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Levitt Pavilion offers free MacArthur Park concerts

Every summer since 2007, Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles has presented 50 free concerts in MacArthur Park, featuring more than 150 acclaimed, emerging talent and seasoned, award-winning performers in a broad range of musical genres.

The concerts, presented this year from June 5 to Sept. 6, take place Thursday through Saturday from 7 to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 4 to 7 p.m. for 13 consecutive weekends. 

Attendees are encouraged to bring their blankets and lawn chairs to sit under the stars and enjoy the music. No alcohol or smoking is permitted, but there are several food trucks available, usually representing the culture of the talent on stage.

On Sundays, there is a dedicated program that highlights the various cultures in Los Angeles.

“The Cultural Sunday series is representative of all family cultures,” said Oliver Delgado, who until recently was Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles’ communications director. Delgado, who has since left Levitt Los Angeles, was interviewed for this story prior to his departure.

“We have celebrations of all kinds including Ethiopian, Mayan, Korean, Mexican, Native American and African American,” Delgado said. “We seek out authentic connections by partnering with organizations that are leaders in their field in order to cultivate these concerts. We are looking for real quality programming.”

Previous performers at Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles have included Grammy-winning artists like Los Lobos, Karla Bonoff, Jimmy Webb and Quetzal. Bomba Estereo, Johnnyswim, Rocky Dawuni, Keali’i Reichel, and the Dustbowl Revival have also performed.

The 2020 season’s roster will be released in April, according to Delgado.

Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles is part of the Levitt Foundation, a national network of outdoor performance venues dedicated to community building. 

The mission of Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles is to make live music accessible to all, creating stronger and more connected communities while celebrating the diversity of Los Angeles.

“In California, we lead the charge with Levitt Los Angeles,” said Delgado. “This is an incredible organization dedicated to people nationally coming together.”

Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles is one of the offshoots of The Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation, a private family foundation founded in 1963 by Mortimer and Mimi Levitt to support the arts, culture, and education.

“Mortimer grew up in a working-class Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn during the time of the depression,” Delgado said. “They couldn’t attend music on Coney Island, so they would watch from the gate. As he grew up, Mortimer made a fortune when he built what would become a nationwide haberdashery empire.”

Delgado, 32, said Mortimer Levitt dedicated a sizable portion of his fortune to funding the arts for public access.

“It speaks to their focus of accessing joy,” said Delgado, who worked with the organization for two years because he could fuse his love for music, the arts, and Los Angeles. “It started with an endowment in the ’60s. They started this whole thing on the East Coast and eventually moved across the country. 

“It’s heartwarming to see how wealth is distributed. People can still have a place in their hearts that says, ‘How can I create a ripple effect of joy?’”

On its website, the Levitt program is called “transformative.” 

“Abandoned, blighted places — whether a neglected and gang-infested park, a dormant downtown, a vacant lot or a toxic brownfield — are today vibrant, welcoming destinations where families, friends and people of all ages and backgrounds gather to discover new worlds, and each other, through free, live music.”

In the 1980s, MacArthur Park had a less than positive reputation. It was associated with the seedy side of the community — complete with a growing homeless population, gang activity, drugs and prostitution.

“Anyone who has lived in Los Angeles for more than 15 years will remember the park’s reputation,” said Delgado, who was born in Echo Park, but grew up in Watts and Inglewood. “There was a real commitment and tangible strategic move to improve the quality of the park. 

“My family celebrated birthdays there. I have pix of me three-months-old being walked about the park. At one time the park was subjected to drugs, and gangs. It came at the sacrifice for families to have safe, open door activities. We need outdoor spaces for families to have a great quality of life.”

Delgado, who has always “gravitated toward a strong, more connected community,” said there was a real commitment and tangible strategic move to improve the quality of the park.

“To sustain change, we need quality programming to keep families coming back,” he said. “The city, local council and the Levitt Foundation are committed to it. We want everyone, from every culture to come and enjoy the music.”

This year, Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles is launching new programming for kids that will provide three “children focused” concerts one Saturday morning a month.

Each year there is also programming slated for Black Music Month in June.

“There is a contribution of the arts from the African-American community,” said Delgado. “Every year there are wonderful concerts by uplifting black artists. Last year there was Spinna’s Wonder-Full in the Park — a tribute concert to Stevie Wonder. There were about 2,500 people there on a Sunday — many doing the electric slide on the dance floor. This year we want to close out our season with a celebration of African-American culture in Los Angeles.”

According to Delgado, there is full representation when it comes to the audience and the talent on the stage.

“We have African American, Mexican, West Indian, Caribbean, Asian, Korean, and a hip-hop festival,” he said. “Various cultures are included because everyone is welcome from all backgrounds of life.”

To make sure there is inclusion and diversity at every level, there is a Levitt LA Community Advisory Council made up of people and organizations that work in and around MacArthur Park. The group offers Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles ideas and feedback year round.

“The director of programming, Matthew Hine, goes to see the talent and brings the information back to the team,” Delgado said. “From there we start looking at where they fit in the program. It moves from an individual process to a communal one.”

As Delgado puts it, it’s all about the music.  

“There is something about music,” he said. “Music feeds the soul. We don’t have to speak the same language to communicate. As humans, we share the same experiences. Just think about it — music. Music brings magic to our ears and fills our hearts. This is a worthwhile cause.”

Levitt Pavilion Los Angeles is located in the northwest corner of MacArthur Park, near the intersection of Sixth and Park View streets. The park is located just 10 blocks west of downtown Los Angeles and is bordered by Alvarado Street, Sixth Street, Seventh Street and Park View Street and intersected by Wilshire Boulevard.

“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to newsroom@wavepublication.com.

By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer