In a Laguna Beach first, Juneteenth comes to cultural arts center 

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A visitor takes a moment in front of Tom Lamb’s photographs on Juneteenth at the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center. Photo by Tasmin McGill

By Tasmin McGill, Special to the Independent

Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center hosted the city’s first Juneteenth celebration on June 19. This date coincides with the arrival of federal troops in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, to free the last enslaved people two and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was signed.

During the five-hour event, a free viewing of the 2022 Academy Award-winning documentary “Summer of Soul (…or, when the revolution could not be televised).” Guests enjoyed a BBQ and a performance by funk and soul artist O’Malley Jones and the Stepping into Now band.

For local resident Gary Stewart “Summer of Soul” was a powerful documentary because of the contrast shown between the Apollo moon landing and the Harlem Cultural Festival that took place at the same time.

“Someone was there to interview people at that concert to see their reaction about the moon landing. You couldn’t blame a single one of these people for saying ‘well, that money doesn’t mean anything. I can see a need for that money to be spent on other things like poverty,’” Stewart said. “They weren’t being mean spirited or nasty, they were just being honest. They didn’t see how that really related and I thought that was a very powerful subtext to how phenomenal this show was and how little attention it got nationally.”

Local constitutional law attorney Howard Hills shared his thoughts after watching “Summer of Soul” and how many people don’t realize how historic it is that the United States abolished slavery.

“To me, it’s as important as winning the Civil War, it was as important as winning World War I, it was as important as winning World War II, and I think we don’t tend to think in those terms. Ending slavery was an important triumph for America as winning any war or anything else,” Hills said. “It’s really good that we’re reaching a point in this country, where if you love America and if you’re a patriotic person wanting racial justice for America to be fully realized is a part of being a patriotic American.”

Following the movie, smells from the catered barbeque traveled throughout the venue. Guests mingle across all three rooms with plates full of the essential main and side dishes to make a well-rounded Texas barbeque. During the intermission and while enjoying their meal, guests walked through the rooms to view the work of Tom Lamb and Allyson Allen.

“Tom was affiliated with the [BC Space] gallery before it became the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center,” founder of the LBCAC Rick Conkey said. “I got to know him over the years just as one of the artists.”

Lamb was in Minneapolis visiting family a week after George Floyd was murdered. Taking his camera, Lamb captured the protest art that adorned the Minneapolis streets, while simultaneously explaining the gravity of what was taking place to his brother-in-law that lived there.

Following the removal of “Piece-ful Protest” from the local Wells Fargo branch in January, fans of Allen’s exhibit were excited to see pieces along the wall of the LBCAC. Allen not only displayed her protest quilts for the event, but two were also available for purchase.

“She advised me and she also wrote a statement about the event and she also was willing to allow us to display her quilts,” Conkey said.

Once 6 p.m. hit, Jones and the Stepping into Now band took the stage to bring the crowd to their feet, playing classics like “Get on Up” by James Brown, “Let’s Get it On” by Marvin Gaye and “Love and Happiness” by Al Green.

Funk and soul artist O’Malley Jones sings on Juneteenth at the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center. Photo by Tasmin McGill

“I’ve worked with O’Malley for many years. He’s amazing. He’s not necessarily the best band manager that existed, but I love him so much,” Conkey laughs. Due to an issue with the band, Conkey called around and was able to get musicians for the performance on the day of the event.

“I know a lot of players. I was able to call some people and got lucky. We got Rock Deadrick’s nephew, Brandon. He was amazing,” Conkey said. “And Geoff Glass, a superior court judge of all things. He’s a resident here, but he’s also played with O’Malley over the years, so he knows O’Malley very well.”

James Clay Garrison rounded out the band and played the guitar and sang backup vocals.

“He’s played with O’Malley one time before this when O’Malley didn’t have a band. I had his band come in and back O’Malley up because they appreciate who O’Malley is and what he contributes,” Conkey said.

Between the fairly narrow seating, the crowd found room and made it their own personal dance floor for nearly two hours until the very end, when Conkey had to take the microphone from Jones to prevent an encore.

“We lost a little money which is OK, it’s about raising awareness,” Conkey said. “We’re looking forward to having it grow beyond the boundary of the Cultural Arts Center.”

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