Soul of a city

Dear Editor:I am sorry that Mr. Christon found so little of merit in the artistic events produced/sponsored by the Downey Arts Coalition. I think one problem is that he has such a narrow and inaccurate view of what constitutes the "soul" of a city. And his personal criticism of young people trying to make a difference is no substitute for thoughtful analysis. The "soul" of a community is revealed in all of its actions and activities. Art is one of those components. Events in Downey indicate that the city has a rich, giving, and expansive "soul" even as demographics change. We are a multi-ethnic community making positive strides in working together. It was the community involvement in the 3-night run of "A Civil War Christmas" that made the performance of this Broadway play such a magical event for the fourteen hundred people who attended. The cast was recruited from friends, acquaintances, and members of the church, including pastors. They had little to work with, borrowed costumes, cobbled together a sound system, and made effective use of the church altar area as a stage. The play was a though-provoking piece, raising issues that are still relevant today. The very selection of this play by Lana Wahlquist and its production at the First Baptist Church says volumes about the "soul" of Downey. Likewise, it was community involvement that made Make Music Downey such a success. The city and four churches lent assistance, volunteers put in a thirteen-hour day on just that Saturday alone, and professional and amateur musicians sang their hearts out. The festival was intended as a participatory event, and the community responded with love and pride. Downey is very fortunate to have young families like Lana and Andrew Wahlquist. They are working parents who make time to contribute to worthwhile events in this community. They even found time to substantially help with a homeless project headed by the First Moravian Church. I have no problem with Mr. Christon expressing his opinion that the art "was mostly dreadful" and the music "wasn't great." But I can not imagine why a "professional" art critic would write such personal attacks. These young people are our future. If Mr. Christon has any future articles, they would be more correctly entitled: "The Narrow Viewpoint of Just One Man." Carol Kearns Downey

Dear Editor: I am thoroughly enjoying Lawrence Christon's "Soul of the City" series and hope he will continue for many issues. Miriam Shenkman Downey

Dear Editor: In Friday's issue of the Patriot, Lawrence Christon embarked on a search for the soul of Downey, then apparently forgot what he set out to do - so much so that one struggles to summarize what the article is even about. At the outset, it would appear that the column aims to highlight the Downey Arts Coalition, but given how little copy is actually devoted to the DAC, this clearly isn't the case. Instead, the DAC acts as a vehicle for Christon's sloppy attack on two of the Coalition's founders, Andrew Wahlquist and his wife, Lana Joy. Were I to take this article seriously, I would have to surmise that Andrew is some sort of arts hobbyist who made a student film and stopped there. However, given that I have worked with Andrew on multiple film projects, I know that this is wildly untrue. A quick Google search can tell you that he's worked on more than 10 feature films in the last two years alone, notably "Pitch Perfect" and "The Haunting in Connecticut 2." Was he the director of these films? No. But anyone involved in filmmaking is well aware of just how many talented artists it takes to pull off a successful product. Mr. Christon may not have a clue what a technical supervisor is or does, and that's fine. This is why the term "filmmaker" is used broadly, to include hardworking individuals who play crucial roles in the film process despite not ending up on the movie's poster. Additionally, Christon doesn't think it fair to trumpet Lana Joy as a "performance guru" considering that she has "only done a few small acting roles and directed a church play." And I would have to agree with him, if those were indeed her only credits. However, Lana has done much work on film and on stage, earning her place in the Screen Actor's Guild and Equity unions. She has performed on well-respected stages, including A Noise Within and Theatricum Botanicum. Of course, a working actor does not a guru make. Yet additionally, Lana holds both a BA and MA in theatre. Those credentials typically do entitle one to tout themselves as somewhat of an expert. A "Master," you might even say. What's worse than terribly misrepresenting their accomplishments is the way Lawrence Christon feels it appropriate to spread baseless accusations about these two. For example, claiming Andrew was caught "digging up questionable facts about the DCLO" and "having other people present them." I am very interested to know more about this, but unfortunately Mr. Christon stops there. For a 1,500-word column he's surprisingly light on details, yet heavy on butchered metaphors. Andrew and Lana have gained well-earned respect from the community for their tireless work in the Downey Arts Coalition, among other things. I doubt this article will do anything to change the public opinion of them. What concerns me more is why anyone would think this gossip-laced attack piece has anything to do with finding the soul of Downey. My advice to the Patriot: find another writer to look for it. Ben Stanton Downey

Dear Editor: I have followed Mr. Christon's "Soul of the City" articles with some sympathy - until his latest installment. I can't help but feel his desire for a return of elite high culture in Downey is such a low priority in the larger scheme of things, and his criticism of a city council that fiscally cannot share his priority is not fair. I am myself a classical musician, trained in my first life to perform solos with orchestras and in small ensembles, yet the only orchestra performances I can attend are the free ones offered in the parks or at the La Mirada Theater because the cost of high culture for practical people like me with small children is too high. And there's the rub. High culture is really for intellectual elites with extra money to spend - the 1%, if you will - and always has been. The city council's priority is to fill all of our vacant offices and houses with businesses and families that will pay taxes to keep the city functioning. Are poetry readings and local art shows going to help bring in the people? Probably not. But jobs will, even slightly better than minimum wage jobs because that's what people need right now. City councils are struggling because of the oppressive regulations of a clueless, ideological state government so there is only so much they can do when few people in their right mind would open anything but a fast food restaurant in California. But in his latest installment, my sympathy ran out. I was completely turned off by his bizarre and incomprehensible criticisms of Mr. Wahlquist that were simply unfit for public consumption. To complain about the lack of an art scene and then to complain about the people trying to bring it back because their art didn't meet Mr. Christon's standards was tacky. Is he really complaining that he isn't the go-to-guy for a budding art scene? Perhaps Downey is truly having an identity crisis, but isn't our entire country undergoing an identity crisis? I may share Mr. Christon's sadness over the lack of appreciation for works of great beauty, but I outright weep over the loss of basic values all Americans used to share: values like honesty, integrity, respect for the wisdom and experience of older generations, faith in God, hard work, self-reliance, even a shared understanding of our own language used to be part of the American identity but are no longer. We are experiencing a culture in decline across the country, not just in Downey. I have no advice for those that seek to resurrect an arts community here and find many obstacles in their way (including local cranky art-critics with newspaper columns), but I wish them well and hope they can succeed without precious taxpayer resources. I am also on a quest of biblical proportions: to help save the soul of America - yes, without taxpayer assistance. Alaina Niemann Downey

********** Published: Aug. 8, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 17