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Thou Shall Not Kill: The Recklessness of LA City’s Cultural Politics

Thou shall not steal.

Mark Bradford, Across 110th Street

Thou shall not steal. The omni-protestant capitalists who set up the very first political machine after the large hacienda owners / Dons of LA like the Chandlers, etc, forgot the above mentioned adage that they had to, as Christians (don’t just give up that I, son), live by. Never mind such a statement, I’m sure they all agreed, and plus they seem to still be wealthy, and powerful today, as those who understood how to navigate identity politics more than any other regional elite in this US of A.

Thou shall not kill. Well, if the capitalists did steal and nothing that bad happened to them, why not kill? LA’s still-anglo can’t-stop-won’t-stop cultural politics and policies not only kill this city’s potential, but also its spirit. In LA’s current budget, product of our civilized liberal local democracy, the cultural affairs department (DCA) receives $13,130,438, much, much lower than NYC’s $147,171,166, and the budgets of most, if not all, major cities around the world.

The $13,130,438 is coupled with the LA County Arts Commission’s grant budget, which is at $4,518,000. The two together is a bit less than $18,000,000 dollars, for 82 cities that are de-facto, and de-jure, segregated. LA’s culture budget kills because the city is segregated. Given our city’s history, of back-off! architecture, of uninviting homeowners associations, and of racism to the point of rioting as a response, LA’s cultural services would need to be enough to serve every zone-of-comfort, every community that has emerged in spite of the barriers but up by our liberal police-state-city (53 cents on the dollar to the police, woo-woo), all the while crafting, alongside others, a new togetherness. Let’s just say that it would have to be something like NYC’s and some, comprehensive, post-colonial. Other organizations that still exist? Getting pennies. Instead, LA revolving door cultural elites seem to be satisfied by the idea of an acropolis, the Broad, right next to the Chandler, right next to the REDCAT, and marketing these “world-class institutions” to the rest of the city. That isn’t cultural affairs, that’s tourism.

Such a budget kills. It kills the sub-cultures that have emerged in Los Angeles, instead of seeking to elevate them. Case in point: very serious cultural movements in LA come and go, as if trends, due to a lack of vision by the city. Lets take the example of East LA, that corridor of becoming and being, in the 80s and 90s, with the example of El Centro de Regeneracion run by LA OGs such as Rage Against the Machine’s Zack de La Rocha and Tell that Story’s organizer and LA historian Javier Gonzalez, once a labor organizer for the janitors, who made socio-cultural history through their courage. El Centro, which existed in the same orbit as Ozomatli, Quetzal, Atzlan Underground, is now all but forgotten. Why? The city has no real cultural vision. The same goes for commemorating the Watts writers group, bombed by the FBI. LA is where Free Jazz was created, but jazz is not on the DCAs radar in a real way like it is in San Francisco or in New York City. Ornette Coleman’s memory? No where to be found. Will Alexander, an LA surrealist? Who the fuck is that. Thus, the city is fated to perpetually reconstruct itself, as if forever a fad, a playground for the wealthy, instead of a habitat wherein humans use codes from past experiences to built better and stronger.

Imagine LA, a truly ubuntu LA: tamales and Hip Hop, moonlit corridos and the smell of tea tree, the beach and the mountains, coffee shop discussions at 2am, people dressed in linen white to listen to theater in black, public art and friendly architecture, public television on which kids do-that-break-dance to still theorized and actualized post-riot funk, thanks to the taxes that we all pay (Maine this is not). Imagine LA as homes protected as where poets lived and engaged with the world, where anarchists hid, and women dreamed of liberation. That LA has existed, and is killed by a state that cares first and foremost for a mix of economic growth and safety, aka a police state that oppresses this city to keep it a playground for the wealthy and the somewhat wealthy. As this goes on, all forget the courage of the woman walking roads as cars zoom by selling flowers. She is our culture, smiles resistance learned crossing borders, from the deep south, from the North of Mexico. She is the butterfly that keeps this city laughing. Our cultural affairs should be in her name, unafraid of letting cultural street vending be legal.

You get the point. We need more money appropriated to cultural affairs, now.