Come gather round people from throughout the land, the arts are popping in Santa Monica. Indeed, the first days of September might well be declared “Bob Dylan Week.” Dylan was scheduled to appear live in concert Wednesday, September 3, at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in this, the 40th anniversary of the opening of the Civic in 1968.
The next evening, nonprofit American Cinematheque’s Aero Theater on Montana Avenue was scheduled to screen two Dylan documentaries released in 2007. The first, The Other Side of the Mirror: Bob Dylan Live at Newport was directed by Oscar winner Murray Lerner and looks at the first three years of Dylan’s career. The second film, :Bob Dylan ‘65 Revisited, is compiled from outtakes of Don’t Look Back and according to L.A. Times critic Robert Hilburn: “The greatest rock movie ever – just got better.”
True to form, the Aero Theater continues to provide Santa Monica with a unique slate of provocative cinema past, present, and preview. (Just a few weeks ago a remarkably lucid and engaging Ernest Borgnine, 91 years old, attended a screening of Marty for which he won the Best Actor Academy Award. He was welcomed by an adoring sell-out crowd.)
Not only is 2008 the 40th anniversary of Santa Monica Civic Auditorium (whose past acts have ranged from Elton John to Bruce Springsteen), it also marks 40 years for Santa Monica icon McCabe’s Guitar Shop on Pico Boulevard. McCabe’s intimate stage has hosted hundreds of artists over the years. In recognition, Jackson Browne, Odetta, David Lindley, and a long list of other musicians will perform a tribute to McCabe’s at UCLA’s Royce Hall on October 2. (Note that Jackson Browne has also appeared in recent years at school fundraisers at Samohi’s refurbished Barnum Hall – a good performance venue.)
As reported in the Mirror last week, the approximately 2,000-square-foot Pete & Susan Barrett Gallery just opened at SMC’s emerging arts complex at the former site of Madison Elementary School at 11th Street and Santa Monica Boulevard. In addition to the Gallery, the anchor facility at the complex is the new Performing Arts Center, a multi-million dollar high-tech facility that features the 99-seat Edye Second Space and soon-to-be-christened 499-seat Broad Stage (an opening gala will be on September 20). The larger stage can accommodate a full symphony orchestra, musicals, and other large-scale performances. SMC alumnus Dustin Hoffman helped fund construction of the performing arts center and philanthropists Eli and Edythe Broad have endowed the facility with approximately $10 million for programming.
Speaking of local art patrons, Tom Patchett’s Track 16 Gallery has anchored the emergence of Bergamot Station as a major West Coast fine arts venue in recent years. Other tenants include the Santa Monica Museum of Art. A smaller space, the Sam Francis Gallery at Crossroads School is a cultural jewel. SMC’s affiliated NPR station, KCRW, and the station’s art critic, Edward Goldman, give voice to Santa Monica’s arts persona. At a time when the Internet tends to keep folks at home, Santa Monica took the plunge and built a landmark new main library. It is heavily patronized and a beachhead in the fight to keep people sharing alongside information sharing.
New and refurbished brick and mortar are great, but our city also proves that the performing arts can thrive outside multi-million- dollar venues. A few summers ago I was riding my bike along the beach bike path and decided to bop up onto the Pier and catch the Thursday night free concert. Headliner Richie Havens had just taken the stage. Where else can you catch impromptu a vintage Woodstock performer in your own backyard? On any given night, volunteer street performers are hustling from the Third Street Promenade to the end of the Pier – ranging from brilliant, yet-to-be-discovered to awful. The city’s recent all-night GLOW festival on July 19 attracted an estimated 200,000 visitors – in head count the “People’s Republic of Santa Monica” outdrew the People’s Republic of China’s Olympics Opening Ceremony! (Okay, the Olympics had an extra billion TV viewers.)
When it comes to culture in Santa Monica, the times they are a changing. And the changes are huge!