Watts is full of Art

Nov 16, 2009 by Lisa Newton

The Watts Tower Art Center

If you would have lived in a neighborhood when 34 people died, 1,032 were injured, and 3,952 arrested, you would have resided in Los Angeles’ Watts section of the city, circa 1965—only one year after the Watts Tower Arts Center was founded.

Otherwise known as “The Watts Riots,” its indelibly etched into our national and regional consciousness.

Although the riots live in infamy, Watts’ neighborhood leaders were desirous to overcome Watts’ reputation as a violence-prone and impoverished area; even approximately 50 years after the riots.

A central theme and idea for the Watts council plans, ideas, and thinking on this matter, is to assist and re-make–if not define–this community as art and artist-friendly. Currently the Watts Tower Art Center is the key component to their plans. And so it should be, because living in the shadow of the Watts Towers, is to experience its core power; and rejuvenation potential for the human condition.

As soon as you see the Arts Center, you feel both love and the love of a people. And for that reason alone, not only because, is what drives the staff at the Center.

Taking on the theme of the Watts Towers, the multi-colored themed tile inlay, can be seen on several sides of this building.

Up till the 1940’s, Watts was a very mixed racial and ethnic neighborhood. Then gentrification began, but only in one direction. Subsequently, its racial make-up and population was Black American African, who migrated from the South in search of a better life. During World War II, several large housing projects were built, in order to house hundreds of industrial workers who lived there.

By the 1960’s Watts’ population was practically 100% Black.

The Magic Wall

Here is “The Magic Wall” which was part of a previous art class at the Center. If you look to the right, you’ll see the plaque, with the names of its contributing artists.

Mother Watts

Overseeing her domain, “Mama Watts,” sits in the shadows of the Watts Towers, and watches hundreds of children come through the doors of the Art Center each day.

Longstanding resentment by Los Angeles’ working-class Black community over discriminatory treatment by police and inadequate public services (especially schools and hospitals) exploded on August 11, 1965, into what were commonly known as the Watts Riots. The event that precipitated the disturbances, the arrest of a black youth by the California Highway Patrol on drunk-driving charges, actually occurred outside Watts. Mobs did the most property damage in Watts in the turmoil. Source: Wikipedia

Even after the riots, the people of Watts had more problems to handle, namely gangs; to be specific:

The Bloods and the Crips—although they have reached the media spotlight as both legendary and untouchable, their corrosive and deadly influence continues until the present day.

However, despite many years of violence directly attributed to the Blood and Crips, the local community has worked among themselves, in order to get a “peace treaty,” between the two gangs.

Cecil

It worked–it took four years, but the peace remains today.

Presently even though almost 30% of today’s Watts’ population lives below the poverty level, they live a safer life—and lives– where they and their children can and do grow and play. And such grows the towering influence of the Watts Towers!

No longer is Watts 100% black. It’s been embraced by a very mixed ethnically-diverse group, including Hispanics, Blacks, Whites, and Asians, all living life together, surviving together, and hoping for the future together. What else can anybody hope or want in this world? To be honest—nothing, it’s a matter of faith—some would call it blind faith—belief, hope, change, and a collision of reality and utopia.

Be that as it may, when you visit the Watts Towers; be sure to stop by the Watts Tower Art Center, go inside, and say hello.

Their current exhibit includes:

50 Years Inspiring Art

I’m not going to spoil the visit by showing you a this display from their vault; but I hope the slideshow below will inspire, as well as propel you to take a closer look, when you visit Watts:

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