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Wed, Jul

Social Dystopia and the Arts in the San Fernando Valley

An opening night for the Valley Music Theater is captured in this July 8, 1964 photo. Courtesy of Los Angeles Public Library 

LOS ANGELES

GUEST COMMENTARY - Civilizations are defined by two main elements that reflect, embody and manifest the cultural vision and all-encompassing philosophical ideals of society as a whole. These two elements are Art and Architecture. When we think of ancient Egypt, we immediately see pyramids towering over a seemingly endless vacant expanse of desert, symbolizing mankind’s transcendence over chaos through architecture, technological competency y and religious expression.

Similarly, the Greeks are survived by the Acropolis, representing the classical harmonization of logic by design, embodying a geometrical sense of proportion, expressing democratic social ideals and establishing the occidental perspective of human history. The Romans gave us the Coliseum and the Appian Way, together with their hydro-engineering prowess in the form of aqueducts that are still serviceable bequeath to us modern transportation, sanitation and plumbing infrastructure, civic planning and a concept of law and order that is envisioned and distributed with equanimity at every level of the social order.   

When we think of the San Fernando Valley in the millennial era of 2023, what are the hallmarks of civilization that reveal our inner-most thoughts, our most sacred places, where we deposit our treasured resources and focus our attention? I’d hate to say mini-malls, gridlocked highways and a crumbling infrastructure that threatens to collapse on us not to mention the next generation. Homeless encampments crowd every over-and-underpass, we focus on many superficial socio-political concerns that only add to the insurmountable burden of intractable problems. We study every new outburst of inflammatory social upheaval by applying cosmetic solutions that create an army of technocrats without a view to any long-term impact or consequences, all at public expense.

Public employees of such programs, however altruistic their stated intentions may be, have far more at stake in keeping the current troublesome situations going than they do in finding solutions. To end the problem would result in the drying up of funding for this workforce of social-service warriors. Of course, the arts can’t solve all or any of these problems, and it is absurd to conflate the two, other than to shift the public focus from a self-perpetuating system of negative returns. The arts can stop the destructive downward spiral of contemporary society by making us aware of and involved with cultural concerns and ideas that move us forward. 

So where are the Arts and Architecture that should represent talented, creative, and free people? Our arts venues and institutions have devolved into cell phones and television screens. We are badly in need of arts education programs that are widely available to all. Our children go to schools where with few exceptions Art and Music are regarded as unimportant or even irrelevant. And yet study after study has demonstrated the therapeutic beneficent effects of music education for preschoolers as well as elementary and secondary school age students. Music and Art Therapy programs have emerged in the past several decades as being highly effective in the treatment of early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s and other geriatric diseases and disabilities associated with aging. Does this mean that we can cure every dysfunction that plagues society with arts programs? No, but we can do a lot. Presently we are doing nothing at all.

Quality of life is the paramount issue that the arts, especially Performing Arts can address without taking anything else away. The arts and music enhance and improve everything we do. And while there is indeed a respectable symphony orchestra that at present traverses the empty cultural expanse of the valley almost by itself, it is time we dedicate ourselves to an awakening of the Arts of all disciplines, in order to reap the societal benefits that only vigorous and thriving arts programs and institutions can give us.

We need to support arts venues, education programs, cultural events and professionals who make these things happen. If we hitch our wagon to the creativity that abounds in our community, we could discover the Mozart’s, Michelangelo’s and Da Vincis that may inhabit our neighborhoods and walk with us on our streets. Arts and Architecture personify and express the values that define a civilization and transmit our best ideas for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and secure the blessings of freedom for ourselves and our posterity.

(Mihran Kalaydjian is a consummate leading member of the community and a devoted civic engagement activist for education spearheading numerous academic initiatives in local political forums.)

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