Painting the town

19 new murals and Antelope Valley’s POW! WOW! arts and culture festival celebrates locally, connects globally

Meggs + Miya, POW! WOW! Antelope Valley, 2016.

The BLVD began with three goals in mind: to embrace and sustain a new thriving economy; to attract and retain a younger and more diverse citizenry; and to develop the city’s own identity — becoming a destination in and of itself, not just a stop on the road to Los Angeles.

The city of Lancaster is just 69 miles from downtown L.A., in the northernmost reaches of Los Angeles County. Having long been associated with the Antelope Valley’s topography and climate — a dry, desert expanse of barren landscapes, geographically isolated from the more metropolitan parts of the county — Lancaster has become a booming cultural center all its own, and is one of the last bastions of affordable housing in the region.

Lancaster Boulevard, known as The BLVD, is the epicenter of this defining cultural movement. The street features a number of cultural anchors, including the Museum of Art and History, the Lancaster Performing Arts Center, the Cedar Center for the Arts, and the Western Hotel Museum, along with a number of galleries and restaurants situated along the main thoroughfare.

Having long been associated with the Antelope Valley’s topography and climate — a dry, desert expanse of barren landscapes, geographically isolated from the more metropolitan parts of the county — Lancaster has become a booming cultural center all its own.

Since receiving its designation from the state as a California Cultural District, The BLVD Cultural District engaged local businesses in downtown Lancaster through The BLVD Association, hotels throughout the city through Destination Lancaster, and new audiences through events like Family Day and Bridging the Arts, a joint venture between the Museum of Art and History and the Lancaster Performing Arts Center.

Later this month, the district launches the second iteration of its flagship program, POW! WOW! Antelope Valley, an arts and culture festival celebrating the installation of 19 new murals in and around The BLVD.

Andrew Schoultz, POW! WOW! Antelope Valley, 2016.

Perhaps the best way to describe POW! WOW! is a breakdown of the event’s moniker. POW! — the impact that art has on a person, and WOW! — the reaction that art elicits from a viewer. Together, they reference pow wow, a Native American term for a gathering that celebrates culture, music, and art. Originally centered around a weeklong event in Hawaii, POW! WOW! has since grown into a global network of artists and organized gallery shows, lecture series, schools for art and music, mural projects, concerts, and live art installations across the globe. The festival reaches the U.S. cities of Long Beach and Washington, D.C., and countries like Taiwan, Israel, Singapore, Jamaica, Guam, New Zealand, and Germany. Now added to that impressive list is downtown Lancaster.

Through a partnership spearheaded by the Museum of Art and History’s curator Andi Campognone, and POW! WOW! Worldwide founder and lead director Jasper Wong, the first POW! WOW! Antelope Valley (AV for short) came to fruition in 2016. Inviting a range of artists, from the internationally renowned Andrew Schoultz and David P. Flores to local favorites like Julius Eastman and Michael Jones, POW! WOW! AV 2016 culminated in the additions of 12 new murals across the district. Each artwork created a distinct identity for The BLVD and helped to define Lancaster as a creative destination.

The 2018 artist line up for POW! WOW! Antelope Valley continues to celebrate this international spirit, with artists such as Super A from the Netherlands, Tran Nguyen of Vietnam, Jaune from Belgium, and Slinkachu from Great Britain. California’s own Hueman, Lauren YS, Ekundayo, Jeff Soto, Christopher Konecki, Amir Fallah, Mikey Kelly, Carly Ealey, Nuri Amanatullah, Andrew Hem, Tina Dille, Aaron de la Cruz, Julius Eastman, Spenser Little and Darcy Yates join additional artists from around the U.S. on this year’s roster of muralists.

David P. Flores, POW! WOW! Antelope Valley, 2016.

Residents and visitors alike are invited to the POW! WOW! AV Arts and Culture Block Party and The New Vanguard II opening reception on Sunday, October 21 from 2 to 6 p.m. The exhibition, The New Vanguard II, is curated by Andrew Hosner of Thinkspace Projects in Los Angeles. The exhibit will include four solo shows by artists Sandra Chevrier, Brooks Salzwedel, Seth Armstong, and Craig “Skibs” Barker, with museum-specific art installations by HOTXTEA, Lawrence Vallieres, and Andrew Hem, along with a group exhibit in the main gallery of more than 40 international new contemporary artists.

The 2018 POW! WOW! AV Block Party festivities will include the POW! WOW! AV Print Lab at MOAH:CEDAR, which invites participants to bring their own shirts or tote bags to receive a heat-pressed image by this year’s artist in residence, Amy Kaps. Attendees can opt for a guided tour of the Western Hotel Museum, taking place throughout the day. A classic car show will cruise along Lancaster BLVD, and the musical sounds of Vultures of Vinyl, Lazy Beam, Thanks, Weird Puppy, Jimini Picasso, New Character, and Witchin Alleys will radiate from the outdoor MOAH stage. There will be opportunities for festivalgoers to meet the artists of POW! WOW! AV and The New Vanguard II. And, of course, no big event is complete without great eats, available from local restaurants and vendors all along The BLVD.

This year’s POW! WOW! AV adds 19 new murals to the city’s existing collection, bringing the total number within The BLVD Cultural District to more than 30 — each with its own steady audience and meaningful place in the creative and social fabric of the community in which it lives.

They serve as significant cultural assets, bringing incredible value to the Antelope Valley and helping to illustrate the city of Lancaster for what it is: a place with rich cultural heritage and a thriving, dynamic future.

Robert Benitez is Arts Program Coordinator for the City of Lancaster’s Museum of Art and History. To learn more about The BLVD Cultural District and the California Cultural District program, www.caculturaldistricts.org.