CONVERSATIONS WITH ARTISTS: THE SKIRBALL CULTURAL CENTER PARTS I AND II
and Howard Friedman, Chairman of the Board, The Skirball Cultural Center
Wilma and Howard Friedman have been associated with the Skirball Cultural Center from its inception.
Howard Friedman has had a long and distinguished career as a leading American attorney and civic leader. Many forget thatBrown v. Board of Education, the 1954 landmark Supreme Case striking down as unconstitutional the concept of "separate but equal", was hardly the beginning of the modern American civil rights movement. In 1948, African American Ada Lois Sipuel applied for a place at the law school at the University of Oklahoma and was denied because of race. Howard Friedman, then an undergraduate at the college, initiated and led campus wide protests challenging this decision. Events at the University of Oklahoma and the protests led by Friedman had a considerable influence on national public opinion. The exclusion by the University of Oklahoma Law School of Sipuel subsequently became the subject of US Supreme Court cases argued by Thurgood Marshall acting as the head NAACP legal team. These proved important precursors to Brown v. Board of Education (1954) in which the Supreme Court ruled that state laws establishing separate schools for blacks and whites were unconstitutional
After the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 and the re-unification of East and West Germany, there was renewed debate and fear in some quarters about the future of the country. Friedman who had been president of the American Jewish Committee, was invited by the Konrad Adenauer foundation to travel to Germany for its lecture series. In a remarkable address, Friedman reminded those who could remember only the horrors of the World War II and the holocaust, that there was a new generation in Germany that was building a solid democracy from the ashes of totalitarianism. Friedman joined post-war Germany in welcoming Jewish emigration from Russia and other places, recalling the connection that Jews had historically had with democracy.
Friedman was the founding Chairman of the Board of the Skirball Cultural Center, and remains Chair to the present day. Howard's wife Wilma Friedman, President of the Volunteer Council at the Skirball, has had an equally seminal role in the life of the Skirball, organizing the Center's first handful of volunteers, a group which has since expanded to several hundred members, each an ambassador of welcome to the Skirball experience.
and Yatrika Shah Rais, Music Director, the Skirball Cultural Center
Grace Cohen Grossman, Senior Curator, shares with us some treasures of the Skirball's core collection, and explains the philosophy behind the Skirball's acquisitions. Grossman's engaging manner and enthusiasm grabbed our attention, and illustrated why the Skirball's collection is truly a living thing.
Yatrika Shah Rais, Music Director at the Skirball, speaking to us from the outdoor courtyard in which the celebrated Sunset Concert series takes place, gives us a sense of why the Skirball's music and literature series have come to be world renowned, events which Los Angelenos and international visitors alike find irresistible.
The Skirball Cultural Center, located in Brentwood, California represents the true western pioneering tradition. Conceived by Dr. Uri D. Herscher and named in honor of philanthropist Jack Skirball (1896–1985); also film producer, (credits included Alfred Hitchcock's Saboteur, and Shadow of a Doubt ); and real estate developer; the Skirball opened its doors in 1996. Designed by renowned architect Moshe Safdie, the Skirball has proven its mission as a place of welcome. It brilliantly explores in its collections, and (oftentimes interactive) exhibits the connections between four thousand years of Jewish heritage and the ideals of American democracy.
In addition to its impressive permanent and core exhibits, the Skirball is known for its innovative changing exhibits. These exhibits have ranged from Bob Dylan, to Freud, to Einstein, to Max Liebermann, to the influence of Jewish immigrants on the art of the comic book, to the photography of the American Civil Rights Movements, to the Firemen and heroes of 9/11--to name just a few. The Skirball's popular Sunset concert series, bringing world musicians to its outdoor courtyard, is internationally known. 500,000 people visit the Skirball each year, coming from every ethnic and cultural identity. Evidence of the success of the Skirball's theme of diverse cultures all contributing to the American identity is the broad support it has received. More than 40 percent of its funding has come from non-Jews.
MB Abram Galleries visited the Skirball recently, and was privileged to converse with some of the remarkable individuals who make its activities possible. In the first of a two part series, we encounter Dr. Uri Herscher, founding President and CEO of the Skirball, in the amazing Noah's Ark, a permanent exhibit inspired by the ancient flood story. Dr. Herscher, a distinguished academic and educator whose inspiring biography can be read on the Skirball's website, provides us with an insightful walkthrough.