OFF THE WALL
In what can only be described as a travesty, Chicana artist Judith Baca’s iconic mural along the 110 freeway, “Hitting the Wall,” was whitewashed by the California Department of Transportation. One of the 1984 Olympics original landmark murals, Baca’s work depicted the female athlete’s struggle to overcome what were then Olympic restrictions against women. Ten murals commissioned by the International Olympic Committee, but after the ‘84 Games no fund was established to pay for maintenance of the works. Over time, damage by vandalism and taggers forced the artists into the unenviable position of being responsible for the repair of their artwork or face the risk of having them destroyed. Although her work is copyrighted and registered with the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, Baca did not receive the legally mandatory 90-day notice of Caltrans’ intention to cover up the mural, hence her VARA (Visual Artist Rights Act) rights were violated. VARA is a federal law that protects an artist’s moral rights including any intentional distortion, mutilation or modification of a work that would compromise their reputation. According to the L.A. Times, the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) along with the Department of Cultural Affairs has contacted Mayor Eric Garcetti, Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles) and Caltrans regarding the whitewashing, requesting that the mural be restored. We'll keep following this story as it develops. See the original mural here.
RECORD-COLLECT IN PEACE
Last Friday saw the heartbreaking loss of a beloved figure within our community, as Gary Stewart’s passing at the age of 62 sent shockwaves through L.A.’s music scene. Rising to prominence in the '80s, Stewart was instrumental in transforming an eclectic Westwood record store into an internationally revered label for reissues and archived recordings.
Rhino Records had a sterling reputation among musicians and music consumers alike, and much of that had to do with Stewart’s caring stewardship. Hundreds upon hundreds of meticulously curated recordings carried his name and influence.
Current Rhino president Mark Pinkus eulogized Stewart on the company’s website. Stewart had a legendary enthusiasm for music and musicians, as nothing gave him greater joy than turning someone on to an artist he felt had been criminally ignored. Many recalled a man so dedicated to furthering the art form that he’d forgo being on the guest list, insisting upon purchasing blocks of tickets instead, then giving them to friends and industry to spread the word on an artist he championed. Hired away by Steve Jobs, Stewart crafted iTunes into the digital industry leader, as Apple benefited from his keen understanding that the curation of playlists led to increased sales.
Stewart was a fervent supporter of several charitable organizations, among them the Community Coalition, the Liberty Hill Foundation (which he chaired), the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy and the Social Venture Network. Mayor Eric Garcetti referred to Stewart as “a true champion of justice, a model of modesty and, most of all, our dear friend. L.A. is better off for everything he did.”
It’s been a month since superstar writer and showrunner David Simon (The Wire, Treme, Deuce) delivered a blistering tirade about his agents on his personal blog, accusing them of a conflict of interest in regard to their negotiating on his behalf. As reported in Variety, Wednesday morning saw shots fired, as the Writers Guild of America filing a lawsuit against talent agencies WME, CAA, UTA and ICM. This was the next step in the rapidly escalating battle raging between the WGA and the Big Four agencies, which first broke down on April 12, with the guild ultimately telling its membership to fire their agents. Much to the chagrin of the agencies, they took the order seriously, with several prominent writers and showrunners doing exactly as directed, axing their representation.
The breakdown stemmed from the WGA’s demand that there be a common code stipulating how agents negotiate on behalf of their members. How any deals will move forward from here is anyone’s guess, as both sides are in a standoff, currently in the midst of a court battle that could take ages to decide. The disagreement stems from the big agencies earning packaging fees, gained from assembling TV and film properties, while becoming invested in the arena of finance and production as well. Writers and showrunners are frustrated at being trapped in a system where they witness massive fees going to agencies while their writing budgets remain static. The WGA argues that this practice creates an inherent conflict of interest, as now agents are incentivized to negotiate on behalf of production companies against the interest of the writers they are supposed to be representing. Agents claim such conflict is overstated, as they risk losing clients if they were to cheat them. Let’s hope that cooler heads prevail before we see productions being shut down and jobs lost.
Monday brought a new budget proposal to L.A. County, requesting $32.5 billion to keep the lights on. Among the budget’s highlights are investments in programs for immigrants, children, improvements in the justice system, the newly christened Department of Arts and Culture, a newly enhanced “people-friendly” voting system, recreation, sustainability, school safety, job creation and road safety.
Given the unfortunate and rampant rise in homelessness, it is reassuring that more than $400 million is going to address that problem, However, only $35 million is going toward affordable housing development, the reason we have so many working homeless in the first place. Measure H is fueling 90% of the homeless budget, with money raised via a quarter-cent sales tax increase voted in by residents in 2017. Now in its third year, revenue from the measure is increasing, with almost $15 million more than last year's budget.
The proposal also includes a massive expenditure for mental health programs, with $15 million spread across the county’s 33 mental health clinics, as well as $3.1 million allocated to mental health evaluation teams, designed to accompany law enforcement when confronting people with mental health issues. Other expenditures include programs designed to assist the mentally ill and divert them into treatment instead of jailing them.
The public will be invited to comment on May 15, with the budget being finalized by the end of June.
You know that old canard where the road to hell is paved with good intentions? Well, in the case of state Sen. Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill 50, that canard holds true. Initially described as a bill designed to ease the construction of low-income housing, it is actually a Trojan horse for something far more nefarious, a bill designed to benefit real estate speculation, gentrifying old neighborhoods in a free-for-all land grab. The bill sought to permit apartments and condos up to five stories tall within the vicinity of bus and rail stations, in areas that were strictly zoned for single-family homes. The bill, meant to boost the supply of housing while driving down prices, very likely would have the opposite effect, as developers likely would build luxury units, driving up rents while completely destroying historic neighborhoods, much like what has occurred in San Francisco. Thankfully the Los Angeles City Council adopted a resolution on Tuesday opposing the bill on a 12-0 vote. Now it's up to six Sacramento legislators to kill SB 50. Click here to let them know your opposition.
ANGEL'S IN HEAVEN
If anyone is thinking about greenlighting an interesting biopic, Angel Walker’s life story should be near the top of that list. The 74-year-old burlesque legend died Thursday, April 11, after a bout with pneumonia. Known as “Satan's Angel, the Devil's Own Mistress, Queen of the Fire Tassels,” she rose to fame in San Francisco in the '60s via her signature “flaming tassels” act, in which she did exactly what it sounds like.
Walker performed while living openly as a lesbian, a particularly daring act during that era. She moved on to the big Las Vegas stages in the '70s, toured the world and starred in her own show.
Retiring initially in 1985, she made her comeback in 2002 as the grand dame of burlesque, performing in the Miss Exotic World Pageant and the “Cavalcade of Stars.” She was the subject of 2012 documentary film Satan's Angel: The Movie, in which she recounted her legacy in the counterculture, hanging with the Rat Pack, tripping with The Doors and doing USO tours with Bob Hope.
Walker continued to dance and give burlesque classes until last November, when she retired once again. L.A.'s burlesque community has been heavily mourning the groundbreaking star all week on social media, and many have dedicated performances in her honor.
ORANGE YOU GLAD IT'S EASTER WEEKEND?
If Los Angeles looks a little prettier the eve of Easter Sunday, it will be because the US Bank Tower, the Capitol Records Building, the Santa Monica Clock Tower and the LAX pylons will be glowing in orange light in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Easterseals. The largest disability organization in the United States, Easterseals provides service and support to more than 1.5 million people with disabilities. Easterseals Southern California provides services including autism therapy, adult day services, child development care and employment services, as well as undertaking initiatives to help push for a future that is 100% inclusive. Check out all the great things they do here.
Editor's note: Judith Baca's first name was incorrect in the original post. We regret the error.