Friday, June 29, 2007

Truce in the Culture Wars

I hadn't been in San Diego too long in the early eighties when I found the Centro Cultural de la Raza. This former water tank in Balboa Park was the dynamic nexus of cultural expression in the border town. The Border Arts Workshop was just beginning. There was always a buzz of activity: poetry readings, art exhibitions, performances, fiestas and lively discussions. Victor Ochoa was the presiding spirit: his murals graced the exterior and his gentle humor was a benediction to all the activities of the place. It was the only place in San Diego where farm workers, pipe fitters and college professors mixed. As a weekend approached, friends would ask, so what's going on at the Centro this weekend? And like as not there would be something happening there: perhaps a poetry reading by Jesus Papoleto Melendez, an opening of an exhibition of envelopes drawn by Latino prisoners in California prisons, a performance by a folkloric group from Mexico, a film about Nicaragua that Tania Winter had dug up.
As the new millenium approached, the Centro became a victim of a custody battle between those who would define art with a capital "A" (corporately sponsored by the likes of Target and Farmers Insurance) and those for whom art meant a broader participation by the community (and art without corporate logos except as critical commentary). For years the Centro languished under a boycott by community activists who felt unwelcome and alienated. A group "Save Our Centro"formed which for many long years has been able to keep the spirit of community art alive, waiting for some sort of reconciliation. That moment has come and the various Latino communities of San Diego have something to celebrate. On this weekend of the United States Social Forum in Atlanta, there is truly a social forum alive and well in San Diego once more. Venceremos!An article with the history of the Centro is at

The First Post-Boycott Exhibit and Community Celebration
6:30PM TO 11PM
Featuring multidisciplinary art from the past, present and future of the much revered cultural institution.
RE:UNION C/S will bring together a mix of original founders to artists who have never shown their art inside the circular walls of the Centro, including Guillermo Acevedo, Guillermo Aranda, Berenice Badillo, Carlos Beltran, Selina Calvo, Carmela Castrejon, Memo Cavada, Carlos C. de Baca, Mario Chacon, Patricio Chavez, Chikle, Maria Dyybro Aguirre, endy, Nuvia Crisol Guerra, Ricardo Islas, Mario Lara, Eloissa Leonna, Teresa Yolanda Lopez, Richard A. Lou, Magu, Bob Rob Medina, Victor Ochoa, Jose Olague, Victor Payan, Sandra "Pocha" Peña, Elaine Ruiz, Robert J. Sanchez, Miguel-Angel Soria, Mario Torero, Perry Vasquez and other community artists. Plus, videos by the Media Arts Center San Diego!

With the end of the seven year long boycott the reintegration of the Centro has begun. Join the Centro Cultural de la Raza, the Save Our Centro Coalition, and the greater community as we pay homage to the past and sing praises for a better future.
Opening reception Saturday, June 30, 2007 from 6:30-10pm.
With music by Chunky y Los Alacranes and Quinteto Caballero.
Emcees Victor Payan and Sandra Peña Sarmiento

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Sunday, June 24, 2007


There's a flower market in Amsterdam where I bought two peonie plants in 1999. I was there as part of the Next 5 MinutesFestival, which, as their web site says, "puts together media, art and politics". The market sold me the "plants", but it was just two bunches of what looked like a tangle of dead roots each with a central knot. The roots were not packaged, just wrapped in a brown paper. It was before 9/11 but even so, the U.S. Customs was on guard. When I reached the US, they had opened my luggage and found the roots and I was taken into a side room to be questioned. They thought they were some sort of drug. I was held for quite a bit until a woman inspector who had once had some peonies in her yard explained to the others that it was ok. They let me through. I planted them on the wall near my house in Willow. Each year the two plants, which originated from those dried up scraggly roots, get more blossoms and bigger flowers.Of course I have to put lots of compost on them and ashes from the woodstove. Each year the house is filled with pink flowers. They look a little like the ones we used to make as kids-- with Kleenex and hairpins.I know the first part of summer is over when the floor of my house is paved with peonie petals.One of the wonders of web searches is that someone (perhaps from Indonesia, Mexico, Sweden??) will search the word "Peonies" some day and come across this site.
Peonie lovers of the world, unite!!

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Virtual Cities and Unfulfiled Dreams

The robots at YouTube link videos to the ones that you post-- clips that are selected to connect with ones you have posted. This video appeared at the top of my "YouTube account" page. I don't know how those robots knew that I have long been fascinated by the popularity of Sims, particularly with young women. Partly because of my mother.
I think my mother might have been lost to Sims. She was very active in a group called Women in Architecture and for a term served as president of that organization. She built this house for my family right before I was born. It's in the suburbs of Saint Louis. Shortly after my sister Pinky was born, our mother contacted polio and was unable to work for many years.She never was able to fulfil what must have been strong ambitions. She read about and greatly admired Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Eero Saarinen and Louis Kahn . She even worked with Richard Neutra on a residence in Chattanooga where we lived in the 1950s. But she was an architect who never was able to fulfil her dreams of building the futuristic cities she fantatized. Would she have enjoyed building Sims cities? Would this sort of activity have been something to develop her tremendous potential, or would this game have just sucked her time and her energy into someone else's game? Is the "creative potential" of this play only the expression of a few gamers in LA (or NY or Tokyo)?

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

La Voz de Guaicaipuro

Daniel Del Solar recently visited a small radio station in Venezuela in the region known as Los Teques. The studio has a large portrait of Oscar Romero, the priest who was killed by death squads of the right wing government in El Salvador.The radio station has an emphasis on ecology.Daniel del Solar was interviewed on their afternoon talk show.Their bulletin board lists tasks to be performed by volunteers and scheduled meetings.
This is their disk and record archive. They have three small rooms in a mountainous neighborhood outside of Caracas.
This Guaicaipuro station is very small. This is the engineer. Community radio in Venezuela has been growing in the past few years. The spectrum which was used mostly by large commercial stations is now divided between many small community radio and tv channels. A few weeks ago the Venezuelan government denied the renewal of a license for transmission of RCTV, a large commercial station, charging that the station had been instrumental in fomenting and supporting the attempted coup. This caused a great deal of reaction by the corporate press and many NGOS in the US, who saw this as censorship. Despite those charges, that station was not "closed down" -- they did lose their government license to the public airwavess but the right wing commercial station continues with their anti-Chavez attacks on cable and the internet. The spectrum that they were using will be divided between thirty small community stations. (However this claim which I got from a response article is disputed by the comment below from the director of Artevision and a producer at Simon Bolivar University in Venezuela .)Radio Guaicaipuro is one of the many community media outlets which has been supported by the Chavez government.

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Ousmane Sembène

Ousmane Sembène has died. He was a great novelest and the greatest African filmmaker, whose beautiful, touching and often hilarious films provided an inside view of Senegal and post colonial (or rather neo-colonial) Africa. There is a film about him by Manthia Diawara and Ngugi Wa Thiong'o which is distributed by Third World Newsreel.Unfortuantely many of his films are very expensive to rent (New Yorker Films), but several are on DVD and you can search for them at Amazon. I recommend Xala, The Money Order and his great early films, for example, Baron Sarret and Black Girl. His latest film Moonade is only available in Europe. You can get a copy here, but it is in PAL (European standard) format. "As far as I am concerned, I no longer support notions of purity. Purity has become a thing of the past. . . I constantly question myself. I am neither looking for a school nor for a solution but asking questions and making others think."

No to Occupation: June 10, 2007

We drove down to DC to a demonstration for Palestine.Convergence at the Capitol. The yellow posters are from the group "Answer" and the red ones from United for Peace and Justice, who organized the rally. This is the first time UFPJ has held a big rally on these issues. In the past even mention of Israel was not permitted. But there seems to be a sea-change. People are speaking out against the Israeli occupation and the attacks on Gaza. Part of the change is because, I think, people are waking up to what "occupation" means, having now seen it's bitter consequence in Iraq. Progressive people who are against the occupation in Iraq have to face the fact that Israel has occupied Palestine for forty years. To be against that occupation is not to be anti-semitic. It is to take a stand against a Zionist state that discriminates against half the population. See Joel's book, Overcoming Zionism (Pluto Press) for a discussion of the problem.These Orthodox Jews who are against occupation were the most popular photo subjects. Digital cameras, cellphones and network news focused on them all day.Another popular subject was Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink.There were many beautiful women in veils.My friend said I shouldn't use this photo unless I know what the words mean in Arabic. She is afraid that the image of the mosque means it might be from a religious sect that is repressive to women. If anyone can read it, please let me know what it says below in the comments.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007


Walking past Judson Church I saw this notice.Actually, arrogance is a symptom also. Imperialism is the disease. Walking further on the block, (4th Street at Washington Square) I looked in the NYU "student" center. The arrogance of this architecture is matched only by the plans of NYU to "redesign" Washington Square Park. These steps remind me of the Iranian Pavilion in the 1964 World's Fair. The entire pavillion was a set of marble stairs. At the top were two easels with portraits of the Shah and his wife.

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