Arts on the Grounds: L.A. Escena Performance Series

The UCLA William Andrews Clark Memorial Library plans to transform community engagement with the arts, and in particular with the Hispanic tradition of classical theater through a series called L.A. Escena, part of the Clark Library’s Arts on the Grounds project. Arts on the Grounds is the first stage of a larger strategy for engaging lower-income and diverse communities from the West Adams neighborhood of Los Angeles. Our initial strategy for increasing engagement will begin with a performance program set in the Clark Library’s five acres of gardens, public spaces, outdoor “rooms,” and lawns. Performances will target local audiences through modern interpretations of classical texts, bilingual productions and adaptations of Spanish plays, and family-friendly productions.

This initiative will open in June 2013 with L.A. Escena. Focusing on classical theater in Spanish and adaptations for Los Angeles audiences, this series will extend the Clark Library’s reach, inspiring artists and audiences to explore plays from the Hispanic tradition, and particularly Spain’s Golden Age, in bilingual formats and outdoor performances. As a first step in introducing broader audiences to this body of work, Playwrights’ Arena, spearheaded by Jon Lawrence Rivera, will commission notable local playwrights active in the Latino community to adapt classics of the Spanish Golden Age for contemporary Los Angeles audiences. The series will launch with a festival of staged readings designed to introduce audiences to the treasures of Lope de Vega, Cervantes, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz and more. Playwrights include Oliver Mayer, Velina Hasu Houston, and Luis Alfaro. Renowned actors will present scenes of their adaptations this summer, to be followed by one or more full productions in Summer 2014.

The UCLA Clark Library is located in the ethnically and economically diverse community of West Adams, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Los Angeles, with multiple Historic Preservation Overlay Zones. The community includes Latino, white, African-American, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native American residents, ranging from wealthy to low-income, and is a center of African-American gay life. West Adams thus embodies the racial, economic and social diversity of L.A.

Despite its central location and partial gentrification, however, the neighborhood is still far removed from much of the cultural activity in Los Angeles. We plan to remedy this through the Arts on the Grounds initiative which will welcome residents to outdoor performances, particularly encouraging the exploration of the city’s Hispanic heritage.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

The Library has offered a range of public programs and theater productions, taking advantage of the collection’s focus on the 17th- and 18th-century, one of the great ages of classical drama. Most recently, the Clark Library partnered with L.A. Theater Works (LATW) to present “Pride and Prejudice” in the Library’s drawing room for a live audience and radio broadcast. Other indoor performances have included the operatic scena “Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda” (with Opera UCLA), and William Wycherley’s “The Country Wife” in collaboration with UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television. Theater performances build on the tremendous success of the Clark’s Chamber Music Series, now entering its 20th year, which draws over 700 people each year.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

We partner with neighborhood associations, local theater companies, and various departments on the UCLA campus for outreach programs serving neighborhood schools. These include the UCLA Lab School and the School of the Arts’ Visual and Performing Arts Education program. Oliver Mayer of USC’s School of Dramatic Arts is an additional partner. Our initial theater partner for L.A. Escena is Playwrights’ Arena, led by Jon Lawrence Rivera. In 2013-14, we will partner with East L.A. Classical Theater for performances targeting K-12 audiences. With the West Adams Heritage Association (WAHA), we have also established a joint committee to explore how the library can address the cultural needs of the community and potential collaborative projects.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

We will evaluate Arts on the Grounds and measure success in three ways:

1) Audience attendance and feedback: The Clark Library conducts surveys with audiences at events to learn about their reactions to performances, accessibility of our programs, and their suggestions for future programming. We also collect data on the number of attendees.

2) Partner response: We interview partners about their experience in the collaboration, troubleshoot during a season, and build their recommendations into development of new collaborative efforts. The Clark Library also measures the success of partnerships by interest from new partners.

3) Operational assessment: The library periodically conducts assessments of programs by debriefing with Clark Library staff, reviewing audience surveys, and analyzing attendance statistics. These are generally annual evaluations that guide a process to identify shortcomings of past events and programs and develop strategies to improve implementation.

Additional assessments will come from interviews with neighborhood groups and school representatives from the West Adams district. The overall success of this initiative will be measured by the number of attendees and media hits of the pilot season.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Arts on the Grounds unique programming will actively engage the diverse community in the West Adams district, UCLA students, scholars, and K-12 school groups with intersections between literature and the performing arts. The program aims to increase the opportunities for engagements with art for local residents in low-income neighborhoods, address a growing demand for performing arts in the West Adams district, and foster partnerships between humanities scholars and performing arts practitioners. The partners and productions in the series that we will pilot in Summer 2013 have been selected based on their appeal to Spanish-speaking audiences in local communities and are designed to engage youth from low-income families in cultural enrichment. We expect to reach a total audience of 800-1000 during the Summer 2013 Arts on the Grounds series. Each theater event will be promoted by both our theatrical partners and the Clark Library, and we will work with the West Adams Heritage Association to advertise the events in their newsletter and other appropriate neighborhood outlets.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

In 2050 we envision thriving artistic communities throughout all area of Los Angeles. We believe that arts and culture has an integral role to play in the development of individuals and communities, and also acts as a bridge between groups who would otherwise not interact. We see the Clark Library playing a role in this evolution through its Arts on the Grounds program by becoming a central hub of cultural vitality in the West Adams district of Los Angeles – bringing people together to celebrate their heritage and traditions through performances of all kinds.