May 24, 2018 

By Jennifer Bihm 

Contributing Writer 


Community leaders and residents have come out recently in support of Watts Towers Art Center Director Rosie Lee Hooks, who was suspended last month for commissioning a mural of jazz great Charles Mingus on the youth art center named for him ten years ago. The Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs suspended Hooks for three weeks without pay, calling it a “personnel issue”, having to do with her not going through the proper channels to get the mural painted. Maybe so, say her supporters, but this punishment far outweighs her crime.


“Ms. Hooks has a longstanding and positive history with the Watts community,” said Assemblymember Mike Gipson, who requested that Mayor Eric Garcetti lift the suspension.


“I am confident to say that she has and continues to demonstrate a positive track record of commitment and dedication to the Watts community.  It is my belief of what Ms. Hooks is being accused of is not having followed proper procedure in adding the mural of Watts’ son and Jazz great, Charlie Mingus.  I do not believe that such an action warrants a crime or discipline.  Ms. Hooks has merely followed in the tradition of past directors of the Arts Center to bring attention to the artistic heritage of Watts.”


“For all she does, with the limited resources given to her by DCA, it’s very small-minded for them to suspend her for putting up a mural of Charles Mingus on the Charles Mingus building,” Chioma Agbahiwe, Hooks supporter vice president of the Watts Towers Community Action Council told reporters.


Hailed as one of the most important figures in twentieth century American music, Mingus was raised in Watts and had been privy to the Watts Towers’ inception. He wrote about Watts Towers constructor/ artist Simon Rodia in his autobiography.


“At that time in Watts there was an Italian man, named Simon Rodia – though some people said his name was Sabatino Rodella, and his neighbors called him Sam. He had a regular job as a tile setter, but on weekends and at nighttime, under lights he strung up, he was building something strange and mysterious and he’d been working on it since before my boy was born. Nobody knew what it was or what it was for,” Mingus wrote.


 “Mr. Rodia was usually cheerful and friendly while he worked, and sometimes, drinking that good red wine from a bottle, he rattled off about Amerigo Vespucci, Julius Caesar, Buffalo Bill and all kinds of things he read about in the old encyclopedia he had in his house, but most of the time it sounded to Charles like he was speaking a foreign language. My boy marveled at what he was doing and felt sorry for him when the local rowdies came around and taunted him and threw rocks and called him crazy, though Mr. Rodia didn’t seem to pay them much mind. Years later when Charles was grown and went back to Watts he saw three fantastic spires standing there – the tallest was over a hundred feet high. By then Rodia had finally finished his work and given it all to a neighbor as a present and gone away, no one knew where.”


Hooks has been described as an internationally honored community arts administrator and educator. She has served twice as interim director of the WTAC, and was appointed director in 2002. She was previously director of Festivals for the City’s Cultural Affairs Department and produced the first Central Avenue Jazz Festival and established the prestigious WTAC Jazz Mentorship Program. 


“Ms. Hooks has a longstanding and positive history with the Watts community,” Gipson said.


“She has devoted the better part of two decades to the Watts Towers Day of the Drum Festival and the Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festival. It is my opinion that any disturbance in the production of these two festivals could affect or diminish its community legacy.  It is also my understanding that there may be attempts to contract out the production of these festivals.  Any such action could be regarded as a serious affront not only to the Watts community but to the music community that has participated in the festivals and the Arts Center’s Jazz Mentorship Program over the years as well…”


On April 17, community members in support of WTAC, held a meeting about the suspension, where they questioned Assistant General Manager Daniel Tarica of the Department of Cultural Affairs, they said, who stated that “procedures were being properly followed for a personnel matter which he could not discuss.”


“Mr. Tarica did not address the affront expressed by the Watts community over the arts educator’s suspension, or statements from community members that the Department’s action against Ms. Hooks appears to be an act of vindictive retribution for her strong support of community issues,” some of Hooks’ supporters wrote in a statement released to the media.


“He also dismissed fears over the effects the action will have on Hooks’ production of the upcoming Watts Towers Annual Day of the Drum and Simon Rodia Watts Towers Jazz Festivals for which Ms. Hooks is the principal producer…”


Ms. Hooks’ union, the Engineers & Architects Association has filed an appeal of the suspension but the hearing will not be held until June. Hooks is now serving the second week of her suspension. After the Task Force meeting, the union affirmed to the support groups,


“We remain steadfast in our advocacy for Rosie Lee and offer any assistance the Watts community needs to end the blatant harassment of an adored arts educator.”


For his part, Garcetti released the following statement via his press secretary Anna Bahr, “Anyone who has experienced the Watts Towers Arts Center knows that it is a Los Angeles treasure. The Mayor expects personnel matters to be resolved responsibly, and he values the patrons, community members, and staff who love the Center and make it such a special place in the life of our city.”

Category: Community