Diana Drinks the Kool-Aid

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We succumbed Cailfornia’s gravitational pull last month when we traveled to Los Angeles for the College Arts Association’s 100th Annual Conference. Not only was it a chance for Diana to network and get a better feel for the academic art scene, Mario was also able to catch up with some friends that have taken the leap to the West Coast.

Mario’s classmates/colleagues/friends, Neil and Margie Blakemore, let us stay at their place with their two pugs. We were thrilled to learn that they live in the first area to be mapped out by Fallen Fruit, an art collaboration that began with creating maps of public fruit: the fruit trees growing on or over public property in Los Angeles. We were determined to find some time to get away from the conference to search for some fruit but it proved more difficult than we thought.

We volunteered at the conference to save the $500 that it would have cost for us both to attend. Mario’s job, Projectionist, was to sit in on the sessions to make sure that things went smoothly. While the job was almost too easy, it became apparent that the challenge would be having his sessions chosen for him. In one case, he was assigned to a panel on Nazi Art that overlapped with a session about Time in Pre-Hispanic Art. That was a tough one but he was also able to sit in on talks about Pop Art, The Hottentot Venus and The Ph.D for Practicing Artists.

Diana’s experience as Room Monitor was much more rewarding. She had the difficult job of wrangling participants for a performance piece by Sheryl Oring. Sheryl played the part of secretary as she collected quotes from people at the conference that started with, “The Role of the Artist is…” She typed the dictated responses on a vintage typewriter and made a carbon copy for each participant to stamp and take home. The final product of 100 Possibilities will be an artists book or exhibition of the collection from the 100th Anniversary of CAA. Oring is also working on another great project called “I Wish to Say”, where participants send messages in the form of postcards to the President. This is an ongoing project, which started in 2004 and this year will be available online.

See the rest of the photos.

Diana isn’t used to peddling or pitching so this job took her out of her comfort zone.  She rose to the challenge, along with fellow volunteers Krysty and Joy, and collected 101 responses in under 9 hours. Along the way, she caught up with friends and met a few new people including the friendliest person on the conference, Hasan Elahi. A warm, engaging artist with a fascinating job in college administration. He recruits young geniuses for an academic program that treats them like celebrities and lets them choose their own curriculum. They team up with organizations that are looking for fresh perspectives on old problems and are provided the resources and tools solve real world problems.

He’s one of the most interesting people we’ve meet. If a cool job and friendly demeanor wasn’t enough, he’s presented at a TED conference and been interviewed on The Colbert Report. It doesn’t get much cooler than that.

Were were able to settle down and catch up with our friends on our last day in town. A handful of Mario’s closest friends and collaborators have moved out to L.A. in the past few years. His Columbia mentors, Chris Nelson and Maria Abraham, moved out west after spending time in Ecuador, working with victims of human trafficking through a Fulbright Fellowship. They took us out for very authentic Korean food. So authentic that the owner’s daughter took it upon herself to be our ambassador of Korean cuisine.

Both The Blakemores and The Nelson-Abrahams had nice things to say about the move to California. Mario’s always been skeptical of L.A. but both couples assured him that there is a community that stays out of the rat race and lives a rooted, down-to-earth life. They could be shielding him from some of the harsher truths about the town but it’s moments like these that put us to the test. Are we willing to uproot ourselves to make a life in the land of opportunity or do we try to find or create opportunity in our own native land?

As far as Diana’s concerned, L.A. looks a lot like Bogota, Colombia. She loves the climate and the fact that the ocean and mountains are within reach. She didn’t see much that made her not want to stay. She also ran into a Chicago art friend, Sara Schnadt who had recently taken a position at the 18th Street Arts Center. L.A.’s 18th Street, not Chicago’s. She had just moved to California a few weeks earlier, after living in Chicago for a long time, and seems to be loving her new life.

We wish Sara, Margie, Neil, Maria and Chris the best of luck in starting their new lives, along with all the others that have gone out to make their way in Sunny California. Maybe we’ll gain the courage to join you some day.

2 thoughts on “Diana Drinks the Kool-Aid

    Starting a New Year | thecontrerasgabrielproject said:
    May 2, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    […] and Art in The World of Z, Mario’s first film review about a feature doc by Brad Besser; and Diana Drinks the Kool-Aid, about our trip to Los Angeles. Share this:FacebookRedditPinterestTwitterLike this:LikeBe the first […]

    Happy New Baktun! | thecontrerasgabrielproject said:
    December 21, 2012 at 11:46 pm

    […] Our trip to Los Angeles in March gave us a chance to catch up with other friends that migrated to the west coast at around the time that Rahm Emmanuel came into office. Neil and Margie Blakemore were the first to take the leap to L.A. and we’re thrilled that they’ve started finding opportunity out there. Maria Abraham and Fielden Nelson moved out there shortly after. Fielden’s been published a few places since they moved out there and his blog, Fattened Paradise, has reached profound depths with Here in the Valley Low. […]

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