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ARTmaggedon Celebrates Local Art During Tough Traffic Weekend

Published: November 30, 2012

Theater Arts’ Ezra LeBank recently helped fellow Angelenos deal with Carmageddon II by co-producing the major Los Angeles arts advocacy campaign ARTmageddon.

LeBank, a faculty member who joined the university last year served as co-creator of ARTmageddon with Diana Wyenn. The enterprise was produced by Beyond the Usual and Curbside, in partnership with the City of Los Angeles, the Department of Cultural Affairs, Experience LA, the LA Stage Alliance, ForYourArt and Metro,

“While they told us all to stay off the freeways and major roads during Carmageddon II, our plan was to celebrate all the great local art happening across Los Angeles,” said LeBank. In response to Metro’s announcement of Carmageddon II in late September when the 405 Freeway was shut down and the road between the Santa Monica (10) and Ventura (101) freeways was blocked, a consortium of L.A.-based artists and arts organizations united to create ARTmageddon, a two-day citywide celebration of art.

“Each week, arts patrons from across Los Angeles travel miles of freeway—over rivers, across canyons and in rush hour traffic—to experience art at their favorite theaters, museums and galleries,” remarked LeBank. “Carmageddon II was the perfect opportunity to encourage Los Angelenos to leave their cars behind and experience performances, concerts, screenings, exhibitions and more in their own neighborhoods.” Visitors to www.ARTmageddonLA.com found extensive listings for art happening in their neighborhoods including events accessible by public transportation. Utilizing new social media techniques and old-school word of mouth, the Los Angeles arts community sought to engage new audiences and cross-pollenate existing ones.

One website highlight was an interactive map that allowed viewers to search various neighborhoods for their artistic resources. Visitors looked at the map or clicked on their neighborhoods and typed in an address.

“You could literally search the streets near you,” said LeBank. “You might find art happening down the block. If someone wanted to present art or if they wanted to volunteer, there were also links for them.”

Items to be found came in all sizes, from Lily Tomlin’s appearance at the Carpenter Center to a North Hollywood happening where writers described their car experiences. “Butoh Meadow::Meadow Butoh” utilized the dance form developed in postwar Japan to express intense emotions through slow, controlled and sometimes distorted movements. “The idea was, if you can’t go fast, why not go slow?” he explained. “The event offered classes in Butoh and an hour-long crossing of Silver Lake Meadow. Plus, museums discounted admissions, there were traditional dance concerts and plays and some galleries simply stayed open late for an ARTmageddon party.”

The idea for ARTmageddon began in 2011. “The goal was to turn it into a citywide art party,” he recalled. “In the last couple of months, we assembled a team of arts professionals from organizations across L.A. to create the art-gathering website. The campaign extended out in ways we hoped for but never expected. We attended the Metro news conference hosted by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and found ourselves speaking to news crews from CNN and the N.Y. Times. We saw coverage of ARTmageddon everywhere from NBC to the Huffington Post and from China to Montreal.”

One of LeBank’s satisfactions about ARTmageddon was his perception of an influx of energy from local artists and art groups who wished to participate. “One thing we set out to do was find a way to help the Los Angeles art community to feel like a community,” he said. “We thought the only way to do it was to create a moment where being in our own neighborhoods at the same time, we could create a sense of being united. Carmageddon II presented the perfect moment.”

Ezra LeBank
Ezra LeBank

LeBank earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from the State University of New York at Purchase College and his MFA in theater arts with a focus on playwrighting at Smith College plus a diploma in Commedia from ArsComica in Italy. LeBank also teaches and practices AcroYoga, which blends yoga, Thai massage and acrobatics.

One of the project’s goals was simply to get Angelenos out of their cars and outside. “Ultimately, this project was about taking advantage of our neighborhoods,” said LeBank. “This was a particularly important event for L.A. because L.A. culture is one where we often do not know our neighbors. The wonder is that there are incredible neighborhoods in L.A. which many Angelenos don’t know exist. We seldom take the time to discover what there is next door. We go to what is familiar, which is often a car. I just hope it won’t be a one-time thing. I hope it was something people enjoyed so much, they want to do it again later.”

LeBank felt the project was a success even before it began.

“The people who wanted to be part of it made it a success,” he recalled. “Strangers kept telling me how great the idea was. We used Twitter and Facebook to unify artists and audiences throughout the city. We invited participants to submit YouTube videos of themselves attending art in their neighborhoods. If they included ARTmageddon, we tweeted it through the project’s links then re-tweeted it and put it on Facebook. It seems to have become part of the L.A. consciousness. I believe the campaign ultimately was about an idea that there are artistic resources close by and easy to find.”

ARTmageddon was a photo of a great city at a certain place and time. “This project framed one day in the life of L.A.,” LeBank summarized. “It was an exciting and energizing image of Los Angeles and an opportunity to be our best selves together.”

“The Carmageddon/ARTmageddon weekend passed smoothly and successfully on all counts,” he said. “ARTmageddonla.com received thousands visits each day leading up to and during the weekend, and the stories, from both press and individuals, continue to roll out sharing their excitement for the arts campaign. We don’t yet know how ARTmageddon will continue, but it is now clear to us that this was only the beginning. If people want to stay in the loop, ARTmageddonLA.com will continue sharing arts events in their neighborhoods, and will be the place to find out about what’s next.”