Cities can be simply distinguished by a particular attribute, however arbitrarily. For example, New York it is finance, the symbol, money, the setting, Wall Street; Washington, D.C., the attribute, government, the symbol, the politician, the setting, the U.S, Capitol building.
Distinguishing Los Angeles is more problematic, as I comment this week on public radio 97.5 KBU, and websites everywhere.
Thinking beyond the benign weather and semi desert setting by the sea, I propose it could be arts and entertainment, and its personification, the gazpacho of cultural diversity. The setting is more debatable.
There is, of course, the iconic Hollywood sign. Some say the Venice boardwalk, or a beach scene, on a warm weekend. Others more contrarian, the traffic choked freeways.
From my perspective, L.A. more than most world cities is an evolving metropolis, and therefore an apt descriptive setting in my opinion would be a happening place.
With this as a measure, and as an idiosyncratic critic, I suggest the setting be CalArts, the Valencia based undergraduate and graduate school of 1,500 students pursuing careers in the visual, performing, and literary arts.
Though there are other art oriented schools in L.A. what makes CalArts special for me is not any physical icon, but the diversity of its students reflecting L.A.’s ethnicity , energy and excitement. After all, what is a city, but its people.
And I like the idea expressed by CalArts president Steven Lavine, that the school can only be good as its students, and that CalArts IS committed first and foremost to attracting a diverse student body that reflected L.A. and the world.
Indeed, I love the school’s catalogue that declares admission is based solely on the applicant’s creative talent and future potential; that test scores are not particularly important, and that the students who do best in CalArts tend to energetic, enthusiastic, self-motivated, fast learners, idiosyncratic aesthetes, verbal and visual adventurers, risk takers, those who are smart and vocal and possess a critical eye.
It adds that having formal skills helps, but those are things that can be taught; that having raw intelligence and an adventurous side matters more. Above all, it was found the students who do best are those committed to design and who are willing to put the time and energy into their own development and learning.
What made me think about CalArts – the so-called news peg for this piece – is the imminent retirement of Lavine, whose nearly 30 noteworthy years as president, from the school’s early struggles to its present prominence, in many ways parallels the rise of L.A. as the disputable creative capitol of the world.
To be sure, this category has not yet been christened by those who keep lists. But I feel it’s deserving, and in the tradition of L.A. as a trendsetter, beginning as a boomtown, then a tinsel town, and today the new media, and tomorrow, who knows.
But whatever, I feel CalArts will persevere and prosper, if it indeed stays true to Lavine’s vision of an intercultural , international and interdisciplinary pursuit of the arts, as an integral element in an evolving of democracy, addressing the pressing social issues of the times.