Closing Time at Rhino Records

Rhino Records, a Claremont Village staple since 1974, has closed its doors. That elicited a Twitter lament from Professor of Politics David Menefee-Libey (@DMenefeeLibey) and responses from Aditya Sood ’97 and Brian Arbour ’95.

But save your tears. A rent increase at the Yale Avenue location isn’t putting Rhino out of business, just out of walking distance: The store is moving to a new location in nearby Montclair.

Theatre Reimagined

No two productions of a play are ever quite the same—that’s one of the things that makes theatre a living art. Variations in direction, performance and design can give an old play a facelift, but now and then, there are reinterpretations so extreme that they give a play a whole new relevance and meaning. That was the case last fall for both of the major productions undertaken by Pomona’s Theatre Department—the musical Pippin and Lolita Chakrabarti’s Victorian play within a play, Red Velvet.

A scene from Pomona’s production of Red Velvet

A scene from Pomona’s production of Red Velvet

Red Velvet is the true story of the American black actor Ira Aldridge who came to London in the 1800s and was cast to play the great Shakespearean role of Othello at a time when there were public riots in the streets over the abolition of slavery. Chakrabarti chose to portray Aldridge as a tragic figure in his own right, driven mad by rejection as the play comes to a close.

But director Kenshaka Ali and his students thought the playwright had it all wrong. So they turned the play on its head—subverting the text to transform the main character, in Ali’s words, “from one who was victimized and who died a maddened or demented, enraged old man to one who indeed was a victor instead.”

A scene from Pomona’s production of Pippin

A scene from Pomona’s production of Pippin

In the case of Pippin, which debuted on Broadway in the 1970s, the work of Stephen Schwartz, Roger O. Hirson and choreographer Bob Fosse, the transformation was mostly visual and musical, using hip-hop and the Japanese animation style known as anime to give the play a more contemporary look and sound—and, according to guest director Tim Dang, one that is far more familiar to the students of Generation Z.

“I don’t even know if hip-hop and anime have ever been integrated,” says Dang. “There might be a couple of anime stories that do incorporate a hip-hop kind of culture. But it’s a very interesting mix because anime originally started in Japan and hip-hop originated in Brooklyn. We’re in this together and creating something that I think is very unique for Pomona College.”

Smart Summer Reads From 12 Pomona College Professors

These books written and edited by 11 Pomona College faculty members this year aren’t the lightest summer reads… but they could definitely land on the shortlist of the smartest.

Read the Smart Summer Reads From 12 Pomona College Professors story on the Pomona’s website.

Emerging Playwright: Mary Kamitaki ’15

Young playwright’s first production draws thumbs-up from critics.

> read more

We Are Scientists’ Megaplex

The Brooklyn, New York, based indie rock band We Are ScientistsThe Brooklyn, New York, based indie rock band We Are Scientists—the creation of bassist Chris Cain ’99 and guitarist Keith Murray ’00, who’ve now been performing together for almost 20 years—released the group’s sixth full-length album last April from 100% Records—a new collection of original pop songs, including “One In, One Out” and “Heart Is a Weapon.”

New Album of Organ Music at Pomona Released

Professor Emeritus of Music Bill Peterson

A new album of organ music performed by Professor Emeritus of Music Bill Peterson, titled “Recital at Bridges Hall, Pomona College,” has been released on CD by Loft Recordings. The album was recorded last March and features music performed on the Hill Memorial Organ in Bridges Hall of Music.

“The CD is based on a concert that I presented in February of 2018,” Peterson explains, “and there are really four areas of organ repertoire represented.” These, he said, were the music of J.S. Bach; the music of A. Guilmant, which are organ pieces from the 19th century based on vocal-music styles; three compositions published after World War I from an anthology dedicated to the “Heroes of the Great War,” and several compositions by composers with Pomona connections, including John Cage, who attended Pomona from 1928 to 1930; Professor Emeritus of Music Karl Kohn and Professor of Music Tom Flaherty.

Peterson began planning the project in May 2017, working with Roger Sherman of The Gothic Catalog. In summer of the same year, he received a Sontag Fellowship, making the project possible.

The album is available for purchase as CD or download on The Gothic Catalog website.

Peterson retired this year as the Harry S. and Madge Rice Thatcher Professor of Music after a 39-year career at Pomona. A noted organist, he has performed in venues across the United States.

The Hill Memorial Organ was designed and built by C.B. Fisk of Gloucester, Mass., and carries the designation of Fisk Op. 117. The three-manual organ was installed in the then-newly renovated Bridges Hall of Music in 2002.

Walking Through Time

Alison Rose Jefferson ’80 brings the history of L.A.’s Central Avenue to life.

Alison Rose Jefferson ’80

Buildings tend to stand still. History never does.

Central Avenue, the hub of Black life in Los Angeles during the Jim Crow era, is now more associated with the taquerias and vibrant Spanish-speaking community that share the sidewalks today.

The Lincoln Theatre, nicknamed the “West Coast Apollo” in its heyday for hosting such performers as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Nat “King” Cole and Billie Holiday, now hosts the congregation of the Iglesia de Jesucristo Judá. Yet at the nearby 28th Street YMCA, built in 1926, one can still glimpse the terra cotta likenesses of Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglass in the upper corners, watching over a building that housed one of the few swimming pools where Blacks were always welcome.

Historian Alison Rose Jefferson ’80 seeks to illuminate both the past and present of this important South L.A. neighborhood in a deeply researched walking tour she created with Angels Walk LA, a nonprofit that has produced 10 other self-guided historic trails around the city. Jefferson and collaborator Martha Groves chose an inclusive embrace, highlighting both the 27th Street Bakery – owned by 1984 Olympic sprinter Jeanette Bolden and known for its Southern sweet potato pies – and the nearby Las Palmas Carniceria, known for its chorizo.

Angels Walk LA will install 15 stanchions highlighting some of the 65 sites along the trail that stretches roughly from 24th Street to Vernon Avenue later this year. They will tell the story of the neighborhood not only to those who live there but to curious visitors and the music lovers who flock to the Central Avenue Jazz Festival each July.

A Different Kind of Historian

A sociology major at Pomona College, Jefferson took an unusual academic path, returning to school to earn a master’s degree in heritage conservation from the University of Southern California in 2007 and a Ph.D. in history at UC Santa Barbara in 2015, 35 years after earning her undergraduate degree.

Her goal was to enhance a career in writing and public projects that has made her a sought-after expert for documentaries and other reports. It is a role sometimes defined as a “public historian,” and just one of many career paths for history majors beyond academia.

“I’ve always been interested in history,” says Jefferson, who worked for a historic preservation firm before pursuing a doctorate. But even as she devoted her days to documenting and preserving brick-and-mortar sites, Jefferson understood that history is what happens within and beyond the walls.

“The world of historic preservation really focuses on the built environment,” she says. “I decided I wanted a broader platform.”

By completing her doctorate, she acquired the training and credentials that bolster her qualifications for various efforts and grants.

“With a Ph.D., I could do a broader array of projects,” Jefferson says.

Among her many endeavors, she has expanded awareness of the Santa Monica beach at Bay Street that was sometimes known as the Inkwell during the era of de facto segregation in California, along with the life story of Nick Gabaldón, L.A.’s first documented surfer of African-American and Mexican-American descent. Jefferson also has an upcoming book, Leisure’s Race, Power and Place in Los Angeles and California Dreams in the Jim Crow Era, to be published by the University of Nebraska Press in late 2019.

A Walk in the Neighborhood

The stretch of Central Avenue that lies south of the 10 Freeway and north of Vernon is in some ways nondescript, like so many others in South Los Angeles marked by older storefronts with hand-painted signs and the occasional street vendor. But a stroll with Jefferson reveals the unseen history of the Jim Crow era and the early civil rights movement in L.A., along with the melding of the old neighborhood with the influx of Latin American immigrants.

It is not merely history to Jefferson: It’s also personal: Her grandfather, Dr. Peter Price Cobbs, was a neighborhood physician for many years before his death in 1960.

“My mother would bring us over here. I was little. I’d be fascinated, thinking, ‘I’m in the old neighborhood,’” Jefferson says.

Besides her long familiarity with the area, Jefferson drew on her extensive previous research and writing on the Black Angeleno experience to create the Central Avenue guide with Groves, a former Los Angeles Times reporter and editor. The pair delved into archive collections, examined census records, perused old photographs, and read articles from the three newspapers that once covered the community, the California Eagle, the Los Angeles Sentinel and the Times. They also drew from books and scholarly articles.

“A special treat of the research process that I enjoyed was visiting the businesses along the avenue and interviewing the owners for the information that was to go into the guidebook,” Jefferson says.

Middle-class Black families flourished in the area around Central Avenue during the first half of the 20th century in what was largely a parallel society to white L.A., where Blacks faced restrictions in the workplace and community. Blacks were even limited by which homes they could buy, Jefferson notes, at least until the system of racially restrictive “covenants” in property deeds was ruled unenforceable under the 14th Amendment in the 1948 U.S. Supreme Court decision Shelley v. Kraemer.

Segregation was not only a feature of the American South; it was also pervasive in L.A. The African American Firefighter Museum at historic Fire Station No. 30 on Central Avenue just north of the 10 Freeway documents the era from 1924 to 1955 when the city’s Black firefighters were allowed to serve only in two segregated fire stations, and promotions were limited.

Even nightlife was affected. Central Avenue became home to the famous jazz club scene dubbed the “Brown Broadway” by the California Eagle newspaper in part because Black musicians and their fans were not welcome at all-white clubs – though whites made forays to Central Avenue to visit famous spots like Club Alabam and Jack’s Basket Room.

At a time when luxury hotels would not serve Blacks, traveling musicians such as Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne and Louis Armstrong stayed at Central Avenue’s Dunbar Hotel, which opened in 1928 under the name Somerville Hotel just in time to host delegates to the first West Coast convention of the NAACP. Other dignitaries also stayed there, including boxer Joe Louis, poet Langston Hughes and future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. The Dunbar still stands, with a lovely renovated courtyard, and is now part of a complex for low-income seniors and others.

A Changing Community

By the 1950s, Black families – including Jefferson’s – began to move farther south and west in the city, no longer limited to the old neighborhood. Some businesses and institutions from the earlier era still thrive, among them the Los Angeles Sentinel newspaper, which moved to Crenshaw Boulevard, and Second Baptist Church, a stately Romanesque Revival church that hosted speeches by Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. Still home to one of the most influential Black congregations in L.A., the church at 24th Street and Griffith Avenue was designed by trailblazing Black architect Paul Revere Williams and is on the National Register of Historic Places, as is his 28th Street YMCA, now housing for special needs adults and former foster youth.

Along with the Angels Walk heritage trail, other efforts to revitalize the neighborhood include the Central Avenue Constituent Services Center, a strikingly contemporary building that is home to the district office of L.A. City Councilman Curren D. Price Jr. Yet the community’s most vibrant indicator of its past, present and perhaps its future might be the neighborhood’s many murals.

On 42nd Place across from the Dunbar Hotel is a mural featuring such important figures as Dodgers star Jackie Robinson, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, longtime legislator Augustus F. “Gus” Hawkins and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ralph J. Bunche, whose boyhood home is on 40thPlace.

Jefferson points out another mural on the side of El Montoso Market at 40th Place that pays tribute to the Latin American immigrants who now make up 75 percent of the neighborhood’s population. A man hauls a basket filled with vegetables and a depiction of a house on his back, and the L.A. skyscrapers are shown as stacks of U.S. currency.

At 41st Street, another shows a black and brown hand clasped together, and above it, the words cultura cura: Culture heals.

A walk, Jefferson knows, can sometimes teach more than a lecture.

Slow Art

Slow art isn’t a collection of aesthetic objects, as you might suppose; rather, it names a dynamic interaction between observer and observed. Artists can create the conditions for slow looking—think of James Turrell ’65 Skyspaces like Pomona’s “Dividing the Light.” But what about viewers? How can we do our share?

In a given year, more Americans visit art museums than attend any one professional sporting event. They want and expect to take pleasure, learn and share positive experiences with each other and perhaps with their children. Too often the result is otherwise. Despite massive arts education programs, many visitors still arrive at a museum feeling confused or disadvantaged about how to navigate the place—where to go first, what to look at in any given gallery, how to connect with what they find. (There is a particular disconnect for people 40 and under, on whom museums will increasingly rely for support.) As a Jeffersonian populist, I believe that everyone who passes through a gallery ought to feel enfranchised. Everybody, I believe, can have meaningful, maybe even transforming experiences looking at artworks. Whether or not we possess any particular talent, training, art education or technical vocabulary, we all bring the sole necessary requirements: a set of eyes and lived experience. The playing field is level. But how to look is not self-evident.

How? My answer will come as no surprise: pacing can make a world of difference. Magic may happen when you give yourself over to the process and attune yourself to the artwork, listen to what it asks from you. “Notice how with two or three lines I’ve made this thatched roof,” says a Rembrandt drawing. “Look at how the shadows under the plane trees turn purple,” says a Van Gogh landscape. Give a painting time to reveal itself, I’ve said, and it turns into a moving picture—the experience can be that eye-opening. Over time, you will perceive more and more elements of the image, things that you literally never saw before. However closely you attend, you will never absorb an object’s every visual detail or nuance. There will always remain more to see. In fact, this inexhaustibility is the sign of art itself.

How, then, to slow down? There are many possibilities, old-fashioned (docent tours, audio guides) and newfangled (smartphone apps, iPads on gallery walls, online learning sources like the Khan Academy). The scores of museum-goers who use them testify to a widespread need for guidance. Each of these options may work. Here, I limit my suggestions to rugged individuals, unwired visitors who follow neither audio tour nor app. Or better, take advantage of any external aid—rent an audio tour because you know nothing about Mughal art—but take time also to shut off the devices and linger.

1 / Believe that you already come equipped with everything you need—those eyes and that life experience. Trust that something surprising can come of the encounter, or simply that the experience might be fun.

2 / Don’t go alone. In another’s company you’ll have more stamina and notice more. (More than three people looking together may prove too many.) Best is a viewing partner who is open-minded, prepared to be patient, receptive to being taken aback. Also, somebody you feel free to disagree with. “Opposition,” said William Blake, “is true friendship.” Some of my best experiences have come out of seeing things differently from my companion.

3 / Remember that museums are like libraries. Why do people assume that they need to look at everything on display in a gallery when they would never pull every book off a shelf? Be selective. Once I interviewed the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s longtime director, Philippe de Montebello. I asked him about navigating art spaces. “My wife loves going to museums with me because I tell her: ‘In this room, we will look at X and Z.’” “If we happen not to be your spouse?” I asked. “Head first to the museum shop. The postcards will tell you which works the place prizes most highly. Second, say you’re in a gallery with many objects clustered together and another given its own vitrine. Choose the latter. Finally, whatever the guards say, you have to get up close.” I would add: start by scanning the room to see if anything calls out to you. Don’t even think about pausing before every object. One or two items in a gallery will be enough or more than enough. Don’t worry if your pick is not among the postcards; trust your taste.

4 / Grant your chosen object time—how much is tricky, I acknow­ledge. If, after a spell, nothing clicks, move on. This is a no-fault game. You are nobody’s student; there are no should’s. Eventually you and your companion will find something that you agree is intriguing, striking, ravishing, perplexing, disturbingly unfamiliar—what that thing is hardly matters.

5 / Now let yourself go. Get close, back up, shift from side to side, squint. Notice the surround: does the installation lighting create hot or dark spots unrelated to the artwork? Let yourself wonder about what might seem trivial. Why do Cézanne’s tables tilt up? Why do mountains look stylized in medieval depictions of deserts? What is that strange detail on the curving side of a glass vase, in a still lifepainting of flowers? Might it be light reflected from a four-paned window in the imaginary room? And why is a caterpillar munching on that leaf? Why does one window in an Edward Hopper painting behave differently from its neighbors? There is no telling where seemingly naïve questions may carry you. Remember that frustration is part and parcel of engaged looking; an artwork that doesn’t offer resistance may not offer much at all.

6 / Let images “tell you” how they want to be seen. In my experience, they will do so if you “listen to them” with patience.

7 / Don’t be in a hurry to speak. Start by letting your eyes wander freely. Then zero in on what seems meaningful, or looks to be part of a pattern, or perhaps is an anomaly. Toggle between focused and unfocused looking. Test what you’ve registered by closing your eyes and asking yourself what you recollect. Then look again to compare.

8/ Don’t screw yourself to the spot. A surefire recipe for distraction is to insist that you concentrate on some work for X minutes. You are sure to chafe. Genuine viewing is always a mix of engagement and withdrawal, and as I’ve said, some degree of boredom is integral to the experience of slow art.

Dieric Bouts, Annunciation, J. Paul Getty Museum

Dieric Bouts, Annunciation, J. Paul Getty Museum

9 / Say you are looking at a Renaissance painting of a sallow-faced woman whose reading has been interrupted by a man with Technicolor wings. It’s enough to begin by attending to the physical details: the crisp folds of the red linen hanging behind the bed, or the mosaic pattern on the floor, which seems to repeat the design of a stained glass window in the recess at the left. Under the bedchamber’s barrel vault a half lunette appears to float above the bed canopy—like a moon, or the book’s open clasp. It’s good to begin in mystery, because not knowing rouses curiosity. Questions prompted by the act of looking motivate us to learn about the image’s content and about its social, aesthetic, political, historical contexts. By contrast, front-loading information—in a slide lecture sandwiched in with a hundred other images—is likely to generate little interest and leave but a fleeting impression. So studies of museum education repeatedly conclude.

Now—and not before—is when the wall label should come into play: what Dieric Bouts painted between 1450 and 1455 is the Annunciation. Wondering what that refers to—I am assuming no specialized knowledge—brings your smartphone app into the picture. You learn that the Angel Gabriel has just told the Virgin Mary—that is, he has announced—that she is to be the mother of God (Luke 1, 31). His message accounts for her expression, a mix of bashfulness (she refuses to return the angel’s gaze), shock, humility and fear that she will not satisfy the job requirements. Perhaps Gabriel’s words also explain the placement of her hands, which simultaneously express astonishment and are about to meet in prayer. Pursuing your inquiry will teach you that the cloth bundled up at the left-hand corner—a gorgeous, realistic, seemingly gratuituous detail—also symbolizes the great event yet to unfold but already being prepared. This bundle is a visible, external double of Mary’s womb. But what of the single pillow propped up on the bed, square between Gabriel and Mary? Another symbol? On the Getty’s website you can see Bouts’ underdrawing, detect traces of animal glue seeping through the linen, and spot vermillion pigment, thanks to X-ray and ultraviolet analysis. Speed and distraction aside, there has never been a better time to look.

10 / You will get better with practice. You and your interlocutor will become comfortable with each other’s rhythms and styles. You will build up categories to scan for: color, composition, mood, atmosphere, form, depth, quality of brushstrokes—fine or broad, insistent or invisible; awkwardnesses, conventional narratives; stylistic changes over time; political controversies. Over time you will amass episodes of close looking and build a mental library of images, a backlog of aesthetic experiences that will serve as points of reference or comparison.

11 / You will experience a range of pleasures: eye-candy, puzzle-solving, meditative or spiritual moments. You will have fun.


… she thought she’d somehow only now learned how to look.

—Don DeLillo, The Body Artist

Arden Reed is the Arthur M. Dole and Fanny M. Dole Professor of English at Pomona College and author of the forthcoming book, Slow Art: The Experience of Looking, Sacred Images to James Turrell.

Glee Club in Rome


The Pomona College Glee Club, under the direction of Professor Donna Di Grazia, performs in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome during the group’s spring tour of Italy.

Buonasera Glee Club

This May, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome and St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice will ring with the voices of the Pomona College Glee Club, as the group brings its annual concert tour for the first time to Italy. Each year after the end of the spring semester, the Glee Club takes a little piece of Pomona on the road, performing in venues across the country and around the world. Last year’s East Coast tour included a performance at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. (below). The last time the troop went transatlantic was in 2012, when they performed at venues across Poland, England and Germany, including the famous Thomaskirche in Leipzig (Bach’s home church for nearly 30 years), St. James’s Piccadilly in London, and the Berliner Dom in Berlin.

For Sagehens abroad or those who plan to be abroad in May, here’s the complete schedule (all are concert performances unless otherwise noted):

  • Basilica San Nicolo, Lecco (Lake Como region), Italy—May 19, 9 p.m.
  • Chiesa San Salvador, Venice, Italy—May 21, 7 p.m.
  • St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice, Italy—May 22, noon (featured choir at mass)
  • Chiesa di Santa Caterina, Pisa, Italy—May 24, 9 p.m. (concert sponsored by UNESCO.)
  • Basilica Santa Trinita, Florence, Italy—May 25, 9 p.m.
  • Chiesa San Marcello, Rome, Italy—May 27, 9 p.m.
  • St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City, Rome, Italy —May 28, 5 p.m. (featured choir at mass)



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