Arts & Cultural Vitality / 2013

The Los Angeles Giant Harp Project

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by String Theory Productions

The LA Giant Harp Public Arts Partnership is a performance and public workshop residency that brings free music, dance, and arts education to underserved communities. The 2050 Fund will enable the partnership of String Theory and Artists for Literacy to launch this project together in 2013. It will transform Los Angeles public space and architecture into sonic sculptures while celebrating the culture and diversity of this great city. String Theory is an established LA-based performance group. We design and build giant Harps that transform architecture into beautiful large scale instruments, which are visually and sonically spectacular. The LA Giant Harp Public Arts Partnership is an expansion of our regular 10-year programming. In partnership with Artists for Literacy, this project is designed to embolden people’s perspectives on where art lives, who owns it, and its powerful role in LA society now and in the future. It will foster a deeply needed connection between audience members, artists, and the communities in which we all live. We have chosen 3 locations in LA for our residency programs. Each residency has 3 components: a grassroots advocacy and outreach campaign that celebrates the arrival of our project and ensures that it’s no secret and everyone feels free to participate; free arts education workshops open to people of all ages and abilities (these yield works of art that are then integrated into the performance); site-specific performances that integrate music, giant harps, dance, and audience engagement – all in non-traditional spaces with free access. The criteria used for choosing each of the 3 locations is based the area’s need for public art and arts education, and the area’s architecture, specifically having historically significant structures that are currently under-appreciated. The locations will be vetted by our advisory board, a board that draws from a unique blend of Los Angeles stakeholders including the Director, Government and Public Affairs of American Institute of Architects, LA Chapter, and a professor of Urban Planning at UCLA. These advisors will ensure that the buildings in our locations are deeply considered for their cultural and historical significance. Here’s a more specific breakdown:` Outreach and Advocacy: Artists for Literacy is non-profit org that has leveraged the power of music and dance to marshal diverse audiences around a common issue since 2000. The artistry of String Theory Productions enables us to create a forum for dynamic exchange around the connection between physical movement and personal well-being, and provide written and experiential learning tools that bring home memorable and meaningful connections between the place, the art, the audience and the issue. We have a commitment to make art and information accessible to people of all abilities and learning styles. Community Workshops: We have run these workshops over the past 10 years all around Los Angeles. They embrace people of all ages and abilities.

 These Art Circle workshops encourage people to draw, move and listen. The workshop is highly adaptable to all communities. Their performance pieces then become integrated in to the larger String Theory show. We design these workshops to make a tangible connection between the community, the space and the artists. By weaving parts of their story into ours, we break down the '4th wall' of communication between art and the audience. This fosters a profound inclusion that, when experienced by participants, can lead to a shift in their perceptions of where art fits into their lives. Interactive Performances: String Theory is known for our signature giant Harp installations combined with music and dance. We have performed all over LA, including Ford Amphitheater, The Van Nuys Bus Terminal, TED, The Broad Stage, The Getty Museum, MOCA, and The Grammy’s, By utilizing our signature large scale sonic sculpture, String Theory transforms space into giant interactive instruments which become the landscape in which our performances unfold. The creative work inspired by the Community Workshop participants is integrated into String Theory’s performance -- including the participants themselves. The impact this project will have on the Arts & Culture indicator can be qualified through the cultural invigoration of specific communities that have had limited access to the arts, the celebration of culturally diverse communities coming together around art, the experience of art in unconventional spaces, increased awareness of the architecture of Los Angeles as it is a focal point in the Giant Harp installation and performance, increased health awareness as it relates to movement and dance, social connectedness (via our flash drive give-aways at the end of each performance that encourage a deeper look into their own community, the Giant Harp program and its participants), and free arts education from all three components of the project.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

Grant from City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and Los Angeles World Airports to create a site specific performance installation at the Van Nuys FlyAway. Part of a pilot program to fund ephemeral arts in public spaces. The project was part of the Intransit series. Performed for the Opening Festivities of the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Transformed the exterior of the building in to a giant interactive harp. ST co-founder, Luke Rothschild is a 2011 Sundance Composer Lab Fellowship Recipient. ST co-founder, Holly Rothschild is the recipient of the Annenberg Beach House site specific choreography grant through the Santa Monica Department of Cultural Affairs. ST performs for the Library Foundation’s ALOUD series for guest speakers David Byrne and Trent Reznor. ST runs ongoing educational programming in Burbank senior arts colony, Oakwood High School, Santa Barbara Museum of Art program for homeless kids, family workshops through the Ford Foundation at the Ford Amphitheatre as part of the Jam Series and drum circle for inner city youth. ST co-founder, Holly Rothschild, created a 10 week performance program integrating story, music, dance and set building for SIPA (Search to Involve Pillipino Americans) through a grant from the Ford Foundation. The performance workshop culminated in a performance at the indoor theatre of the Ford Amphitheatre. ST co-founder, Holly Rothschild, created and implemented a year long arts education program for Temple Israel of Hollywood pre-school. The program integrated dance, music, visual art and interactive art and sonic sculptures for the kids to work with. Each workshop celebrated a Jewish theme. ST co-founder and instrument designer, Luke Rothschild, developed a creative relationship with Walt Disney Imagineering. His commissioned works include multiple sonic sculptures for the park in Orlando to engage and amuse kids as they line up at The Pooh Queue. ST premiered their evening length piece “14 Lengths of Desire” at The Eli & Edythe Broad Stage in Santa Monica during their opening season.
ST performed to a full house at the Ford Amphitheatre in Hollywood. String Theory has created feature film scores for HBO Documentary Films, Sony Pictures, BMP Pictures and for several indie films. Their music is featured in Tamra Davis’s documentary “Basquiat: The Radiant Child”. String Theory’s Holly Rothschild’s films have premiered at Sans Souci Festival of Dance Cinema in Barcelona and Topanga Experimental Film Festival. SONOS Studio, LA commissioned Luke to create an immersive and interactive sonic environment featuring their proprietary speaker technology. What ensued was a critically acclaimed exhibit consisting of a group of seven boat bump/air powered sonic sculptures utilizing vintage and modern glass bottles as sound generation devices. String Theory has performed at The Santa Barbara Museum of Art, and the Museum of Natural History.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Artists for Literacy, a nonprofit created to influence community, public and private sector support for literacy and art access. AFL is our producing partner, co-authoring this application and inextricably linked the outreach and advocacy pieces of our initiative.

Will Wright, Hon. AIA|LA Director of Government and Public Affairs. Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris Ph.D. in Urban and Regional Planning, University of Southern California.

Department of Park & Recreation of LA

Bill Siddons is a partner of The Core, a world-renowned music management company based in LA, who established the careers of the Doors, Van Morrison, and Alice in Chains.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

In order to establish a baseline for measurement of this public arts initiative as it impacts each of the three locations, we’ll look at the entire 2-month residency – all the touch points – from who we reached during the outreach, to the participants of the workshops and to our reach during the performances.

First, the practical, tactical plan: We are giving away 100 flash drives at each of the final performances. These will be loaded with free arts and advocacy content and a URL key to more content. That URL will be an online survey that, once completed, will link the user to the free music and video downloads. These surveys will provide us with measurement tools i.e. answers to questions about The Giant Harp Project. These will be solicit quantitative data that includes audience attendance, workshop participation – including detailed demographic breakdown of age, sex, ethnicity, and differently-abled people. We’ll tally the number of private businesses engaged during outreach, and the number of community leaders engaged.

For measurement that is more along the lines of qualitative assessments, we’ll curate the art pieces generated from the workshops, and assess what personal expressions were tapped and released during the workshop process. We’ll measure the happiness index (measured in smiles and applause during workshops and performances), and the awareness of the significance of the architecture-to-sonic sculpture. Most people who live and work in their communities for several years never LOOK UP or AROUND to notice where they are. They move through years with heads down without an awareness of their environment or that environment’s history. Our project is designed re-orient people to their own surrounding with a renewed appreciation for where art and performance fit into their lives.

Indeed, The Giant Harp residencies are designed to re-position art in the minds of those who experience it. We’re not just talking about free access to art and how to evaluate the success of that. We aim to address and heal a larger gap that exists between what String Theory does and what the average person perceives as possible for them. It takes a certain creative audacity to imagine and then position oneself on a journey to learn music and dance. It takes repeated exposure and familiarity with its pleasure and its power. Can we follow the life path of a person exposed to The Giant harp Project during one of our 3 residencies? No. But based on countless studies of more controlled subjects (i.e. Students in arts programs, art students testimonials about the first song or dance or poem that sparked their careers) we know that our project will have statistical success if we reach as many people as possible. This is why the public art partnership model for The Giant Harp project is such a stronger paradigm than booking single shows behind closed doors. We want to give back and change lives in the process.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

The Giant Harp Project is extremely unique. It celebrates the temporal transformation of Los Angeles architecture, along with providing world class entertainment for free. This project makes arts education accessible to all through workshops designed to engage multiple communities regardless of their age and physical or mental abilities. Because String Theory has been celebrated by the finest venues of LA, the city has already embraced the phenomena of the Giant Harp. However, it has not been accessible to people without the means to buy tickets to the shows. Artists for Literacy and String Theory are excited to partner with Los Angeles in pioneering the effort to bridge the gap between artists and audience. Without compromising artistic integrity, The Giant Harp Project, believes that the integration of work created by the public (via our workshops) can fortify the actual performance of String Theory and honor the collaborative potential between artist and audience. At its core, this process is about engagement and discovery by both the artists and audiences at a profound level.

We also believe that the Giant Harp Project is coming at a time when LA is going through tremendous transformations at the community level. When choosing the 3 neighborhoods for our residencies in 2013, we have the opportunity to lend a hand to community stakeholders who are ushering in these changes. For example, the 6th Street Viaduct / Bridge project won’t begin until 2015. The Boyle heights communities impacted by the project have a 100 year history of the bridge to celebrate before it’s torn down. Our Giant Harp Project can speak to that legacy on several levels and also serve a community that is in dire need of an arts infusion. Another location that is compelling to us is the 5 mile radius of the Magnolia Place Community Initiative. They are engaging more than 70 county, city and community organization to bring over 5000 families a comprehensive health and education overhaul. Their innovative coalition has room for a residency like ours to invigoration the public’s excitement and participation around this initiative.

Our residency will include grassroots outreach into the communities before hand so that we don’t just come and go without making a true and lasting impact. As proof of concept, Artists for Literacy was funded by the California State Library in 2005 to do a similar project, not with art, but with the celebration of free literacy projects. The advocacy campaign was very successful and those best practices will be used for this project.

We also believe in the serendipity of being exposed to the arts and what transforms in people. The Giant Harp Project is designed to inspire the inner artist in everybody. Over the past 10 years, String Theory has proven this theory to be true. Countless people who have participated in our workshops have embraced and accessed an artistic part of themselves.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

We are sitting inside the canister of 2013 – about to explode out into a future-tripping conversation about 2050 and how arts and culture are overflowing in the city of angles. The only sane way to see into the future is to look through a lens of optimism. Any other perspective corrodes any sense of present day purpose. So to us, arts and culture in 2050 inform government policy, education, innovation, and urban planning.