The wisdom of the elders

Stunning.That's the only word that can describe the incredibly ingenious and boldly imaginative action the Downey City Council took to put a fa?ßade up where the Avenue Theater used to be. Admittedly the historic old movie house was an irreparable shambles on the inside. On the outside, the blank, grimy marquee was in desperate need of a facelift, and before the city blocked it off with a faux trellis, its filthy entrance was a favorite spot for local vagrants to enjoy a good snooze. Okay, the city didn't create the new marquee itself-it hired a designer. But who would have thought that with one stroke of the pen, Downey would place itself among the world's most progressive-dare we say avant-garde-little cities? Think of it: A clean, well-lit marquee that announces a theater site where no actual theater exists. Brilliant. Think what Marcel Duchamps did with that urinal, or what Andy Warhol did with that soup can. With one reconceived image, Downey has entered the front ranks of postmodernist theorists in positing a reverberant image that forces us to contemplate the idea of a thing versus the thing itself, and add to the broader historical question of reality versus illusion. Esthetic integrity versus cultural preconception; utility and conventional artistic criteria versus the authenticity of a work that occupies its own time and space-the implications are endless. Plus, the marquee lights up Downey Avenue, and in announcing "West Side Story" in perpetuity, puts us back in 1961, where so much of the city still seems stuck. Extraordinary, you'll have to admit. Question: why stop at the Avenue Theater? There are any number of entities whose reality can be maintained without expense or the hassles of normal human exchange, just by indicating that they're there. Why not, for example, put a fa?ßade over the auditorium and chambers of the city council? Just a kind of Men at Work mural depicting our wise, intrepid leaders conferring in earnest Socratic dialogue about the future of the city. This would free them for photo ops, glad-handing and boostering-things they do well-and free the rest of us from decisions that sometimes have us shaking our heads in disbelief. Take the fiasco waiting to happen on September 30th, for instance. The city has ponied up a reported $65,000 for an Event Planner to make the most of this year's "Taste of Downey" food fest, where the area near City Hall will be cordoned off so that the public can sample the cuisine served up in booths by local restaurateurs. There will be a stage. There will be a band. Local Downey artists will show their stuff. Third Street will be sealed off for the event. Judging by last year's number, 1500 are expected to indulge. It sounds festive and fun. What no one in charge thought to do however is check the City's calendar for that date. As it turns out, September 30th is also the opening night of the Downey Civic Light Opera's production of "Singin' in the Rain," and its post-show party at the Embassy Suites. Somewhere around 700 theatergoers, plus cast, crew and musicians, will run into the foodie crowd, which will have already taken up all the available parking space, not to mention the diners at Mimi's and the guests and revelers at the hotel. Many of the theatergoers are elderly and come from distances as far away as Ventura and Seal Beach. How will they get to the show? Can you imagine the snarling that will go on between the gray panthers and the canape-istas? All because of a leadership that's supposed to know what's going on in the city on any given date. That's not all. At $20 a pop, and at last year's number, the city grosses $30,000 from the food fest. That's not half the Event Planner's fee, not to mention insurance, security, construction and cleanup, and other charges. You gotta love it. If it's the nature of genius to go boldly forward where no one else has trod, you can't always complain when it's in a spectacularly wrong direction. It's still, in its way, beautiful.

********** Published: September 08, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 21