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A Look Back at Local Cultural Events in 2008:

Santa Monica and surrounding areas like Venice abound in cultural experiences, and 2008 brought us many exciting events, exhibits, plays, music venues, and other types of art and entertainment. The economic slump was also a factor, contributing to the closing of some venues and to arts organizations taking measures to keep afloat. Here are some of the highlights of local arts and entertainment coverage in the Mirror during 2008.

January: Santa Monica’s Cultural Affairs Department held a workshop to discuss the City Council’s upcoming vote on arts funding and how input from the community might influence the amount allocated for funding. The Santa Monica Conservancy honored Carol Lemlein and RuthAnn Lehrer for their creation of the Downtown Walking Tour of Santa Monica’s historic landmarks, and also honored the individuals who helped to restore Santa Monica High School’s Barnum Hall.

February: the 2008 Independent Spirit Awards were held on Santa Monica Beach (in a tent). This alternative to the Oscars saw awards go to, among others, Cate Blanchett for her portrayal of Bob Dylan in I’m Not There, Phillip Seymour Hoffman for The Savages, and both actress Ellen Page and screenwriter Diablo Cody for Juno.

The Beyond Baroque Foundation in Venice, a longtime literary arts venue, was threatened with the loss of its lease on the Venice City Hall. Thanks to action by Los Angeles City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl and lots of letters and phone calls from locals, the organization received a 25-year extension of its lease.

March: Dutton’s Bookstore in Brentwood, a literary haven and longtime Mirror advertiser, closed its doors after 24 years. Customers flocked to a farewell party, at which poet and former Dutton’s clerk Scott Wannberg read a poem in tribute to books.

Dustin Hoffman appeared at a press conference to announce the opening later in 2008 of the Eli and Edith Broad Performing Arts Center at Santa Monica College’s Madison campus. The new facility boasted a 499-seat main stage and a second smaller “black box” theatre.

The G2 Gallery opened in Venice. Located on Abbot Kinney Boulevard, the gallery specialized in nature photography and established a policy of donating a percentage of its sales to environmental charities.

April: The Malibu Film Festival featured films by local filmmakers as well as independent directors.

The Santa Monica Review, a literary magazine published by Santa Monica College, held a 20th anniversary reading at the new Performing Arts Center. Among the writers who read from their work were SMC Creative Writing instructor Jim Krusoe and fiction writer Diane Lefer, who introduced herself with an unexpected bit of activist performance art.

Venice saw the opening of another art gallery, Gebert, specializing in contemporary art and sculpture.

May: the musical Camilla, presented by the Festival of New American Musicals at Santa Monica College, proved to be one of the most enjoyable and exciting musicals in a long time.

The Santa Monica Festival was held as always at Clover Park and a Cinco De Mayo Festival graced Virginia Avenue Park. Over in Venice, the Venice Arts teaching facility celebrated its 15th year with an exhibit of student art and films. And at the Church In Ocean Park, the third annual Small Press Book Fair offered readings and sales of small press books, especially poetry books such as former Ocean Park resident Franceye’s Grandma Stories.

June: Local music legends Jackson Browne and Venice, as well as Heart, performed at the annual benefit for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District’s art programs. The concert ended with Browne and Venice singing “Take It Easy” with the Samohi Girls’ Choir.

July: the big event and a very big one for Santa Monica, was the first ever GLOW art night. From 7 p.m. to dawn, Santa Monica Pier literally glowed with light as the Pier hosted music, dance, performance art, and other performances all for free.

August: Celebrities appeared at local venues to promote their books. Here at the Mirror, we were able to catch up with Don Felder of the Eagles (at the Santa Monica Main Library) and Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame (at Barnes and Noble). The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium celebrated its 50th anniversary with an evening of fun that included a free screening of The Endless Summer and a chance for every person to “perform” briefly on the SM Civic stage, with either a guitar or drums to play.

September: The Temple Bar, a longtime music venue, closed. And Diesel Books of Malibu opened a new branch in Brentwood, filling some of the gap left by the departure of Dutton’s.

October: McCabe’s Guitar Shop celebrated its anniversary with a big music bash at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Among the highlights was a brief and emotionally charged performance by the late Odetta.

The Broad Performing Arts Center officially opened with concerts and a reading by outgoing California Poet Laureate Al Young.

And the World Magic Awards were held at Barker Hangar and taped for international TV broadcast.

November: The Church In Ocean Park held a party to boost spirits after the passing of Proposition 8 eliminated the right of same-sex couples to marry and to be married by Reverend Janet McKeithen at the Church.

December: Made Me Nuclear, a one-man show about surviving cancer written by and starring Charlie Lustman, did so well in its run at Santa Monica Playhouse that it was extended through to the end of January 2009.

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