Tuesday, April 06, 2010

CityWatchLA - Sun Sets on Hollywood Bowl Easter Sunrise Service: Public Getting Priced Out of Own Property


CityWatch
Vol 8 Issue 27
Pub: Apr 6, 2010

In a sign of the times and victim of the economy, a 90 year-old Hollywood tradition falls in the cultural forest and nobody is there to hear it hit the ground.

The Hollywood Bowl Easter Sunrise Service is, or was, a tradition that predated the Hollywood Bowl itself. It was 1919 when the Hollywood Community Sing organized an Easter Sunrise Service on a residential street in the hills off Franklin Avenue. The event was such a great success that the next year the Sunrise Service was held on Olive Hill in Barnsdall Park and LA's Philharmonic Orchestra performed for an overflow crowd of thousands that prompted organizers to look for a larger venue.

In 1921, the Sunrise Service was held in the Daisy Dell on land owned by a group of local art patrons, including Charles E. Toberman, the "Father of Hollywood." Hugo Kirchhoffer, director of the Community Sing, remarked that the acoustics were naturally good because it was shaped like a “huge bowl.”

That inaugural Sunrise Service and that simple comment were the simple seeds that resulted in the transformation of a rickety stage in a field of weeds and grass on a rocky hillside into a cultural icon that is world renowned and is part of LA's cultural heritage.

The success of the first Sunrise Service led to a series of summer concerts at the Bowl, creating the Symphonies Under the Stars program.

Along the way, some of the most famous architects have contributed to the Bowl's legacy, starting with Lloyd Wright who built the Bowl's first band shell out of left-over lumber from a production of "Robin Hood" and the second band shell with movable panels allowing the shell to be "tuned." More recently, Frank Gehry contributed to the perpetual pursuit of the original perfect acoustics with his fiberglass spheres design.

The Hollywood Bowl exists today because of the contributions of many, including Otto K. Olesen, inventor of the Klieg light system, and George Eastman, founder of Eastman Kodak, but most of all, because of the many people who gathered in the Daisy Dell on an Easter Sunday morning at dawn and participated in a simple Sunrise Service that was open and non-denominational and free of charge, simply a celebration of Easter.

There are three things that are alarming about the cancellation of the 2010 Hollywood Bowl Easter Sunrise Service:

1) It happened without so much as a whimper. "There, but for the Grace of God, go I!" should be the warning to the people of Los Angeles County.

What next? Will Galleries close with little more than an obituary to announce the passing?

Will Theaters close without so much as a Swan Song performance?

Will Museums cease to engage the public and simply serve as monuments to their benefactors? Will Libraries close and serve out their days as cultural warehouses?

Will access to our Parks and our Community Centers become a thing of the past?

How does the 90 year-old, non-denominational, open and free to the public, Hollywood Bowl Easter Sunrise Service simply fade into nothingness without an alarm from the community?

Purportedly, the non-profit organization that hosts the Sunrise Service was unable to come up with the funds to host the event. Typically, up-front funds secure the Bowl and attendees contribute everything from the Cala Lilies that decorate the stage to the staff who facilitate the event to the financial support that pays the bills. This year they simply didn't have the up-front money to secure the Bowl.

2) It happened because volunteerism is actually a profession.

As heady as those days of Daisy Dell must have been, since then the organization of public events has become such a bureaucratic nightmare that the days of "Let's put on a show!" are long gone and community leaders find themselves simply outgunned and understaffed in today's byzantine morass of red-tape.

For over two decades, Norma Foster has been the champion of the Sunrise Service, serving as President and Producer through the highs and the lows, but she suffered a massive stroke just days before last year's Service and her absence left a huge hole that simply didn't get filled.

Well meaning folks are learning the hard way that volunteerism requires training and expertise that is on the same caliber with the professionals who compete with the public for the same space and the same funding.

If "Volunteerism" is to flourish, it will be because our leadership invests in the community and offers training in fundraising, in planning, in administration, and in grass-roots organization. If it's left to "the volunteers" to provide these services to "the volunteers" then we will discover where the true leadership exists.

3) It happened because the public is getting priced out of its own property.

The Bowl belongs to the County of Los Angeles. In other words, it belongs to the people. Just like the Zoo, the Museums, the Galleries, the Parks, the Music Center, Olive Hill, the Libraries, and all of the wonderful programs and assets that we take for granted, simply because they've always been there. It's not likely to continue.

Now, more than ever, it is imperative that the people of Los Angeles look around and consider that the streets they travel on, the sidewalks they walk on, the public space they enjoy, are all in jeopardy of being restricted and that the public is in danger of engaging "the highest bidder" in a competition for the simple elements that make up a Great City.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at Stephen@thirdeyecreative.net)

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