Watts Towers Arts Center, Galleries and Classrooms
Watts Towers Arts Center
Watts Towers Arts Center, located in the heart of Los Angeles' Watts community, is the curator of the Watts Towers structure, consisting of seventeen major sculptures. These works of art were created by Italian immigrant Sabato "Simon" Rodia out of steel covered with mortar and embellished by the decorative finishings of mosaic tiles, glass, clay, shells, and rock. This masterpiece, which the artist called Nuestro Pueblo (Our Town), was his 33-year obsession. The Towers are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, are a National Historic Landmark, a State of California Historic Monument, a State of California Historic Park, and Historic-Cultural Monument No. 15, designated by the City of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission.
The Watts Towers Arts Center provides diverse cultural enrichment programming through tours of the Towers, lectures, changing exhibitions, and studio workshops for both teachers and students. Each year, thousands of people from all over the world are attracted to the site to participate in the programs, and to see the Towers and hear the story of their creation.The Watts Towers Arts Center is known internationally for its association with and development of master artists.
During the last weekend of September, Watts Towers Arts Center produces the annual Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival and the Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival. Both events embrace the concept of multiculturalism and draw crowds from all parts of the city and around the world. The Citywide Universal Drum Circle is held on site both days. The Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival is dedicated to percussion and the traditional role of drumming in human societies.The Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival, the oldest such festival in Los Angeles, pays tribute to the American music forms of jazz, gospel, and blues and takes it to the Avant Garde and Latin jazz scene. The caliber of talent is of the highest quality and the selection is representative of the diverse population of Los Angeles. These festivals bring the public, including children, together with community service organizations, retail and food vendors, artisans, and musicians.
Classes at the Watts Towers Arts Center include painting, sculpture, photography, music, dance, and other multimedia arts, and provide a safe and creative atmosphere for individual expression under the guidance and direction of professional artists.
Watts Towers Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center
Since the early 1960s, the Watts Towers Arts Center has provided a diverse array of programs designed for the cultural enrichment of the community of Watts and the City of Los Angeles. It is fitting that the name of this new state-of-the-art facility be specifically dedicated to young people in honor of an artist of such vision and heart, Charles Mingus. Growing up in a small house around the corner from the structure that would become known the world over as the "Watts Towers of Simon Rodia," young Charles attended local schools including the 103rd Street and 11th Street elementary schools, and Jordan High, where he began a lifelong collaboration with the late master reedman, Buddy Collette. It is also fitting that the program Mr.Collette co-founded for the City of Los Angeles, the Jazz Mentorship Program, will be the foundation of the music program at the new center. The Watts Towers Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center will present programs to young area residents by expanding existing music classes offered through the Department of Cultural Affairs.
The Heart of Watts Project
For more than forty-six years, fine artists such as R. Judson Powell, Noah Purifoy, Lucille Krasque, Bill Watts, Jeanne S. Morgan, John Outterbridge, and a long list of others have provided leadership and nurturing through arts education to a community that is rich in culture in the community where Simon Rodia chose to build his Towers. The Watts Towers Arts Center is fertile ground. It is the Heart of Watts.
In 2002 R. Judson Powell made the first hearts as part of an exhibition titled, Glass Lace: Something Old....Something New
at the Watts Towers Arts Center. Rosie Lee Hooks, the Center's Director, immediately saw the beginning of a mantra, as "The Heart of Watts Project" would continue to perpetuate Simon Rodia's concept of making art with recycled materials, using the symbol of the heart that is strewn throughout the Watts Towers. "I was so moved by the exhibition," says Hooks, "It literally jumped out at me."
For the Heart of Watts Project, Powell creates unique, hand-crafted glass mosaic hearts, inspired by the Towers. A great deal of time, care, and love goes into making the Heart of Watts glass pieces. The use of found and recycled objects is key in creating this valuable artwork. How important and fulfilling it is to take discarded materials and make them beautiful and appreciated again. The Center has installed the project as an Artist-in-Residence fundraiser to benefit the Watts Towers Arts Center and its projects.
About the Artist, R. Judson Powell
R. Judson Powell is a native of Philadelphia who migrated to Los Angeles in 1958. In April of 1964, he was one of the three artists who established the program that opened the Watts Towers Arts Center as a local "Teen Post," a year before the infamous Watts Riots. Powell eventually moved on to become the Deputy Director of the Compton Community Action Agency and developed the Communicative ARTS Academy which continued until the early 1980s. He continues to be involved with multiple community groups and exhibitions in South-Central Los Angeles.
Jazz Mentorship Program
Now in its twenty-first year, the Jazz Mentorship Program (JMP) teams professional master musicians with young people interested in this original form of American music and presents a combined academic and concert forum. One of only a handful of Jazz education programs nationally, it provides aspiring young musicians with an opportunity to interact and play with seasoned jazz professionals. An environment is created that is conducive to jazz artists, enthusiasts and young people alike.The program's outreach efforts include going into communities to bridge the gap between older and younger generations, and joining people of diverse cultures together with one common goal: the appreciation of music. JMP is produced by the City of Los Angeles' Department of Cultural Affairs and is funded in part by the Recording Industries' Music Performance Trust Funds. Founding mentors are Buddy Collette, Patrice Rushen, Ndugu Chancler, Sharon Hirata, Nedra Wheeler, Bobby Rodriguez, Danellen Joseph, Rock Moss, Estella Holeman, and Rosie Lee Hooks. More than 450 world-renowned musicians have participated in program sessions. JMP cosponsors the beginning piano classes at the Watts Towers Arts Center.
Poet Laureate Program
The Poet Laureate Program was conceived to offer a forum and voice to the Watts Community in the tradition of the early spoken-word artists who helped to introduce the rich cultural history of this region. It was also designed to honor outstanding poets for their history of work within and around Watts and its surrounding communities. The honored poet serves as resident poet for the year and performs poems during the annual Watts Towers Festivals. Previous honorees include J. Eric Priestly, Amde Hamilton, Kamau Daaood, Ojenke, S. Parl Sharp, and Imani Tolliver.
Watts Towers Collaborations
I Build the Tower
DVD was co-written by Edward Landler and Brad Byer,
great-nephew of Sam Rodia. To learn more about this documentary on
Sam Rodia and the CD of the sound track, please visit
Edward Landler and Brad Byer. Photo by Gail Brown