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LA LA Land: The Mother of All Press Junkets

A four day press junket for #PSTinLA -the nation’s largest, longest and probably most expensive art and music project

(Santa Monica) Have you ever been on a press junket?  Probably not, unless you are a reporter, broadcaster, or editor. As a writer I go on press junkets, which in the music biz are often fairly tame –  muffins and coffee in the morning, interviews and photo ops with a sleepy band, and distribution of press passes for an upcoming concert. This Tuesday was not like that; I was at the mother of all press junkets – in fact it is still going on, but I had to take a break to write about it before I plunge back in.  

press junket for #PSTinLA

The junket was/is for a unique collaborative LA experience known at Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, an annual event produced for the past 15 years by the Getty Foundation and its cluster of Getty-funded/run organizations. This year PST:LA/LA involves over 70 cultural institutions, galleries, venues, schools, clubs, and universities, stretching from Santa Barbara to San Diego. All of them will be offering programs on a single theme: Latin American and Latino Art in LA.  PST:LA/LA 2017 will operate from September through January in seven counties comprising over 15 million people. The Getty Foundation has financed the project with $16 million in grants to 50 institutions and has been planning it since 2014. The press junket showed it.

press junket for #PSTinLA

We (about 200 media) arrived at the huge Getty Center complex, overlooking the I-405 at the south end of Santa Monica at the very un-journalistic hour of 8:00 am. We took a miniature rail shuttle up to the top of the hill where the Center is located, and then climbed the marble steps to a spacious plaza overlooking the city. There, an army of mostly wide-awake volunteers and staff gave us our badges. TV and film crews set up camera positions while the rest of us headed for a deluxe breakfast laid out in the main auditorium lobby, washed down with gourmet coffee and fresh-squeezed juices. While we enjoyed the food, museum leaders, artists, and local art celebrities mingled (and got interviewed by roving TV reporters) and we collected about 3 pounds of press materials from the 25 or so venues and cultural institutions on hand.

Then, still sipping that second cup of coffee, we were herded into a vast auditorium where we were welcomed from the stage by a parade of luminaries including the Senior VP of the co-sponsor Bank of America- flown from Charlotte for the occasion – and LA’s  Mayor videoing in from Chile. Then we were invited to sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

It was quite a show. Festivities were kicked off by Palabras Ajenas, a display of collages and a live read of the play by Argentine artist León Ferrari that challenged authoritarianism of all types, from the Argentinian dictatorship and the Catholic Church to the US war in Vietnam. The read was followed by a lively conversation on the role of Latino art and “artivists” in LA, led by the creative director of KCET, a local CPB station, and a group of well-known Latino artists.

press junket for #PSTinLA

The highlight of the program was a performance by LA-based Latin-Grammy nominated Chilean-American pop singer Francisca Valenzuela, backed up by my friends Grammy-nominee Alih Jey and Fernanda Ulibarri of the band Uli and the Mexican Standoff. We were treated to great songs in Spanish with an English introduction to the final song, “Catedral” by Valenzuela, who it turns out is quite funny.

press junket for #PSTinLA

After the music, we mingled, photographed, and interviewed the artists before being taken on a guided tour of the Getty Museum by the Director.  After a box lunch on the terrace that any cordon bleu restaurant would have been proud of, more mingling. I shared my table with two Art History professors/writers from Art Forum Magazine who explained what was really going on. The Getty Endowment, which pays for all of the Getty Museum activities, restricts the museum to pre-1945 European and American art – which means mostly by white Europeans. But it also tasks the staff with trying to bring every school child in LA into the museum at least once a year. As the demographics of LA have changed, the Museum’s collection was less relevant to a mostly non-white youth. So the staff creates art experiences like PST:LA/LA so that children can see art made/performed by people who look like them – hence, this year’s theme of Latino art in LA.  Fortunately, LA is full of Latino art, music, theater, and dance, since it was Mexico until 1848.

After lunch the fun really began.  Because PSTinLA is spread over 7 counties and several thousand square miles, reporters were toured in air-conditioned Mercedes buses to its various sites over 4 days, with multiple trips each day to multiple parts of the region. Of the five tours available on Tuesday, I chose the shortest, Downtown and East LA. Our bus went to MOCA – the Museum of Contemporary Art — where we were served cookies and iced mocha and the curator took us on a personal tour of the exhibition of Anna Maria Maolino. Then it was back into the bus to East LA for a tour of the Institute of Contemporary Art, where the Director gave us a personal tour of the art of Martin Ramirez.  

press junket for #PSTinLA

Our final stop of the rather hot day (where was more iced mocha when we needed it?)  was at the museum/gallery run by the Latino community-based group Self Help Graphics & Art. There the curator walked us through Dia de Los  Muertos: A Cultural Legacy, Past Present and Future, a sprawling exhibition of Chicano/a and Latina/o created posters, graphics, paintings, sculptures and photographs from over 30 years of involvement in the Dia de Los Muertos celebration in Los Angeles (which last year featured hundreds of altars, dozens of bands and 40,000 participants).

The junket goes on all week; I will not be on all the tours since the music portion alone will take me days to absorb, with close to 25 concerts and performances scheduled.  I will be at the opening concert Sunday  with La Santa Cecelia at the Hollywood Bowl. Since PST:LA/LA goes through January, I will be attending a lot of  its music as well as other events and will bring you stories.  Now, off to a another champagne reception for the press.

See the rest of LA LA Land coverage, until next week!

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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