This past fall, Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles (Levitt LA) wrapped up its 15th season of free outdoor concerts in MacArthur Park. Every year since the venue’s 2007 launch—with the exception of 2020, due to the pandemic—Levitt LA has filled the historic park with the sounds of summer, bringing together friends, families, and neighbors of all ages and backgrounds to enjoy music as lively and diverse as the city itself. To date, well over 500,000 SoCal residents have gathered in MacArthur Park to experience free Levitt LA concerts. This year’s milestone anniversary celebrates the nonprofit’s longstanding commitment to expanding access to high-quality arts experiences for all while enlivening the surrounding park and community. “Our mission is to build community through music, and we believe art should be accessible to all” the venue’s executive director Allison Keating shared in a Los Angeles Daily News article. Today we’re celebrating the nonprofit venue’s journey thus far and highlighting some of the inspiring artists and partners who’ve made this year’s concert season one of the most impactful yet.
Looking at the broad range of incredible artists who performed as part of Levitt LA’s 15th anniversary season, it’s no surprise that the venue was dubbed one of the “best places to see live music in Southern California,” by the Los Angeles Times. The lineup featured legendary icons like the “King of Latin soul” Joe Bataan and international cumbia powerhouse La Sonora Dinamita, and rising stars like pop/synth multi-instrumentalist Dante Elephante and SoCal’s sweet soul pioneers Thee Sacred Souls. “We are most proud of our young performers,” shared the venue’s PR representative Mariluz Gonzalez. “Especially the young ladies who are the future of performance art—from Indigenous activist, Tia Wood who is keeping her culture alive by mixing her ancestral culture with modern pop culture, to 12-year-old concert pianist Yahaira Tubac, who literally wears her heritage on her sleeve as she plays the music of the masters,” she continued.
From returning fan favorites, like Levitt LA’s annual “Wonder-Full In The Park: A Tribute To The Music Of Stevie Wonder” featuring DJs Spinna, Monalisa, and Cognito, to Levitt LA debuts like Puebla’s cumbia sonidera sensation Grupo Soñador, music lovers of all ages flocked to the dance floor all summer long. Spanning from June–September, the 2022 season delivered 30 free concerts, featuring more than 150 artists and 50 genres in total. The season’s wide range of talent was curated to celebrate and reflect the local neighborhood and Los Angeles as a whole.
Levitt LA takes the power of representation to heart. It’s seen onstage, across the lawn and in the planning process leading up to each concert season. Recognizing their role in the rich cultural ecosystem of Westlake/MacArthur Park—which is home to large Mexican, Central American, and Indigenous Latin American communities—the Levitt LA team collaborates and co-creates with community stakeholders and partners, leveraging free Levitt concerts to support local residents, organizations and businesses. In a recent L.A. Taco interview, Allegra Padilla, Director of Community Relations and Partnerships at Levitt LA, shared her experience as a member of the venue’s Community Advisory Council, years before joining the team. She and the council gave valuable programming input and insights into what mattered most to the local community. “I thought it was really impactful,” she shared “because not a lot of organizations, even arts organizations, take the time to create a community advisory council, which is having sort of a consistent feedback loop and form of accountability.”
Fifteen years into their journey, the Levitt LA team continues to bring more voices and partners to the table, making for robust collaborative programming. According to Gonzalez, two 2022 partnerships that amplified Levitt LA’s goals were those with Youth Orchestra LA at Heart of LA Music Studios (YOLA at HOLA)—which provided live performance opportunities for the next generation of musicians—and United American Indian Involvement Inc.—which invited audiences to take part in joyous community activism. Other exciting partnerships gave rise to the venue’s immersive cultural celebrations on Sundays, like the 5th Annual Mundo Maya Day (presented in partnership with the Mundo Maya Foundation), the Festival of Philippine Arts and Culture (presented in partnership with FilAm Arts), and INCA The Peruvian Ensemble, TAIKOPROJECT, as well as YOLA at HOLA (presented in partnership with The Music Center). In fostering relationships with local heritage groups and culture bearers, Levitt LA is able to present authentic cross-cultural experiences for all. “It is amazing to see full families, from baby cousins to grandparents, showing up for one of Levitt LA’s Sunday concerts,” explained Keating. “Focusing on specific cultural heritages, the families engage in intergenerational art making, learning traditional dances, and seeing the amazing contemporary music being made today. This is a place where traditions are passed down AND new music is showcased.”
Thanks to Levitt LA’s collaborations with local entrepreneurs, groups and organizations, audiences enjoy multi-layered experiences that extend beyond the stage. The Levitt LA lawn is a place for people to listen to music while enjoying local foods, exploring handmade artisan goods, and learning about local services and resources at on-site community booths. Some 2022 collaborators on the lawn included On the Go LA, Ghostown Records, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Koreatown Youth + Community Center.
Free Levitt concerts have become an annual staple in the community and inspired investment that has rippled well beyond the summer concert season. Fifteen years ago, Levitt LA brought new life to a dormant 1959 bandshell and ushered in a new chapter for LA’s historic MacArthur Park. Once a luxurious lakeside playground for the elite known as the ‘Champs-Élysées of Angeles,’ in the 1980s, the park fell upon decades of disinvestment and a lack of infrastructure for the surrounding neighborhood’s influx of Central American refugees. Launched in partnership with the City of Los Angeles Recreation & Parks Department and the Levitt Foundation, the nonprofit music venue was created to help to rebuild a safe, family-friendly environment. Levitt LA came in as “a spark” according to Mayor Eric Garcetti, “not only enriching the experience for people who live there, but bringing people who had not been to MacArthur Park in years, if not decades.” Since its launch, the “spark” of Levitt LA has inspired new small businesses, enhanced community safety measures, more cultural activities—like Portraits of Hope’s 2015 “Spheres in MacArthur Park” public art project—and inspired multiple park upgrades. A year following Levitt LA’s launch, the City invested in building a soccer field and new playground behind the venue, complete with lighting and seating. MacArthur Park continues to see investments, like this year’s $1.5 million improvements to the park’s vegetation, pipes, lighting, walkways and more.
Set against the backdrop of the LA’s iconic skyline, surrounded by MacArthur Park’s swaying palm trees, there’s something magical and uniquely LA about experiencing Levitt LA in person. Yet not everyone is able to do so. When the Covid pandemic abruptly changed the way we gathered, the Levitt LA team began exploring access from a new lens and presented a selection of livestreamed performances. “Levitt LA has taken Covid as an opportunity to invest in livestreaming equipment and can now offer free online access to every concert we present” said Keating. “We have heard from our community members who live just a little too far from MacArthur Park that they have organized watch parties for hundreds of audience members. We consider these videos a living and growing archive of the amazing talent, depth of culture, and diversity that is the MacArthur Park music community.” To expand access to its free, high-quality programming, Levitt LA livestreamed all 2022 concerts on its YouTube channel, Facebook page, and Twitch channel, bringing a taste of the experience directly into people’s homes.
The nimble and innovative Levitt LA team continues to find new ways to remove barriers to arts access. “We’ve expanded our notions of accessibility,” Padilla added. “Which has been amazing, as now international folks can tap in and we can connect with the different diasporic communities of Los Angeles, which has been very impactful.” With the 2022 season wrapped, the team will be making these videos available on its YouTube channel in the coming months.
Planning for Levitt LA’s 2023 season is already underway, and we can’t wait to see what the team has in store as we once again congratulate Levitt LA on 15 years of building community through music in MacArthur Park!