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Heart of Los Angeles takes back MacArthur Park

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This past Sunday, kids from Hearts of Los Angeles--an after school arts program--donned paper mache masks for an afternoon performance at Levitt Pavillion.

Heart of Los Angeles, also known as HOLA, is an after school academics, athletes, and art program geared towards students living in and around MacArthur Park. This past Sunday, kids in the program decorated paper-mache masks, put up their ceramic art and performed an improvised dance on the Levitt Pavilion stage at MacArthur Park. They called it We Are Talking Pyramids.

The name of the performance was inspired by the block-shaped pyramids that surround MacArthur Park's Levitt Pavilion. Nana Ampoto, 10, was one of the performers in the stage piece that afternoon. She took a public arts class through HOLA taught by artist Pearl C. Hsuing and Anna Sew Hoy. "[They] came up with the idea that we would do this collaboration with history and art," said Nana. "And we are making a theater performance for the public."

The park was a cultural hotspot in the early 20th century, where people enjoyed boat rides during the day and concerts at night. In 1968, songwriter Jimmy Webb was inspired by its landscape and wrote "MacArthur Park," which spawned numerous covers, including a disco version by Donna Summers. By 1985, the small oasis became known for gang violence. "It has this rich history that was forgotten for decades," said Tony Brown, the Executive Director for HOLA. Brown wanted to utilize the park for last Sunday's performance to show it's a safe place for families. He said We Are Talking Pyramids is "a re-enhancement of that golden era but on today's terms."

When the sun shone brightest that afternoon, the kids took the stage--wearing paper-mache masks--to an audience of friends, families, and neighbors. Nara Hernandez, the visual art director for HOLA, says it was the first time any of these kids hadn't performed like this in front of a crowd before. "If they had mask and were more anonymous, it would be easier for them," she said.

Artist Jade Gordon of My Barbarian lead the dance. Shouting out different movements, sounds and directions as the kids interact with it on the spot. Students also mimicked elements of the park as it happened. As an ice cream cart passed the stage, one young performer did the same, handing out pretend ice cream.

The dance's soundtrack was an eerie mix of ambient noises recorded and produced by the kids in and around MacArthur Park. "This is what contemporary artists are doing in grad school," says Nara, "and to see our kids doing this is really inspiring."

When Nana and her fellow performers left the stage, their faces glowed with excitement. Nana says she did her best, but wasn't sure how the spectators took it in. "I thought the audience was just staring at us cause of our masks," she said, sounding a little disappointed.

Nevertheless, Tony Brown saw the event as a step in the right direction. He said, "I see a lot of gifts in this community and I'm so happy that the kids do too. I'm so happy that the community gives the kids a chance to express what they see."

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