Civic Virtue: Watts Here and Now

Though I was born and raised in Los Angeles, I had never seen the Watts Towers, or what amount to 17 steel-and-mortar sculptures created from 1921 to 1954, prior to this Saturday. (For more information on Watts Towers and its creator Simon Rodia, watch “I Build the Tower.”) The extra incentive for my first viewing was a string of events sponsored by Pacific Standard Time, in conjunction with Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery and Watts Towers Arts Center, starting with an unveiling at 10 a.m. of several O’ Speak, Speak 2 works in the Garden Studio at Watts Towers Arts Center, and ending with a reception for the exhibit, curated by Willie Middlebrook, at 5 p.m. at Cecil Fergerson Gallery at Watts Labor Community Action Committee. Both installments of O’ Speak, Speak 2 honor five women artists: AfraShe Asungi, Margaret Garcia, Noni Olabisi, Toni Love and Dominique Moody.

Curator Willie Middlebrook/All photos by Willlie Robert Middlebrook 3rd

While roaming around the Garden Studio, I was lucky to meet Middlebrook’s son, Willie Robert 3rd. He took me on a brief tour of the studio garden (below).

He also shared with me how he and his father had transported the women’s art pieces from their studios to the gallery and garden (pictures below).

Toni Love

Margaret Garcia

Dominique Moody








Other events over the course of the day at the Watts Towers Arts Center were Short Stories from the Watts Writers’ Workshop and “The Early Days In Watts,” Reflections and Remembrances with Kamau Daáood Ojenke, Wanda Coleman, Otis O’Solomon and Erin Aubrey Kaplan.

At 2 p.m., Barbara Morrison, a 30-year jazz and blues veteran, serenaded a motley, spirited crowd in darkness on the stage of the WLCAC Bradley Multi Purpose Center (aka senior center). Being in a wheelchair didn’t stop her from getting people up from their seats to do the Electric Slide. Here Barbara sing:

I didn’t stay for the reception at Cecil Fergerson Gallery, but I could tell the night was only going to get more interesting. Starting around the same time as Morrison’s performance, hundreds of punk-styled Latino youth were being dropped off for an outdoor concert right next door to the gallery. A mosh pit was in full force by 3 p.m. That two disparate worlds can exist so closely to each other midday is part of L.A.’s unique charm.

Garden Studio works remain until Feb. 12. WLCAC Cecil Fergerson Gallery exhibition closes March 16.

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