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Experience NoHo Arts Festival Displays Community’s Playful Side

A hip-hop instructor costumed as Michael Jackson, flanked by a dance troupe clad in all black, made his way down Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood on Saturday, passing by a fashion show in high gear as models pranced down a runway in girly, vintage-inspired dresses.


Across the street, two blank canvasses were set up, waiting for random passersby to pick up a brush and doodle to their heart’s content. The booming bass from a rock band and lyrics from a jazz singer floated through the air.


“NoHo has never looked like this before,” said Brooklyn Jai, the 23-year-old dance instructor who was channeling Jackson in a white sequined jacket and jheri curl wig. “So many people are out on the street. I’m hoping they’ll walk away realizing that it’s a great neighborhood.”


The inaugural Experience NoHo arts festival turned the one-square mile NoHo Arts District into a showcase of all that the neighborhood has to offer, inviting the public into art galleries, recording and dance studios, theaters and bars and gourmet restaurants, which offered special tastings for customers.


Many of the studios were offering free lessons in everything from tap dancing, zumba to jazz.


“NoHo is L.A.’s newest art and entertainment center,” said festival organizer Nancy Bianconi. “You can find all types of entertainment here, whether you want jazz or to see a burlesque show. It’s still bohemian, but trendy, and we’re growing.


“We want people to people to know how unique Noho Arts District is, to come out and experience what we have the other 364 days of the year,” Bianconi said.


The artsy enclave is home to more than 20 live theaters, five art galleries, The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, and the Art Institute of California – Hollywood.


It wasn’t always that way. Many remembered how deserted the area was two decades ago.


“There was nothing here,” said Jerry Beck, a writer who was perusing a digital photography gallery at the Art Institute. “So to see it transform slowly is exciting. Every little thing that happens is another step in helping the area.”


“I flipped out. I’m incredibly impressed,” said Beck’s companion Yvette Kaplan, an animator and director. “I think anyone would think this is someplace special.”


The festival was also a chance for aspiring artists to get some more exposure for their work. Photography students’ work was being displayed on the sidewalk, just across the street from a gallery of black and white oil paintings.


Allison Magrane, 28, was watching the clothes she designed being flaunted by models who paraded by in flirty, short dresses made of silk and oilcloth in lime green and pink polka dots.


“People can really show off their talent,” said Magrane, a grad student studying fashion design at Art Institute. “I think fashion is art, so I think it ties in really well.”


On the corner, Tatyanna Wilkinson had just walked by a canvas with a sketch of a leaf pattern when she was invited to pick up a brush and add some color. The sketch had been left by another passerby, and others after Willkinson would add their own touch to the paintings.


The communal works-in-progress are the brainchild of Steve Bagish of ArtStorm, an L.A.-based nonprofit seeking to offer at-risk youth and taggers a safe, legal and creative outlet for graffiti art.


“Because of the popularity of the artform,it deserves a place in the mainstream,” Bagish said. “We want to bring it off the walls and put it on the canvas. When you put it on the canvas, it’s got more value.”


Bagish had set up five art stations around the festival. Once done, the paintings will be hung in a local gallery.


Wilkinson, a web designer, hopes that all those who had a hand in creating the works would be able to admire them in the gallery together and help add to a growing sense of community.


“It really is becoming more and more of a community, a cultural center for this part of the Valley,” Wilkinson said. “You wouldn’t even know they were here if you just drove through. This happening every year I think it’s brilliant.”


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Published by Los Angeles Daily News.

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