On Oct. 10, Rose Park in Long Beach became a theater.
The setting sun was a spotlight, the grass became front-row seats and the locals out for an evening stroll became an unwitting audience, slowing to a stop as their eyes fixed on the performances happening on the stage.
It was the first of When Art Happens, a pop-up concert series inviting local artists to dance, recite poetry or perform live music to a virtual and in-person audience, organized by the CRay Project, an organization dedicated to building a platform for Black artists.
One of the performances of the night was choreographed by Chatiera Ray, executive creative director of the CRay Project, titled “Dr. Feelgood,” inspired by her love for Aretha Franklin and her grandma.
“My grandma is just like so unapologetically her and her entirety,” Ray said. “And I love that she does not apologize about being a woman. Also, she lives with her sexuality, and she will tell you in a minute how she feels about sex and a man and I’m loving it, and she’s like 70.”
Joshua Rodgers performed original poetry that was inspired by conversations about identity and intersectionality that Rodger’s has had while working at the Black AIDS Institute in Los Angeles.
“I began to think about myself in the most intimate parts, as well as my own personal emotions,” Rodgers said.
LaRonica Southerland, assistant creative director and development manager, explained how planning When Art Happens was easier due to the resources and connections they made through the Long Beach Black Dance Festival, including the marley, a roll-out vinyl dance floor for performances in spaces like parks.
It also helped that the final day of the weeklong Long Beach Black Dance Festival was held in Rose Park.
“It was kind of like a calling, like okay we’re coming back again,” Southerland said. “Y’all come out.”
Familiar performers were in attendance as well, like dancer and choreographer James Mahkween, who had dancer Adrianna Vieux perform a new piece from Mahkween’s upcoming project, “Cat Call.”
Towards the end of the event, Jamie Burton of the Jamie Burton Dance Collective performed his original piece “Faith/Merge” with Christina Morales, a piece dedicated on providing solutions to trauma and finding support.
“There’s always that one person that you can smash into,” Burton said.
When Art Happens will not only continue to push to feature Long Beach artists, according to Ray, but artists within the performing arts.
“I feel like in Long Beach we see a lot of visual art, but we don’t get enough of the performance art, so we wanted to build a foundation for that within the community and also emphasize those of color,” Chatiera Ray said, executive creative director of the CRay Project.
When Art Happens will continue every second Saturday of the month until December via Zoom or in-person. For more information, visit the CRay Project’s website.