Active Cultures Finale with Richard Jackson and Andrew Liang

Artist Richard Jackson tells stories of Pasadena's art scene in the 1950s and 60s.

Artist Richard Jackson tells stories of Pasadena's art scene in the 1950s and 60s.

Last Friday, we closed out our 2011-2012 Active Cultures season with two great talks by artist Richard Jackson and architect Andrew Liang. This series has been a fascinating way for our members and visitors to engage with broad topics in new ways as two seemingly disparate topics find commonalities in an informal setting, and last week was no exception.

Richard Jackson started things off with entertaining stories about his life as an artist in Pasadena. In the 1950s and 60s, Old Town Pasadena looked very different than it does today– it was a run down, bohemian area of artist studios and dive bars, and a place where Jackson happily lived and worked for many years. In fact, the space he rented for 13 years only cost him $100 a month! He also talked at length on his work doing light construction and maintenance at the Pasadena Art Museum’s second building, now the Norton Simon. “Pasadena Art Museum kept me alive,” he said, due to the many construction problems he was often paid to fix. This job supported his passion for art for many years. Finally, he talked about how the development of Old Town, while good for the city, was bad for the artists who lived there as the area gentrified.

Andrew Liang then got up to speak on the rapid urbanization of China, joking, “Richard, if you hated the gentrification of Pasadena, you’re really going to hate this!” The numbers were staggering: by 2015, half of China’s population will live in urban areas, second only to India. Unlike urban growth in other countries, the expansion of cities are aggressively pursued by the Chinese government on a national scale, resulting in a recent explosion of growth that has taken China to its present level of urbanization in mere decades. Liang’s visual contrast between the Shanghai skyline in 1980 and today was particularly striking– while there were no high-rise buildings in the 80s, today there are twice as many as New York City.

Both speakers referenced how gentrification affects art, and expanded further once they sat down for discussion. Both stated that when artists reach a critical mass in a given area it can take on a trendy feel, attracting more people to the area and driving up rents and property values. Jackson noted how artists moved out of Pasadena once they couldn’t afford it any longer, and how the same phenomenon has taken hold in other L.A. neighborhoods like Chinatown and Culver City. Liang brought up how many Chinese municipal governments have actually created art districts where studios can be affordable as well, and how even those can become gentrified and commercialized.

Since this was our last Active Cultures of the season, we’re now looking forward to the third season of Fusion Fridays! While details are still being finalized, mark your calendars for May 18th when we’ll kick off the season in style. In the meantime, check out our recaps from last year’s Fusion Friday events here, here and here. ~CM

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