On Saturday evening, the REDCAT Theatre at downtown's Disney Hall celebrated its 10th anniversary with a gala celebration, which also honored The Walt Disney Company and artist Catherine Opie, the latter a singular American artist (whose talent made her one of CalArts' most influential graduates.) I was delighted to be invited to the event as a guest of the Herb Alpert Foundation. Seated with me at the Alpert table, hosted by Rona Sebastian of the foundation, were many faculty members of CalArts, California Institute for the Arts, the Valencia-located school, which operates the Redcat Theatre. I didn't realize until then that "Redcat" stands for Roy (O) and Edna Disney/CalArtsTheatre, whose son Roy E. had initially funded this theatre, which opened with the hall in November of 2003.
The Disney Company's commitment to CalArts began in 1960 when company founder Walt Disney had a vision for a school at which the artists of tomorrow would generate "as yet undreamed of art forms." That was followed by his brother's vision for this downtown venue for contemporary arts from the school. The gala evening was the kick off for a year of celebration to mark the 10th anniversary of the Frank Gehry-designed theatre located in the corner of the amazing Walt Disney Concert Hall, which he had designed. (Incidentally, Gehry's children were graduates of CalArts.) The dean of the School of Arts and Architecture of UCLA Arts, Christopher Waterman, seated next to me, told me that RedCat had been charged with a mission to present emerging and established artists whose work fuels the evolution of art and culture. He said that in the past 10 years it had earned a reputation for fostering an unbounded vision of contemporary art-making in the performance, visual and media arts.
I gather that the theatre is a launching pad for up-and-coming local artist and for introducing internationally-acclaimed productions and exhibitions to L.A. audiences often represented on the West Coast for the first time. Many of the artists featured at Redcat visit the Valencia campus to give lectures, lead workshops and conduct master classes. The art center (at 631 West 2nd Street at Hope) consists of a 3,000 sq. ft. gallery space for revolving exhibitions, a 270-seat black box theatre, and a lounge/café and book store. CalArts President Steven Lavine cited the pairing of high-caliber 'renegade' experimentation and a social space for artist community engagement as being a prime reason for the venue. My long-time Huffington reader and friend, Austin M. Beutner, became Board of Trustees chairman of CalArts in 2006.
Jack Black and Tim Allen offered comic relief during the event.
Alan Bergman, president of Disney Studios, accepted their award.
The brilliant comic geius Jack Black was MC of the evening, and I had an opportunity for a scintillating one-on-on with him about his recent movie, Bernie, which I had loved. Jack was here because his wife, Tanya Haden, of the bluegrass trio The Haden Triplets, is a graduate of CalArts. I noted that her father, Charlie Haden, was a jazz legend and a founder of the CalArt's jazz program. CalArts Trustee Alan Bergman, president of Walt Disney Studios, accepted the award for his company. I later researched the history of Walt Disney's involvement with CalArts and found that for the last six years of his life (until his death in 1996), he was obsessed with the founding of this school. He introduced it to the public at a fundraiser at the Hollywood premiere of Mary Poppins. Originally he had envisioned a campus in the hills above the Hollywood Bowl, but when this proposed location became unavailable, the new campus was re-sited to Valencia, about 30 miles north of downtown L.A. It opened in 1971 with more than 650 students. The institute suffered $15 million worth of damages during the Northridge earthquake, but classes continued in trailers until the campus reopened in late '94.
Caroline Graham (left) and Rona Sebastian of the Herb Alpert Foundation at my table.
I have been an aficiando of the Herb Alpert Foundation and its work forever, so I remember when, in 1995, it joined with CalArts in establishing the Alpert Award in the Arts. My Huffington readers may recall my article last year about the awarding of its five $75,000 annual fellowships, and tonight a performer who had been a recipient of such an award, musician Cynthia Hopkins, told a rapt audience of what it meant to receive such an award when she was desperate for sustenance and encouragement in her life and career. These awards, given each year to "early mid-career" artists in the fields of dance, film/video, music, theatre and visual arts, are administered by CalArts on behalf of the Herb Alpert Foundation. This year's winners will be announced May 10. Recipients of this unencumbered award are asked to stay for a period at the school as visiting artists to mentor students studying their metier. In 2008 the Herb Alpert School of Music was inaugurated following a historic $15 million endowment gift from Herb Alpert and Lani Hall, and a doctoral program, the Doctor of Musical Arts, was launched the following year. Incidentally, to all my readers, Herb and Lani - hot from their two week sold-out engagement at the Café Carlyle -- are playing next Sunday to inaugurate the new Ann & Jerry Moss Theatre at the Herb Alpert Educational Village (3131 Olympic Blvd.)
Artist Catherine Opie was honored for her many fabulous photographic installations.
Steven Lavine, President of CalArts, told of its history.
Cynthia Hopkins performed; she was a recipient of a Herb Alpert Foundation grant and spoke movingly of that.
Tim Allen presented the award to the Walt Disney Company
With a better understanding of its purpose and passions, I encourage my readers to visit the Redcat Theatre at Disney Hall and enjoy the multitude of exciting artistic enterprises found there. I know I will be back shortly. Thank you, Mickey Mouse.
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