my top choices for school. The week before I was supposed to put down my deposit, I was painting a mural I had been hired to do for a kid and I realized that I wasn’t supposed to be an attorney. I made a new plan the next day.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
Individual and collective constructions of power.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
As a millennial in an economy where income streams are necessary and abundant, but precarious when it comes to fair compensation, I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of things that I still consider part of my art practice: curator, singer/songwriter/producer, film maker, art director, professor, writer, poet, etc.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
I did. I am humble and persuaded by trustworthy wisdom when it comes to what I don’t know or could do better. There’s a lot I don’t know or could do better. I felt like I needed dedicated time for devotion so that I could initiate myself into the commitment of being an artist, and for me, an MFA program did that. My educational foundation is in philosophy and religious studies, which are equally important to my practice.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
I am from the greater L.A. area; my mom was born in Monterey Park, and my grandfather was born in Watts. I am deeply, deeply in love with Los Angeles. I love the glitter and the unbearable sadness, the romance of dreaming and the faith of rebellion. Los Angeles is such a culturally rich place and the landscape is a resounding poet, layered with perseverance, conflict, absolution, and healing.
When was your first show?
When I was 15, I approached my favorite local independent coffee shop and they hung my work for 6 weeks and threw me a reception. I sold four pieces.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show or project?
I just started as a Creative Strategist for the Department of Human Resources for Los Angeles County. It’s an artist residency where I’ll be developing and prototyping arts-based strategies for employee engagement that foster self expression centered around the Los Angeles County Department of Human Resources’ six areas of well-being: physical, emotional, occupational, social, intellectual, and financial.
I also just received a Creative Corps grant to develop a storytelling project that uses changes to our natural landscape over the last 2000 years, to explore our shared legacies of displacement in Southern California.
I just finished a year-long residency at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, programming events on behalf of KCHUNG Radio, who now operates a public radio station out of a shipping container in the plaza of the Geffen, in addition to our main station in Chinatown.
I am working on my sophomore solo album and I have two prose pieces published in Volume 8 of the Los Angeles Press. Both projects are about grief. I [recently had the chance to read] the prose pieces and some poetry on July 21st in Brooklyn with a few friends.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show or work with?
Do you listen to music while you work? If so, what?
I love this question. I make so many different kinds of things that it varies. Sometimes silence. When I write I like to listen to Ryuichi Sakamoto, the Cinematic Orchestra, Badbadnotgood, Ornette Coleman, etc. When I conceptualize I tend to listen to moody music like Daughter, Little Dragon, Robert Glasper, etc. As a DJ I’m eclectic, but gravitate towards music with movement, especially jazz.
Website and social media handles, please!
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