Art+Politics+History+Culture

Remembering the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics

This past weekend, the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles held a reunion with Robert Fitzpatrick, the Director of the 1984 Olympics Art Festival in Los Angeles, along with most of the original muralists commissioned for the event, which was held at Kent Twitchell’s studio in Downtown L.A. Fitzpatrick is the former president of Cal Arts, former president of Euro Disney, former Director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and is currently affiliated with FIAC, – the Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain, which is planning its first Los Angeles festival in May of 2015. Fitzpatrick was on a short visit to our city, originally from Canada, and lives in New York and Paris, for a photo shoot to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Olympic Freeway Murals and MCLA’s restorations on the 101 Freeway.

Fitzpatrick recalled many years ago when the ex-mayor Tom Bradley visited him at Cal Arts and asked him to spearhead the Olympics Art Festival. Along with Peter Ueberroth, head organizer of the ’84 Olympics, who at the conclusion of the games was honored with a gold Olympic Order and Man of the Year by Time Magazine, and who had never set foot in a museum or theatre in his life, they played the most significant roles in seeing the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics come to fruition. Reluctant at first because he didn’t want to clash on cultural ideologies with a bunch of ex-jocks, but strong in his convictions and had four demands for his involvement: 1. adequate funding, 2. artistic freedom, 3. protection from political pressures, and 4. the ability to bring forth an international presence. At the time, Los Angeles was on the point of pushing itself to become a world class city, and as Fitzpatrick explains, it was really the Arts Mitzvah of Los Angeles, the coming-of-age tale and epic of a lost city.

Robert Fitzpatrick is recognized for bringing a truly international presence to the Olympic Games, having brought performing arts from around the world, international theatre companies, the Olympic Gateway at the Coliseum designed and sculpted by Robert Graham, and worked on by Juan Carlos Munoz Hernandez, and murals along the infrastructure throughout Los Angeles. The murals were meant to be California and Los Angeles in character, a place where the cityscape and color palette were specific to the region. The murals were meant to show the diversity and culture of the city, to bring attention to public art, to show that Los Angeles had a burgeoning culture and capture the variation of artistic styles. It was an important step for the struggle of public art due to government resistance that still plagues our city and county today. Therefore, as government ordinances try to curtail art in public spaces, it should always be our duty to resist and rebel against authoritative stances that limit creativity, style, and design. Fitzpatrick faced resistance from ultra-conservative government institutions and succeeded, we all carry the Olympic torch since then.

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