In 2009 the UCLA International Institute and the University of Genoa collaborated on an international conference, held in Italy, that focused on Los Angeles’ Watts Towers. Themes from that conference, including migration, claims on urban spaces, and the interaction between art and economics, will be further explored in a second symposium taking place here at UCLA from Oct. 22-24.
“The Watts Towers Common Ground Initiative: Art — Migrations — Development” will focus on the role of the towers in the Los Angeles community, exploring how they have become a center of creativity and a symbol for resilience during difficult times. The UCLA conference and a festival that began on Sept. 25 and will run through March 19, 2011, hope to rekindle public interest in maintaining art in the community.
The conference is free and open to the public, and will feature lectures on both the towers and the adjacent Watts Towers Art Center. Speakers include professors from Genoa University, UCLA and other California institutions, as well as individuals affiliated with the arts, labor movements and the community.
Watts Towers under construction.
To accompany the conference, the Common Ground Initiative is offering a day tour of the Watts Towers on Sunday, Oct. 24. Participants will hear special presentations and tour the 17 structures that Italian immigrant Sam Rodia spent more than 30 years building.
In addition to the conference, UCLA is also highlighting the history of the Watts Towers with an exhibit in the Powell Library rotunda. “The Committee for Simon Rodia’s Towers in Watts” is being curated by Luisa Del Giudice and Susan Anderson from UCLA Special Collections. It focuses on the period from 1956-1965, during which the towers were first purchased and then saved from demolition by the city by a letter-writing campaign.
Items of interest include the actual order from the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety calling for the demolition of the towers, letters of support for the towers from community members and the handwritten sheet music for a country western song meant to drum up support for the towers.
The Hammer Museum is also hosting a performance of “The Watts Towers Project,” a one-man play inspired by the construction and history of the Watts Towers, on Oct. 21 at 7 p.m.
For more information on the Watts Towers Common Ground Initiative, visit its website. Details about the exhibit may be found at the UCLA Library’s website. For the Hammer presentation of “The Watts Towers Project,” see a schedule of events. To learn more about Sam Rodia and the origin of the towers, see this article by Thomas Harrison, conference coordinator and UCLA professor of Italian.