Austin, the New LA? 16 Nov 2009.

I always wondered why Austin ex-city leaders would have pointed Austin towards LA as a model city. Last week’s Financial Times Weekend had Lunch with Eli Broad. In which, Mr Broad stated he aimed to make LA a cultural capital. His most forthright notion was linking the stars to cultural events. But isn’t that a bit like buying a Casio watch because Leonardo DiCaprio does an advert for Casio? That only elevates the product on the page or on your arm for a very ‘cheap’ nanosecond… It has no transformational value… unless you’re delusional. So no thanks, Madison Avenue – I’m driving… Anyway… If LA has been in existence since 1781 but is just now shouldering the notion of being a ‘cultural center’ – that can’t bode well for Austin, can it? Napoleon brought culture to the French – but, um, culture isn’t a PR campaign.

Published: Financial Times Weekend, November 15 2009 02:00 | Last updated: November 15 2009 02:00
From Ms Elaine Wilner.

LA Has A Long Way To Go Before It Is A Cultural Capital
Sir, With all due respect to the 93rd richest man in the world, Eli Broad’s claim that Los Angeles is up there with Paris, London and New York as cultural destinations is a bit bizarre. I guess that’s why they call it La La Land.

Yes, they have a lovely drive-in/drive out concert hall (don’t try to walk up to it in scary, empty downtown LA). Yes, the LA Philharmonic sounds very good indeed. Yes, the Opera company (which has a limited schedule) is offering a ground-breaking Ring cycle, but “we’ve got more theatrical productions than New York or London – admittedly they are spread out”, as Mr Broad puts it. Is he counting San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Denver?

I visit Los Angeles several times a year. Although, I find that its museum offerings are always plentiful and frequently – as the Michelin guide would say – “worth a trip”, the rest of the city’s cultural life, particularly in the performing arts, is no better than you would find in most American big cities – and certainly less than New York, Chicago or even Philadelphia (my home town).

Recently, I encouraged friends to try something different from the usual Caribbean cruise at Christmas time and come to southern California. My search for classical music concerts, theatre and dance performances for them to attend turned up nothing but holiday-related fare, with almost every venue either dark or presenting some child-oriented holiday programme.

Certainly, the goal of reshaping the world capital of entertainment into a world capital of culture is a worthwhile one. But, there is a lot more work to be done. LA will not get there if the leading civic lights declare mission accomplished and explain the failure of the rest of the world to get it as just a PR problem.

Published by William Vaughan

filmmaker, artist

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