Arts and Culture in California
With the largest population among all 50 states, the arts and culture scene in California defies summarization. For over 150 years, California has been the destination of dreamers— it is the farthest west in the U.S. before reaching the Pacific Ocean, and there is quite simply room enough for every kind of art, daydream, and desire. It has a Western and modern culture with statewide cultural Hispanic Latin American, and Asian influences. A true melting pot where alternative lifestyles and choices are accepted amiably, California boasts many different cultural influences, including Hispanic and Asian.
Northern California and southern California have had very different cultures since the 1800s. The "49er" Gold Rush turned San Francisco, in the northern part of the state, into a booming metropolis practically overnight. Los Angeles, in the south, enjoyed a more bucolic existence until oil was discovered at the turn of the 19th century, the Los Angeles Aqueduct was built in 1913, and the motion picture industry blossomed.
While San Francisco and Los Angeles are the most well known cities in California, the state is filled with distinctive cities and towns like San Diego and Oakland that have their own cultures and identities.
Los Angeles has a reputation as one of the foremost art capitals in America as well as the world. The California Philharmonic (CalPhil) is a part of that reputation. It presents 30 concerts annually in five separate venues in Los Angeles County, including at Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. CalPhil offers free community outreach events, such as "CalPhil Family Night," "Talks with the Maestro," and "Sounds Fun: Concert Experience for Young Minds."
The Walt Disney Concert Hall, the fourth hall of the Los Angeles Music Center, is the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra and the Los Angeles Master Chorale. The Frank Gehry-designed building opened in 2003. Its acoustics, designed by Yasuhisa Toyota, have been universally acclaimed.
Founded in 1986, the Los Angeles Opera is today the fourth largest opera company in the country under the leadership of General Director, Plácido Domingo. The company unites major Los Angeles artists with international singers, designers, directors and conductors to create critically lauded productions. Domingo has also performed in more than 100 company productions, as well as conducted operas likeLa Traviata, Rigoletto, La Bohème, and Tosca.
San Francisco Opera is the second largest opera company in the U.S. Its season now contains roughly 75 performances of 10 operas between September and July. In 2007, the company celebrated the 75th anniversary of the War Memorial Opera House, its home venue.
The War Memorial, designed in the beaux arts style, was inaugurated in 1932 and was the first American opera house not built by and for wealthy donors. The building was paid for by private citizens, who persuaded thousands of San Franciscans to buy subscriptions. San Francisco Opera offers many training programs and performance opportunities for young artists via a joint effort of the San Francisco Opera Center and the Merola Opera Program.
Founded in 1933, the San Francisco Ballet performed the first American productions of Swan Lake,Nutcracker, and the first 20th-century American production of Coppélia. It is one of the three largest ballet companies in the United States. Under the direction of Helgi Tomasson since 1985, the company commissions new works by renowned choreographers, nurtures young talent, obtains existing works by master choreographers, and interprets the classics.
The Los Angeles Ballet is a repetiteur for the George Balanchine Trust. Co-Artistic Director Colleen Neary continues the Balanchine tradition after studying under Balanchine as a young dancer.
The San Francisco Symphony was founded in 1911 and is thought by many to be the most artistically adventurous, financially stable arts institutions in the country. Approximately 600,000 people hear over 220 concerts and performances by SFS each annually. SFS performs internationally as well as nationally and has created over 150 recordings.
Annually, the symphony gives 7,000 complimentary tickets to Bay Area community groups and underserved populations. Over the course of 30 years, its All San Francisco Concert has performed for more than 100 local social service and neighborhood organizations. SFS is known for its educational outreach including Adventures in Music, SFKids.com, and Keeping Score, a PBS television series and multimedia project. SFS performs in Davies Symphony Hall in downtown San Francisco.
California has seen the rise of countless native popular music acts. Some of the more recent success stories include Green Day, Linkin Park, Rage Against the Machine, No Doubt, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Snoop Dogg.
Formed in 1961, Hawthorne, California's the Beach Boys epitomized Southern California beach and teen culture with its songs about surfing, girls, and cars. The band was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and has enjoyed four Billboard number-one hits: "I Get Around," "Help Me Rhonda," "Good Vibrations," and "Kokomo."
San Francisco's psychedelic scene began in the 1960s as bands like Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Country Joe and the Fish began performing. The Fillmore, still in operation today, was a major San Francisco venue for these bands.
In the 1970s, California gave birth to "country rock" bands like The Eagles and Poco. Songwriters such as Jackson Browne became popular, and California acts Journey and Carlos Santana got their starts. Natives Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham joined Fleetwood Mac and found international success.
Los Angeles contributed bands to the late 1970s punk scene including the Screamers, the Germs, Black Flag, and X. Later, California's skate scene birthed "skate punk," epitomized by bands like the Offspring, NOFX, and Bad Religion.
The Performing Arts Center of Los Angeles County is one of the three largest performing arts centers in the United States. The Music Center contains the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Ahmanson Theater, Mark Taper Forum, and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Over 2.3 million people enjoy performances every year by resident companies the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Center Theatre Group, L.A. Opera, and Los Angeles Master Chorale.
Native-born Californian composers include Henry Cowell (1897–1965) and John Cage (1912–92). Important composers who lived in California include Arnold Schoenberg, who immigrated from Austria, Ernest Bloch, who moved there from Switzerland, and Igor Stravinsky, who was originally from Russia.
California is filled with talented performers. The Los Angeles Music Center contains four internationally acclaimed resident companies including the Center Theatre Group. The Music Center presents family, Active Arts, Global Pop, and dance programs, as well as thousands of performances, tours, and events each year. It provides arts education to more than 350,000 students and teachers annually through nearly 14,000 programs presented in 20 languages.
Center Theatre Group presents plays at Ahmanson Theatre, Mark Taper Forum, and the Kirk Douglas Theatre. It also has a New Play Production program that is designed to foster development and of new work from Los Angeles artists as well as from around the country and world.
American Conservatory Theatre San Francisco won the prestigious Regional Theatre Award in 1979. (Eight California theater companies have won since the regional awards were first given out in 1976.) The A.C.T. began its first San Francisco season at the Geary Theater in 1967. More than 300 A.C.T. productions have been seen by a combined audience of seven million people. A.C.T.'s educational outreach programs inspire more than 250,000 people in the San Francisco Bay Area every year. A.C.T.'s program to develop creative theater talent won the prestigious Jujamcyn Theaters Award in 1996.
Hollywood is both an actual district of Los Angeles as well as a "catch-word" that stands for all of American studio film. Los Angeles is the place many movie stars live, where the annual Academy Awards are held, and where star-struck movie fans can stroll along the Walk of Fame or tour studio lots. Even the most jaded of people are impacted by the glamour of "Tinseltown."
Most historians consider "talking picture" The Jazz Singer to be the beginning of the "Golden Age of Hollywood" in 1927. Thousands of movies were made in Hollywood until the late 1950s. Most were studio films, movies made by a particular studio, with its own contract stars, craftspeople, and technical crews. The studio-controlled system of moviemaking began to weaken in the late 1940s as television and antitrust laws forced the studios to open up theater ownership.
Today, independent "art house" films are often made alongside studio movies in California and also filmed on location all over the United States. Many independent films become "crossover hits" so the major studios in Hollywood all have smaller production companies that make alternatives to their bigger budget "popcorn" features.
San Francisco has a long history both as a setting or backdrop in movies and as a hotbed of cinematic creativity. The very first moving image was captured in Northern California and filmmakers like Alfred Hitchcock, Clint Eastwood, Chris Columbus, Francis Ford Coppola, Phillip Kaufman, and George Lucas have all produced films and lived in the area.
Many, many movies have been filmed in the Bay Area, including The Fog (1923), The Caine Mutiny(1954), American Graffiti (1973), and Pumping Iron (1977), the latter of which featured the future governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Many television shows are also shot on location there.
The San Francisco International Film Festival is the oldest continuously running film festival in North America. Produced by the San Francisco Film Society, SFIFF is held every spring and presents around 150 films from over 50 countries annually. The festival highlights current trends and shows films that haven't necessarily procured U.S. distribution.
John Steinbeck is one of the best-known writers of the 20th century. His novel Cannery Row described life in Monterey, California's sardine canning factories in the 1940s. The Monterey fishery was one of the most productive in the world before being depleted in the 1950s. Steinbeck influenced generations of social protesters, such as Cesar Chavez, union sympathizers, and the "common" workingman. A multi-talented artist, he was a writer, a realist, a naturalist, a journalist, and a playwright.
After graduating from Salinas High School in 1919, Steinbeck attended Stanford University. His novelThe Grapes of Wrath won the Pulitzer Prize in 1939. In 1962, Steinbeck became the only native-born Californian to win the Nobel Prize for literature. His strongest themes were the strengths of the American family, the environment and its effects, and social protest. His work also dealt with the triumphs and tribulations of rural labor. Steinbeck had many leftist writer friends and he publicly denounced government interference. Later in life, he was criticized by the left as not being liberal enough.
California has been home to several of the country's major newspaper editors and publishers, including the legendary William Randolph Hearst, the founder of a newspaper empire that included the San Francisco Examiner, and Harrison Gray Otis, the former owner and publisher of the Los Angeles Times.
California-born Joan Didion, the author of five novels and eight nonfiction books, became renowned for her chronicling of modern California in titles like The White Album. Raymond Chandler, another native, wrote about the unseemly side of mid–20th century Los Angeles in his wildly popular hardboiled detective novels. Ken Kesey moved to San Francisco in the 1960s and helped found the psychedelic movement before writing, among other works, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
Other prominent California writers (either native-born or longtime residents) are María Ruiz de Burton (the first female Mexican-American author to write in English), Dashiell Hammett, Charles Bukowski, and Jack London. Robert Frost (1874–1963) is associated with his writings about rural life in New England, but he was born and raised (until age 11) in San Francisco.
California enjoys myriad museums featuring an impressive collection of American and international visual art. Located near the famous La Brea Tar Pits in the heart of Los Angeles the Los Angeles County Museum of Art is currently undergoing a 10-year expansion and renovation designed by famed architect Renzo Piano. The first phase of the project opened in early 2008. The museum contains over 100,000 pieces of art spanning all of documented history. It showcases many modern artists including Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and José Clemente Orozco, and its Islamic art is one of the most significant such collections in the world.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art boasts a film program co-hosted with the San Francisco Film Society; live art performances; and educational programs for families, teens, and educators done in partnership with organizations such as the Exploratorium, Youth Speaks, and Pixar.
San Francisco native Ansel Adams (1902–1984) was an internationally famous California photographer that documented the American West (especially Yosemite) during his lifetime. (For more on Adams, see Historic Art Movements below.)
Arguably the most iconic architectural symbol of California, the world-famous Golden Gate Bridge traverses San Francisco Bay, connecting the city and county of San Francisco to Marin County to its north. It was completed in 1937 and has remained a powerful tourist draw ever since.
Designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, the stainless steel-encased Walt Disney Concert Hall is an architectural marvel featuring perfect acoustics. Also in the greater Los Angeles area, the Getty Center in nearby Brentwood enjoys acclaim for its art collection and equally for its architecture, gardens, and panoramic views.
HANDICRAFT AND FOLK ART
Originally founded by Edith Wyle as innovative café and shop Egg and The Eye in 1965, the Los Angeles Craft & Folk Art Museum is uniquely L.A. The nonprofit museum displays folk art and contemporary craft. The eclectic organization closed in the late 1990s but was resurrected in 2005 when Maryna Hrushetska was appointed executive director. Exhibition themes focus on expanding the traditional definitions of craft and folk art and responding to globalization and cultural assimilation.
The Museum of Craft and Folk Art in San Francisco offers inventive exhibitions and educational programs designed to bring together diverse communities. It is the only folk art museum in northern California.
HISTORIC ART MOVEMENTS
San Francisco native Ansel Adams (1902–1984) influenced many California photographers. He co-founded Group f/64 with contemporaries Edward Weston, Willard Van Dyke, and Imogen Cunningham. He and Fred Archer invented "the zone system," a method that gave photographers more control over the light in their photographs. Adams spearheaded the idea that a photographer should visualize an image before taking the photo in order to get the desired composition and to achieve more artistic control. Adams influenced thousands of amateur photographers through his books and his workshops.