As a spike in COVID-19 cases puts a halt to reopening plans in the city of Los Angeles, public broadcaster KCET is launching the series “Southland Sessions” to bring arts and cultural events to viewers quarantined at home.
The series, which premieres Wednesday night, will feature conversations with local artists and cultural leaders as they discuss how the pandemic — as well as the recent social uprisings across the country — impact the arts locally. Episodes will also focus on local arts and cultural events, including the City of Los Angeles Individual Artist Fellowships, Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival and the annual Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival.
Other episodes will focus on mariachi music in Los Angeles, as well as the city’s dance community of the city, and local artists’ virtual studio visits. Radio station dublab, avant-garde opera company The Industry, artist/designer/writer Rosten Woo, San Fernando Valley’s performing arts center The Soraya, and Orange County’s Pacific Symphony will be featured in upcoming episodes.
“Southland Sessions” launches July 15 at 8 p.m. with the episode “Change(makers): The Future of Arts and Culture,” hosted by KCET chief creative officer Juan Devis. The episode will feature L.A. cultural leaders discussing how the role of arts and culture in the city has been impacted by current events, and how civic institutions plan to rebuild. The episode also features poetry from members of Get Lit.
The City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs and the National Endowment for the Arts are among the underwriters for the series, which Devis said was inspired by a documentary KCET had been shooting for its “Artbound” series, about The Industry’s next opera, “Sweet Land.”
When the pandemic put a halt to “Sweet Land,” The Industry artistic director Yuval Sharon asked Devis if KCET could capture the show for viewers who bought tickets but couldn’t attend due to it being shut down.
“That really pushed me to think, ‘holy crap,’ the impact that this pandemic is going to have in the culture sector, in every single regard, from audiences to big institutions, performances,” he said. “It became like a domino effect. The LA Phil closed the Hollywood Bowl. That made me think, we’re not taking our culture as seriously as we need to be taking it. And the amazing work that people are doing right now, in spite of what is happening and the closure and the lock down, and the pandemic is incredible and there’s a lot of stuff that is being expressed out there.”
Devis said he also began to wonder about how these institutions, organizations and galleries were scrambling, trying to figure out how to find some sort of financial stability during this time. That’s when he connected with Danielle Brazell, general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.
“We had no idea that it was actually going to turn into a complete bending of our daily lives for the next foreseeable future,” Brazell said. “But it essentially canceled all arts and cultural events in the region. And, as Juan pointed out, the sector is incredibly resilient. And at the same time, incredibly fragile, the philanthropic landscape of Los Angeles is unlike any other in the country. There’s a lot of small family foundations that we have a few anchor traditional philanthropic organizations that fund some organizations… We needed to find a partner to work with us to develop a new platform and expand our impact by making sure we can get into every single home in Southern California, free of charge.”
“Southland Sessions” will also air in a second window on KCET’s sister station, KOCE-TV (PBS SoCal). The series, which will continue until at least the end of the year, will debut new episodes on Wednesdays, where KCET has scheduled it with other arts-themed programs such as “Artbound,” “Fine Cut” and “Great Performances.”