The Watts Towers, built over 34 years by Simon Rodia, are a Los Angeles icon. Built from found objects, including broken glass, sea shells, pottery, and tile, the Towers stand as a monument to the human spirit and the persistence of a singular vision. The Watts Towers, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, are a National Historic Landmark, a State of California Historic Park, and Historic-Cultural Monument No. 15 as previously designated by the City of Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission.
Since its inception in 1961, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs’ Watts Towers Arts Center Campus, and the later-built Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center, located in the heart of Watts on a campus that includes Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, have provided programs designed for cultural enrichment. Classes for both teachers and students in painting, sculpture, photography, music, dance, gardening, tiling, and other multi-media arts are presented in a safe, non-competitive creative atmosphere under the guidance and direction of professional artists. Tours and lectures, as well as permanent and changing exhibitions by outstanding local and international artists, are offered year round.
DCA’s Watts Towers Arts Center Campus has served as a beacon of light for arts education and a conduit for social change. It continues to support and present master artists and to nurture aspiring young people. This arts education institution, which is the only tourist destination in Watts, continues to serve not only our local Southern California community, but the world at large, as is evidenced by its large number of international visitors. Through its exhibitions, tours, and other programs, the WTAC has been associated with, and presented, more than 1,000 artists in numerous disciplines including: visual arts, filmmaking, writing, music, and performing arts, in addition to its substantial museum and arts educational programming.
The Watts Towers Arts Center Campus is internationally known for its association with, and development of, master artists. Just like Simon Rodia, and in spite of the tremendous, measurable success of our world renowned, master artists, many still find themselves outside the range for inclusion in many of the existing art institutions.
During the last weekend of September, DCA’s Watts Towers Arts Center Campus produces the annual Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival and the Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival. Both events embrace the concept of multiculturalism and draw crowds from all parts of the city and around the world. The Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival is dedicated to percussion and the traditional role of drumming in human societies. The Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival, the oldest festival in Los Angeles, pays tribute to the American music forms of Jazz, Gospel, and Blues – and takes it to the Avant Garde and Latin Jazz scene. The performers represent the diverse cultures in Los Angeles and some of the finest talent in drumming and jazz today. The festival brings visitors, including children, together with community service organization, retail and food vendors, artisans, and musicians. Each year, thousands of people from all over the world are attracted to the site to see the Watts Towers, hear the story of their creation, and participate in the programs DCA provides.
The galleries at the Watts Towers Campus include the Noah Purifoy Gallery, the Charles Mingus Gallery, and the Dr. Joseph and Bootsie Howard Gallery.
LA Currents: Watts Towers – Rosie Lee Hooks
Maria Hall-Brown sits down with the Director of the Watts Towers Art Center, Rosie Lee Hooks. Ms. Hooks shares with us her experience in this role and the latest programs and exhibitions offered at the center.